Chongqing University Seeks Student Informants With Minority Languages

2021-03-11
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Chongqing University Seeks Student Informants With Minority Languages First-year students attend a commencement ceremony at Wuhan University, in China's central Hubei province, Sept. 26, 2020.
AFP

A university in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing is hiring student informants who speak minority languages, as part of a recruitment drive to "maintain political stability" on campus, RFA has learned.

In a recruitment notice dated March 8, the Sichuan International Studies University campus security office said it was hiring "campus security informants" to collect information relating to "campus security."

The advertisement used similar language to job ads posted online by dozens of higher education institutions looking for campus security guards, who wear uniform and who are expected to cooperate fully with police in "security maintenance" operations designed to prevent unrest before it happens.

The informants' job descriptions were based on "requirements set down by higher-level police departments," the notice said.

Successful recruits would be responsible for collecting any information relevant to campus security and reporting it to the authorities, including information used to "maintain political stability," it said.

"Sophomores, juniors, and graduate students only may apply," it said, adding that members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would be preferred, as well as people who can speak "a minority language."

"Party members, student leaders, candidates who understand minority languages and those from poor families are preferred," the notice said. "Remuneration and bonuses will be met by the Chongqing municipal police department."

A source told RFA that student informers are present in most classes, tutorials, and lectures to monitor everything said by students and faculty alike.

A person familiar with the situation, who gave only a surname, Zheng, said that the informant system had been given a new lease of life under CCP general secretary Xi Jinping.

"It's very simple. These security information officers are students who work part-time as informants," Zheng said. "A lot of professors in China actually get reported [for saying the wrong thing] by these campus security informants."

"They are calling for party members and student officials, but it's also kind of a political test," he said. "Applicants from poor backgrounds are given financial incentives and bonuses."

Identities kept secret

A former student of ethnic minority languages at the school said the state security police would often recruit informants from departments teaching minority languages like Uyghur.

He said that while the recruitment exercise was carried out in public, the actual identities of the informants would remain a closely guarded secret.

An employee who answered the phone at the university's campus security office on Thursday declined to comment.

"We can't discuss this with you, and we don't give interviews," the employee said. "You should contact the propaganda department, and they would have to agree to it before you could call us."

Repeated calls to the number of a lecturer surnamed Li that was listed on the job ad as a contact for recruits rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.

The work carried out by informants on Chinese campuses has resulted in the firing or suspension of dozens of academics since 2019.

In December 2019, Chinese universities began removing references to academic freedom from their charters, and replacing them with a pledge of loyalty to the CCP.

Shanghai's prestigious Fudan University removed references to "freedom of thought," prompting a daring clap-back on social media from students, who staged a flash protest on campus at the time.

China's ministry of education said Nanjing University and Shaanxi Normal University had also submitted amended versions of their charters to the ministry, which had approved all three.

The move came after a number of Maoist students from top universities flocked to the southern city of Shenzhen to support workers at Jasic Technology in their bid to set up an independent labor union. Dozens of students were detained and arrested, while some remain incommunicado.

Ideological controls

Since taking power in 2012, Xi Jinping has launched an unprecedented set of ideological controls and boosted the institutions needed to enforce them.

Xi has repeatedly warned members of the political class not to go off message in public, and set up a nationwide monitoring agency to supervise and detain anyone remotely connected with the government, including civil servants, teachers and academics, journalists, and contractors.

The authorities are stepping up monitoring of staff and students at the country's higher education institutions through the use of personal data, surveillance cameras in classrooms, as well as via student informants, who typically report back to the authorities around once every two weeks, according to online documents.

Xi's approach stems from a 2013 article titled "Improving Ideological and Political Work Among Young Teachers in Colleges and Universities," and from his reiteration of the "Seven Taboos" that mustn't be discussed in public by servants of the state, including teachers.

The seven banned topics 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.

Reported by Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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