China's education minister on Friday ordered the country's colleges and universities to ban textbooks that promote "western values," a phrase that often refers to democracy and human rights.
Yuan Guiren told a higher education forum that Chinese institutions should take steps to protect their "political integrity," and "never let textbooks promoting western values appear in our classes," official media reported.
Yuan said colleges and universities should step up "ideological management, especially of textbooks, teaching materials and class lectures," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
In particular, textbooks and materials taken direct from western sources should be further controlled, he said.
Yuan also said higher education institutions should ban any negative comments about the ruling Communist Party from its classrooms.
"Remarks that slander the leadership of the Communist Party of China, smear socialism or violate the country's Constitution and laws must never appear or be promoted in college classrooms," Xinhua quoted him as saying.
He warned teachers and lecturers not to grumble or express discontent in front of their students.
Xinhua cited the case of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was handed a life jail term for separatism in September after the authorities accused him of "spreading separatist thoughts" among his students, charges which Tohti has repeatedly denied.
‘Western’ cultural imports
Yuan's comments come as China steps up a nationwide campaign to reject what officials describe as "western" cultural imports, including celebrating Christmas.
But a university professor who asked to remain anonymous said Yuan's comments were "nonsense" and harked back to the Mao era when China was shut off from the rest of the world.
"This is the same as the closed door policy," the professor said. "For the education minister to be saying such things is deeply embarrassing."
She added: "If we're going to reject all western ideologies, Marxism...much of modern science and even university education itself came from the West."
"According to Yuan Guiren, we should abolish universities, including the education ministry, and run private schools for the study of classical Chinese texts," she said.
"As we're traveling back 2,000 or 3,000 years, we could bring back foot-binding and speak in archaic Chinese."
Sense of menace
Rights lawyer Zhang Xuezhong wrote in a social media post that Yuan's words carried a chilling sense of menace.
"His speech contains a number of uses of 'must' and 'mustn't,' and is intended to give university lecturers a good talking-to," Zhang said.
"As the highest-ranking education official, Yuan takes a confrontational and threatening tone, which is aimed at frightening and humiliating university lecturers across the country," he wrote.
"Chinese university teachers already lack academic freedom, but now they've even lost their basic dignity," Zhang said.
Yuan's speech comes just days after the Communist Party ideological magazine Qiushi published an article criticizing university lecturers for "bad-mouthing China."
Liu Jingsheng, a veteran dissident who served more than 10 years in jail for his part in the 1989 pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, now a member of writers' group Independent Chinese PEN, said Yuan's comments were no accident, but part of a concerted clampdown on free speech by President Xi Jinping.
"Xi Jinping has a Mao Zedong complex," Liu said. "Ever since he came to power, he has trumpeted his support for a socialist value system."
"But he can't get back to the Mao era entirely."
He said Xi's administration is trying to instill such ideological notions in the minds of children from primary school onwards.
"But this isn't likely to be sustained, because of the impact of economic factors [contact with the outside world]," Liu said.
Yuan's warning came as a Hong Kong-based Egyptian poet and academic was denied a visa to teach after being hired as a visiting professor by Beijing Normal University.
Sayed Gouda said the visa denial is likely linked to the publication of his recent novel Closed Gate, which describes the experiences of a young Palestinian man in Beijing during the mass student-led democracy movement of 1989.
Gouda, a permanent Hong Kong resident, told reporters that the decision on his visa came through nine days after Closed Gate was launched in Hong Kong.
"They told me it's because I'm from Hong Kong...but I thought it was very strange, because I have a permit to travel to the mainland," Gouda said.
"I know it has nothing to do with my visa; it's to do with the novel I wrote."
He added: "My novel didn't set out to criticize the Chinese government...but the student demonstrations formed the background of the novel, so it would be impossible to ignore them."
Sayed Gouda wrote Closed Gate based on his experiences as an exchange student in Beijing from 1988 to 1989 when he witnessed the Tiananmen crackdown, Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper reported.
His novel was launched at Hong Kong's June 4th Museum in Tsimshatsui on Jan. 18.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.