Xi Jinping’s Authoritarian Push: The Purge of Western Values in China’s Education System


Xi Jinping has been elected as President of China for a record third term. Xi, as China’s supreme leader realises that two things are of paramount importance if he is to stay on as leader for life. First, China must outsmart the US (and the West) at some point in time and overtake it in all spheres. Second, internally, citizens should learn and adapt a way of life as instilled in them by the Communist Party of China (CPC), rather than look to the West and adopt liberal ideas and thoughts.

This is perhaps the reason for Xi issuing an order on 26 February 2023, which not only reinforces his leading role in the affairs of China, but which also directs schools to “oppose and resist Western erroneous views” such as constitutional government, separation of powers, and judicial independence. This is a clear attempt to purge liberal Western concepts from China’s education system.

The Chinese administration has been issuing directives from time to time to target students in schools and colleges. Some directives in the past encouraged to report on their professors who spoke positively about Western concepts of governance. The latest directive is nothing but a forceful imposition of Xi Jinping ideology on Chinese youth. Such directives are aimed at restricting people from analyzing issues in a fair and unbiased manner. Incidentally, Xi Jinping forcefully imposed his ambitious zerocovid policy and controlled the lives of people for nearly three years. Similarly, in March 2021, a Chinese lawmaker proposed removing English as a core subject for Chinese students receiving compulsory education. This can best be described as narrowminded populism.

The latest order states that teachers and students of law and legal theory workers must be guided to have a “clear-cut position and take a firm stance in the face of issues of principle and major issues of right and wrong”. The directive also states that teachers and students must “comprehensively implement the party’s education policy, insist on educating people for the party and the country, and focus on cultivating builders and successors of the cause of socialist rule of law.” The operative part of the order is that students should oppose and resist Western “erroneous views” such as ‘constitutional government’, ‘separation of three powers’, and ‘independence of the judiciary’.

Analysts said that Xi Jinping’s ideology campaign reflected China’s preference to have Chinese standards adopted as legitimate alternatives to Western values and institutions.

The legal profession has been a particular target in China. On 9 July 2015, three years into Xi’s first term as party General Secretary, a series of raids resulted in the detention of some 300 human rights lawyers and associated activists. Under relentless pressure, activist lawyers have been intimidated into silence, effectively preventing the emergence of dissenting voices and public intellectuals independent of the party. Such approaches are in line with Xi’s more muscular foreign policy that seeks to challenge and supplant the US-led international order that advocates for multiparty democracy, civil society and human rights. Similarly, Xi Jinping ordered the closure of Tibetan schools and monastic schools which evoked strong reactions from the global community.

Four UN human rights bodies questioned China over the closure of Tibetan schools and monastic schools in November 2022. These schools teach Tibetan which can be learnt, and residential schools have been built to teach only Chinese culture? About one million Tibetan children study there, which will turn Tibetan children into Chinese and disconnect them from their identity.

China defends the ideology campaign by claiming that it should not be viewed as anti-West or anti-American, but an effort to maintain and cultivate Chinese culture while at the same time borrowing from the West, a strategy China has carried out for many years.

However, the reality on the ground tells a different story. The directive from the party’s General Office in a section titled “Adhere to the Correct Political Direction”, says teachers and students must “comprehensively implement the party’s education policy, insist on educating people for the party and the country, and focus on cultivating builders and successors of the cause of socialist rule of law. While the Chinese Constitution talks about freedom of speech and religious observation, the interest of the CPC always comes ahead of the Constitution. Past attempts at promoting even grassroots democracy at the village level have sputtered in the face of the party’s overwhelming power and the authorities’ willingness to use force and coercion to achieve their desired outcomes.

Reformist academics like He Weifang, Xu Zhiyong, and Xu Zhangrun have ended up in prison or lost their jobs because they called for the implementation of the rule of law in China, with freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, and the protection of human and workers’ rights. Thus, the Chinese public have largely acquiesced party control over their lives, due to fear of the state. The Zero-covid policy is the latest example. That arrangement has at times been challenged, however, amid a drastically slowing economy, a crisis in local government finances and heavy-handed enforcement of Covid-19 containment measures that have prompted rare public protests. Criticism of the party and government policies is much more lively online, despite censorship and the threat of punishment for those who create and disseminate them.

Despite the obvious inter-linkages of Chinese and global economies, Xi Jinping has sought to purge liberal Western concepts from the education system, and ordered that foreign religions be “Sinicized” to operate in China. He has also attempted, with limited success, to reorganize popular culture along more conservative lines, going so far as to ban “effeminate” men from the state broadcaster.

For those searching for answers to Xi Jinping’s domestic moves aimed at erasing Western liberal thought from the education system, one would do well to read Elizabeth Economy, author of a new book called “The World According to China”. In this, she argues that China is aiming for a “radic ally transformed international order” in which the US is pushed out of the Pacific and becomes merely an Atlantic power. Achieving this goal will require a domestic citizenry which is completely beholden to Xi Jinping and under his thumb. The only way to achieve this goal is by creating an educational system with Chinese characteristics and one with no signs of Western Liberal thought!

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