Academics at a university in the eastern province of Zhejiang will have any online political essays in line with ruling Chinese Communist Party ideology assessed in appraisals and job applications under new regulations governing academic "excellence," a spokesman said on Tuesday.
An official who answered the phone at the propaganda office of the University of Zhejiang party committee confirmed online reports that a new set of guidelines aim at encouraging "excellence in online culture" is now being implemented at the school.
The rules will apply equally to students and faculty at the university, when assessing their academic excellence, the officials said.
"These measures are aimed at students and faculty at this university, when their research excellence is being assessed and scored," the official said.
Asked if the rules were "unreasonable," the official said: "Those are the rules."
Asked why the changes were being implemented now, the official said they didn't know.
But local media reports indicate that the new regulations are in keeping with "the spirit of the Communist Party's Central Committee, and a way of producing a breakthrough in the limitations of the system and of ideological work."
An online commentator surnamed Hu said such rules aren't a feature of a "normal society," however.
"There should be a clear line between truth and untruth," Hu wrote. "It's very easy for cultural measures like this to become distorted."
"The highest leadership really needs lower-ranking officials to do this sort of thing, because they will get a boost from it," he wrote.
‘Strengthen the party leadership’
President Xi Jinping is gearing up for an important political meeting next month with ever-tighter policing of public speech, and plans to have his own version of political ideology enshrined in the ruling party's constitution, political commentators said.
Members of the Communist Party have also been warned in clear terms to stay away from the "wrong words" online, which it defines as anything that departs from the official line.
Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang said that if Xi succeeds in getting a mention, similar to former supreme leaders Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong, in the party's governing document, his standing in the party will be greatly strengthened.
"This will ultimately strengthen the party leadership," Sun said.
Another key change could be the introduction of party committees in private enterprises. Currently, only state-owned enterprises have a party committee involved in decision-making.
"I think that such a change would necessitate a change in the party's constitution," Sun said. "The overall trend seems to be to strengthen the one-party dictatorship."
Sun said he thinks the trend is unwise.
"They must give party members the opportunity to express their views, to express dissenting views; otherwise, they could make some very serious mistakes," he said, in an apparent reference to the political violence and turmoil of the Mao era. "We have seen in the past what happens when political power becomes highly concentrated."
The Party Congress, which opens on Oct. 18, also comes amid growing speculation that Xi may be seeking to buck recent limitations on power at the highest echelons of the party by seeking a third term in the top spot.
Reports are also emerging from China's secretive political establishment that Xi is getting ready to expand the membership of the existing Politburo from 25 to 35, and abolish the Politburo standing committee, which has wielded a form of collective leadership since Deng's era of economic reforms during the 1980s.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Si-yu and Pan Jiaqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.