Sat, Nov 17, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Peking University tightens party control, curbs student activism

By Christian Shepherd  /  Reuters, BEIJING

China’s prestigious Peking University, historically a bastion of student activism, has moved to quash dissent and strengthen Chinese Communist Party (CCP) control after a spate of protests across China on issues ranging from labor rights to #MeToo.

The clampdown comes amid an ongoing tightening of control over various aspects of society since Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) rose to power in 2012, a period that has seen increasing censorship and shrinking space for protests, including on campuses.

Late on Wednesday, the university warned all students against taking part in demonstrations of support for labor rights activism involving former students and said that they would be held responsible if they “challenged the law.”

“The school believes that the majority of students are sensible, but if there are those near you who are spreading rumors or reactionary sentiments, regardless if they are your teacher or your friend or your schoolmate, please keep a firm stance,” students were told over instant messaging platforms.

On Tuesday, the CCP committee at the university set up new bodies responsible for disciplinary inspection tours and campus “control and management,” according to a document released by the committee and seen by reporters, moves that tighten enforcement of party discipline.

The committee also held a meeting for all campus members and told them that a recent graduate who was among those missing following weekend labor protests was working with an illegal organization, a source briefed on the meeting told reporters.

A spokesman for the university contacted by reporters on Wednesday said that they were not able to immediately comment on the meeting or warnings to students.

The attendees were told that the group in question, which was not identified, had a charter and “passwords,” and that the government had sanctioned the arrest of Zhang Shengye (張聖業), the former student, the source said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation.

Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan (章立凡) said the measures were likely in response to student activism.

“The [Chinese] Communist Party is highly sensitive to any kind of organized movement on university campuses,” he said.

Students at the university, set on a sprawling, leafy campus in northwestern Beijing, played a central role in launching the anti-imperialist May Fourth Movement in 1919 and the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

However, campus activism has been increasingly marginalized in the Xi era. A movement that saw students and recent graduates of several universities team up with labor activists to support factory workers fighting the right to set up their own union has been dealt with harshly by authorities, attracting international media coverage.

Last month, the CCP announced that Qiu Shuiping (邱水平), an official with little experience running a school who has spent years in China’s legal system, including as head of the Beijing state security bureau, had been made party secretary of the university, an appointment seen by experts on Chinese politics as heralding a tougher disciplinary line.

Last weekend, at least 12 labor activists, mostly students and recent graduates, went missing in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Wuhan in what a source close to them believed was a coordinated effort to silence them.

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