Nine universities with impeccable links to the ruling Chinese Communist Party have formed a new league to nurture the next generation of elite 'red' talent, state media reported.
Initiated by the Beijing Institute of Technology, the Yanhe Alliance has been joined by Renmin University, the Agricultural University of China and the Beijing Foreign Studies University, which trains people for careers in diplomacy.
The Central Conservatory of Music, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Central Academy of Drama, Central University for Nationalities and Yan'an University have joined the league, which references the Yan'an period of Chinese communism (1936-1949), when the party set up nine universities and training institutions for the next generation of Chinese officials and leaders.
“Those nine institutions spread the sparks of revolution across the whole country, starting a prairie fire," the Beijing Institute of Technology said in a statement published on Sina.com's education channel.
"Today, we come together once more to form a community to keep the spirit of Yan'an and the flame of communism alive, and to train the next generation," it said.
But commentators said the universities are more likely to be cashing in on the power of Yan'an in Communist Party mythology.
"They want to perpetuate this red DNA," independent scholar Zha Jianguo said. "Everything in mainland China is being partified now, including the education system."
"These nine institutions are likely just the start," he said. "This partification is aimed at freedom of education; it will set limits and forbidden areas to free thought among students."
Zha said the only task of a higher education institution should be to educate people.
"Higher education colleges should have freedom of thought, in all areas," he said. "The people they train should also be capable of thinking freely, and being creative."
"But this partification process will restrict and imprison that process on a massive scale," he said. "It will also affect China's ability to nurture talent and to modernize."
The "red DNA" metaphor is described by Baidu's encyclopedia as the "heritage of revolutionary spirit, with red symbolizing light and cohesive strength."
"The concept of "red DNA" is the spiritual core of Chinese communism," it said.
Independent Chengdu writer Tan Zuoren said he thought the report was a joke, at first.
"I actually thought this was a spoof," Tan said. "But now I believe it exists."
"It makes me think of Tan Lifu and Yu Luoke [whose speech] indicated the start and the end of the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976]."
"This is distorted and ugly behavior on the part of these people, who are driven by the desire for power," Tan said of the Yanhe League.
Tan Lifu's 1966 couplet espoused the genetic theory of revolutionary pedigree, claiming that "If the father was a hero, the son will be too. If the father is a reactionary bastard, then so is the son."
Yu Luoke was executed on March 5, 1970 for speaking out against the family inheritance of revolutionary credentials that condemned anyone related to a "class enemy" to the same status, regardless of their actions.
Since taking office in 2012, Xi Jinping has tightened ideological controls over all aspects of society, including universities, colleges, and schools.
His approach stems from a 2013 article titled "Improving Ideological and Political Work Among Young Teachers in Colleges and Universities," and from Xi's reiteration of the "Seven Taboos": topics 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 Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.