China's Seven Taboos of Higher Education

A commentary by Bao Tong
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Paramilitary police stand guard on Tiananmen Square in Beijing on March 3, 2013.
Paramilitary police stand guard on Tiananmen Square in Beijing on March 3, 2013.

I have heard that seven great taboos have been set by the general office of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, that they are instructions to teaching staff in higher education from the orchestrators of the main theme tune.

They tell them not to mention the following to their students: universal values, press freedom, civil society, citizens' rights, the historical mistakes of the Party, the financial and political elite, and judicial independence.

This is a rumor, neither confirmed nor denied by the orchestrators of the main theme tune. I don't know whether higher education lecturers are implementing them or not.

Neither do I know whether students are informing on teachers who breach the seven taboos, or whether they support them even more than before.

I would like to call on the orchestrators of the main theme tune to clarify the facts: whether or not such a thing exists.

If there is no such thing, then the orchestrators of the main theme tune should put people's minds at rest, so that the whole of the student body can rest assured that the new leadership has no intention of trying to keep the people in the dark, and so that the lecturers can rest easy in the knowledge that the new leadership will respect and protect science and democracy.

And that not only are there no seven taboos, but that they will uphold intellectual freedom, so that there are no subjects forbidden to scholarship, which can investigate and exchange ideas without fear or obstruction.

If this is the case, people in China and overseas will be overjoyed.

If such a thing does exist, however, the orchestrators of the main theme tune still have a responsibility to announce it publicly. What need is there to keep it under wraps, or to whisper it around? This should be put on display in full view of the whole world, so that everyone will know that the People's Republic of China has forbidden a civil society.

They will know that, even though the Constitution of this country states that "all power stems from the People," that these are fake, empty words, just there for show.

They will know that the orchestrators of the main theme tune won't allow lecturers and students alike to to talk about the rights of citizens, and that even though the Chinese government is a signatory to international bodies and international covenants, it doesn't believe in universal values.

They will know that, while we have a news media in China, that there is no press freedom, and that the fight against corruption in China will forever be a fight in the dark, because the assets of a privileged financial and political elite are a secret that must never be revealed.

They will know that China will be condemned to the eternal manufacture of miscarriages of justice, because the judiciary isn't allowed to be independent.

And they will know that the Chinese Communist Party is God, because its mistakes—even its historical ones—are sacrosanct, protected by the current administration and not to be discussed.

If these things are true, then I suggest that the orchestrators of the main theme tune do two things before they announce this: they must abolish the Constitution and get rid of the name of this country.

Because any one of these taboos is unconstitutional, and incompatible with the idea of a republic.

In short, either the main theme tune and the seven taboos must go, or the Republic and the Constitution must go.

The two can't inhabit the same universe. This is the choice facing the orchestrators of the main theme tune, and where they go, we can only follow.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.





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