China Orders Universities to Make Communism Cool Again

Participants at an event celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party salute the Communist Party flag in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, June 28, 2011. China's Communist Party celebrates its 90th anniversary on July 1. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Nelson Ching/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hipsters in the Western world constantly flirt with radical chic, but over in the actual Communist superpower of China, the Politburo is worried that kids just aren’t digging the Little Red Book like they used to.

The South China Morning Post reports that Education Minister Chen Baosheng wants to make Communist ideology “trendy” and “fashionable” again:

“When we investigate at colleges and universities, we find that attention levels at thought and political theory classes are not high. People are there in body but not in spirit,” Chen said.

“Why is this? The content does not suit their needs. Perhaps the approach is outdated, the tools are rather crude and the packaging is not that fashionable.”

Students needed to be led by the core values of Chinese socialism to ensure their healthy moral growth. They should also study traditional Chinese culture, revolutionary culture and “advanced socialist culture,” Chen said.

It is probably going to take a little more than some hip-hop music and a stack of Che Guevara T-shirts to get Chinese youth interested in studying “advanced socialist culture” to “ensure their healthy moral growth,” especially since the Internet keeps showing them glimpses of the world outside China’s totalitarian ideological boundaries. It may or may not comfort Chen to know that left-wing academics in the West also complain that communism’s biggest problem is poor “packaging.”

The Internet must be one of the major driving forces behind the cultural and ideological insecurity of China’s elites, which is very encouraging. The SCMP article reads like a totalitarian nightmare, but it is good news that the Communist Party is so worried about losing its grip on the next generation. Under President Xi Jinping, the Party has been cracking down on organized religion for similar reasons.

Beijing is worried about people who make “subversion” look cool, as Korean-born, American-educated provocateur Kwon Pyong learned the hard way last September. Kwon’s social media hijinks culminated in a selfie that featured a T-shirt comparing Chinese President Xi Jinping to Adolf Hitler.

In theory, few Chinese should have been able to read his Facebook and Twitter posts dedicated to “overturning communism,” because the Internet is locked down so tightly in China. The government nevertheless arrested him, put him on trial for subversion, failed to inform his defense attorneys which of his posts “slander and insulted state power and the socialist system,” and then forced his defense lawyers out of the case with an impossible paperwork demand, just to make sure Kwon’s fair trial ends with the necessary conviction.

Kwon’s former attorney Zhang Lei put the case in perspective for the New York Times:

Mr. Kwon embodies a phenomenon that worries the Chinese government: young people, exposed to foreign ideas, sometimes through study abroad, who feel free to criticize the government, perhaps naïvely believing that they won’t get into serious trouble, Mr. Liang said.

“He’s from a younger generation that’s absorbed ideas about democracy and freedom,” he said. “They have a clearer spirit of opposition.”

“To treat Kwon Pyong’s online criticism of President Xi Jinping and the one-party state as a national security threat highlights the Communist Party’s insecurity about commentary that does not accept the Party’s monopoly on power,” said Freedom House Executive Vice President Daniel Calingaert, protesting his arrest. Maybe Kwon will be sentenced to help the Education Minister develop a hip and cool curriculum for selling Communism to the kids.


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