Chengdu, China - He wears a fluorescent red backpack and wears white Adidas shoes, which looks just like any other student at Sichuan University.
But 21-year-old chemistry student Peng Wei has a special mission: he is both a student and a spy.
More and more "student informants" pay close attention to the professor's ideas, and Peng Wei is one of them. Their task is to help eradicate teachers who have any signs of infidelity to President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party.
“Our responsibility is to ensure a pure learning environment,” Peng Wei said. “Guarantee the professors to comply with the regulations.”
Chinese universities are deploying students to supervise teachers and become a return to the Mao era. This is part of a large-scale campaign initiated by Xi Jinping to eliminate dissent and turn the university into a party base.
According to interviews with more than 20 professors and students, as well as access to public records, the number of student informants has surged under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the most powerful leader in China for decades.
“Everyone is at risk,” said You Shengdong, a professor of economics at Xiamen University in eastern China. Last year, he was reported to students for criticizing one of Xi Jinping’s favorite slogans and was subsequently fired.
“How can it improve?” You Shengdong asked, “How can inventions appear?”
Major universities have issued notices to recruit students to monitor teachers. Some colleges even plan to insert a student in each classroom. It produced a chilling effect, and some compared it to the ideological purification movement during the decade of the Cultural Revolution, when radical students attacked the enemies in Mao Zedong's eyes.
Xi Jinping is trying to prevent social stability from being threatened and suppressing the power of opposing authoritarian policies. At the same time, students monitor teachers' views on Xi Jinping, the Communist Party and democracy, and play an increasingly important role. In exchange, they can get scholarships, higher scores, and be promoted in prestigious Communist organizations.
Professors and students described cases of at least a dozen Chinese university professors who were expelled or punished after being reported by students since the beginning of last year.
A university in central China expelled a professor because a student reported that she criticized Xi Jinping for canceling the term limit for the chairman, which allowed Xi Jinping to remain indefinitely. In Beijing, a mathematics professor at a university was suspended because a student complained that the professor believed that Japanese students worked harder than Chinese students.
The surge in student informants has raised concerns among scholars and students that they believe it is another way of stifling class debates. All Chinese universities are controlled by the party. The party appoints the highest administrative officials of the university and sets up party committees on campus.
“What can be reported by teachers,” said Tang Yun, a senior literature professor at Chongqing Normal University in the Southwest.
Tang Yun, 56, said this is a matter of personal experience. Earlier this year, he criticized in class for a folk saying that Xi Jinping often used - "pick up his sleeves and cheer" - very vulgar. A student’s complaint prompted the Chongqing Normal University to deprive him of his teacher’s qualifications and transferred him to the library this spring.
Xi Jinping has always sought to obtain a historical position equal to Mao Zedong. He has taken various measures to restore the central position of the Communist Party in China's daily life (including higher education).
Educational officials dismissed professors with different political views, banned some Western textbooks, and ordered schools to set up centers to study Xi Jinping's iconic ideology, namely, "Xi Jinping's thought."
In China, relying on students to check and balance teachers has been around for a long time. During the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s, scholars, people associated with the West, or those who were considered "class enemies" were persecuted. Young people are being asked to monitor and condemn teachers, as well as other dissident intellectuals.
According to the announcement issued by the university, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, many universities now appoint a student supervisor for each class. Students must apply to become informants, and many schools only accept party members or those who can prove that they hold the "right" political views.
In the interview, the information officer said that some students think that their tasks are broad. They not only pay attention to what the professor said in the classroom, but also pay attention to the private life of the professors, including the taste of books and movies.
Peng Wei, a student informant at Sichuan University, said that he often talks with other students to collect their impressions of teachers, including their personality, values ??and patriotic stance.
He refutes the rise of information workers and damages the views of the classroom debate, and said that Chinese universities have long ignored the views of students. He said: "Teachers need to understand the concerns of students."
According to the recruitment notice, in some schools, student informants were asked to submit reports about their teachers to the campus party branch.
Ankang College in Northwest China said in a network notice that student informants should formally report professors who spread superstitions, cults and pornography, "promote Western political values" and criticize the party's purpose. The notice stated that school administrators should respond to complaints within three working days.
At the Xiantao Vocational College in central China, information officers were asked to supervise “words and deeds that violated the party’s line, principles, and policies.” The Xinyang Teachers College in Central China appeals to students to report any “hazard to national security” or “national unity” that the teacher has said.
The Ministry of Education did not respond to requests for comment. The ministry issued a new code of ethics for teachers at all levels last year, saying they should not do anything that violates the authority of the party. Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the party also sent a team of officials to the university to monitor the teacher’s ideological views.
The professors said that the use of student informers is creating a climate of fear in the classroom.
Yu Shengdong, an economics professor who was expelled from Xiamen University, said that the students reported that he questioned Xi Jinping’s iconic slogan “Chinese Dream,” a vision of a country’s wealthy and powerful. You Shengdong said that he told his students that the dream was "delusion, madness, not an ideal."
The 71-year-old You Shengdong later moved to New York. He said that the students began to say that he was extremely extreme and "anti-communist." A camera was installed in his classroom, which is standard equipment in many Chinese universities. The authorities warned that they can easily find evidence of inappropriate speech.
Carl Minzner, a law professor at Fordham University in New York, said that the increase in student informants is part of Xi Jinping’s efforts to make the party a “national and social leader”.
纽约福坦莫大学(Fordham University)法学教授明克胜(Carl Minzner)说，学生告密者的增多是习近平使党成为“国家和社会领导力量”的努力的一部分。
“The purpose of Xi Jinping’s doing this is to reintroduce the factors of self-censorship and let people start thinking twice,” he said. “When political orthodoxy dominates, the collective consciousness of society begins to close.”
The culture of political condemnation even penetrates into China's most prestigious university campus. At Xi Jinping's alma mater, Beijing's Tsinghua University, Marxist professor Lu Jia was investigated by the school this year, after the students launched a campaign online, accusing him of criticizing China and socialism.
What the students said was inspiring was Xi Jinping’s call to strengthen his ideological work in March and prepare for the “national rejuvenation”. They opened an anonymous social media account and published a criticism of Professor Lu Jia’s speech line by line, criticizing his claim that Western civilization still dominates the world and that Chinese civilization is declining.
The reporter was unable to contact Professor Lu Jia, and the Marxist Academy of Tsinghua University did not respond to requests for comment on the investigation.
Tang Yun, a professor of literature at Chongqing Normal University, said that the decision prohibiting him from teaching was "purely arrogance of power."
The school accused Tang Yun of damaging the country's reputation and forcing him to apologize.
After being disqualified from teaching by the school, he posted on social media that he did not blame his students and said that the students were "not all Judas."
Today is leaving with shame, Tang Yun wrote. "Tomorrow, I will definitely come with a laurel wreath."