The administration of President Xi Jinping is stepping up a nationwide political campaign targeting higher education institutions in China, as a number of professors have lost their jobs over comments made online or in public, an overseas rights group said on Thursday.
"The worsening conditions for free speech by academics in China come as universities aggressively implement Xi Jinping’s ideological assault on universal values, including against freedom of expression," the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which compiles reports from groups inside China, said in a report on its website.
It said at least six professors have been affected since April, of whom four have been fired.
Guizhou University professor Yang Shaozheng was fired after he made comments critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in an online article.
Yang received notice in Aug. 2018 that he would stop receiving wages in 20 days, and his appeal against the decision was rejected on Sept. 30, CHRD said.
Meanwhile, Xiamen University history professor Zhou Yunzhong was fired on Sept. 1 after he made "inflammatory" comments about Chinese society on his social media account.
And in June, economics professor You Shengdong lost his job at the same institution after students reported comments he made in class to school authorities that were supposedly "politically inappropriate," the group said.
The Hebei Engineering University fired professor Wang Gang in July for criticizing the government on the social media platform WeChat, while Zhai Juhong was suspended from teaching at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Hubei after she criticized the constitutional amendments allowing President Xi to rule indefinitely.
And in April, assistant professor Xu Chuanqing was suspended from teaching class at Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture after students reported comments he made in class about the "superiority" of Japanese students to Chinese students.
The seven taboos
Political commentator Li Weidong said Xi's campaign on China's campuses is based on the "seven taboos," a list of things never to be discussed in public life, the subject of party Document No. 9, which veteran political journalist Gao Yu was jailed for "leaking overseas."
They are: universal values of human rights and democratic, constitutional government; press freedom; civil society; citizens' rights; the historical mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party; the financial and political elite; and judicial independence.
"These are their red lines," Li said. "You can't talk about freedom, constitutional government, or even social responsibility."
"This is fundamentally illiberal, comprehensively opposes universal values," he said. "This is a process of Nazification, which is very dangerous."
Xia Ming, a professor of political science at the City University of New York, said there is no public space left in which Chinese academics feel safe having a debate.
"I agree with Li Weidong's statement that China is becoming like the Nazi regime," Xia said. "Now is a time of totalitarian expansion, and China has abandoned all classical Marxism."
"Xi Jinping's faction has taken the place of the party, and the party has taken the place of the government," he said. "Xi Jinping has become a new god, which means that he has also replaced the government. This is a very dangerous practice."
Li said that while the party would always revere the idea of late supreme leader Mao Zedong, Xi's administration now has the hallmarks of an extreme-right regime.
"Xi Jinping would never ditch Mao, because he is basically like an ancestral tablet to the leadership," Li said. "He also binds the party and government together, into a nationalistic entity."
"Actually, this is really right-wing centralization of power, with a strongman at its core," he said.
Xia said the party will likely move onto mass political campaigns, once it has locked down freedom of speech on campus.
"This kind of right-wing regime needs the support of various mobs, and that will follow once the Chinese Communist Party has managed to extinguish any trace of independent thought and the public availability of knowledge," he said.
Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.