At Prestigious Peking University, a Debate Over the ‘Chinese Dream’

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Last June, China’s leader Xi Jinping visited Peking University, the country’s premier academic institution. Addressing students from the school of archaeology and museology, Xi, who was then China’s Vice President, gave a boilerplate speech, encouraging the students to study hard and work at “party building,” the curious term used by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to describe efforts to perpetuate its own power.

On April 28, the undergraduate league of the students whom Xi addressed last year returned the favor with a letter to the new Chinese leader. In their missive, they reported on their efforts to educate themselves — a process that has apparently proceeded swimmingly — and expressed their ardor for Xi’s new political slogan, the Chinese dream. The catchphrase, which is designed to unite the Chinese people at a time of economic uncertainty and growing social unrest, has been widely covered in the state media — even if few are sure exactly what it means. This month, Xi sent a letter back to the Peking University students, encouraging the students to “cherish their glorious youth, strive with pioneer spirit and contribute their wisdom and energy to the realization of the Chinese dream.”

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But far from instilling patriotism in the hearts of Peking University students, the Chinese-dream letter campaign has instead raised questions about the august school’s ethos. Founded in 1898, Peking University has played a crucial role in China’s recent history. Early last century, the school served as the headquarters of a cultural movement aimed at disseminating democracy and science across the nation. In 1919, Peking University students helped drive the May Fourth anti-imperialist movement. During the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protests, Peking University students were again on the forefront of dissent; the university’s students were among those killed by government troops during the June 4 crackdown.

But since 1989, politics have become a harder sell at Peking University, with minders on alert for any antigovernment sentiment. Instead, party cadres have focused on instilling proper communist fervor in these elite students. On the afternoon of May 3, when Xi’s return letter was sent to the university, administrators held three different meetings to properly convey the spirit of Xi’s letter. Then on the morning of May 4, the 115th anniversary of Peking University’s establishment, the school held another meeting, catchily entitled “The forum held at Peking University to study and implement General Secretary Xi Jinping’s reply to all the students of the school of archaeology and museology, Peking University 2009 undergraduate mission branch.”

The news about the May 4 forum, held on the very day that is linked to one of China’s most cherished reform movements, quickly spread on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog service. (Twitter is banned in China.) Online commentators mocked the sycophantic campaign and lamented that Peking University had lost its independent, politically edgy character. “How servile PKU is,” wrote one Weibo user, using the university’s initials. “PKU is not the old PKU anymore.”

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Students and alumni too were incensed. “This really crossed the line,” says Hearst Ho, a 21-year-old student at Peking University. “For the university’s party cadres, the whole thing may be completely normal, but for Peking University itself, this is nothing but a humiliation.” Some alumni were spurred into action. Huang Yun, who studied ethics at Peking University from 2002 to ’06, wrote an open letter criticizing the school’s role in promoting Xi’s China dream. “When I saw the news, I felt it was really disgusting,” says Huang. “I thought we should do something more than just jeering online, so I decided to issue an open letter, telling the PKU party cadres openly that underlings fawning over their superiors is not suitable at Peking University.”

On the evening of May 5, Huang issued the open letter on her Sina Weibo account. “As graduates of Peking University, we are deeply shocked by our alma mater’s political flattery,” the letter opined. Says Huang: “In my opinion, the essence of Peking University’s spirit is independence and freedom of thought. By issuing the open letter, we hope we can arouse people’s memory of the old PKU spirit.”

As the letter circulated on Weibo, 75 other Peking University graduates joined the original signatories. Following the predictable pattern of censorship on Sina Weibo, the document was quickly deleted from Huang’s Weibo account. The university’s party cadres sprang into action as well. On May 10, Huang got a message from her school’s communist minders, asking her to “understand” what Peking University did and stop politicizing the incident.

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Huang, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Nanjing University, says she does not have expectations of dramatic change resulting from the open letter. But at a time when Chinese society is becoming more political — with ordinary people expressing dissatisfaction with everything from the rich-poor gap to environmental woes — she’s committed to encouraging introspection within the Peking University community. “The business of politicians is politics, not acting as the citizens’ spiritual guru,” she says. “However in China, when someone becomes a political leader, he automatically gains a qualification as the whole nation’s mentor. If we Chinese cannot change this, we will always be spiritual slaves.”

And what does Huang think of the Chinese dream itself, Xi’s political slogan? “If there is a China dream, it should be freedom,” she says. “But it is a dream we still have not realized today.”

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8 comments
thuan.lam
thuan.lam

We, Chinese, don't dream. We know what we want and what we need to do. The Americans dream and hope. You don't know what you want neither what you need to do..

YCLIU
YCLIU

Huang is right that "If we Chinese cannot change this, we will always be spiritual slaves.”

Chinese students should continue to learn from Martin Luther King, as they started in more than 20 years ago, see http://www.researchmethods.org/WMDC-1989.pdf .



ScottRyan
ScottRyan

U mean the dreams of the people or the GOV.

It doesn't matter what the Chinese people want, because the GOV runs the show & runs the media and locks them all up and makes people disappear, if they even try say a world. They murder them.

There is beyond proof that they do. Right a book about democracy or there gov, then that person goes missing never to be seen again, or is found dead. times that by 100ds if not 1,000s of people.  THE CHINES GOV ARE MURDERING CRIMINALS, THAT ARE JUST LIKE ALL THE PEOPLE WE LOCK UP AND ARE IN JAIL. WE ALL 100% KNOW THIS IS CORRECT.

What dream could that gov have?

Well seen as they want 2 cling to power and the commonest GOV lets people get murdered from there orders "clearly", i think we know there dream of taking over no 1 and whats going to happen when u just look at in and what kind of people they are.

You don't let murders get put in a position to build up or get trillions of dollars and so on.

They the top people in charge give orders to murder people that speak out, They give the orders to murder people that right books. They ether kill them / they disappear never to be seen again "killed them, or lock them up & lock up there family members or make there life hell.

Just like the guy that spoke out, he went to jail like 1,000s of others, and the people in charge in china's gov, gives the order to go kill his family members, make them disappear, and harass the rest. Anit know bun just by odds making all theses people get killed or disappear. plus locking them up.

They are criminals / thugs / 100% murders,  that give orders to murder innocent civilians. They have blood on there hands are we are meant to trust them, when they say we will never star wars but already there is big trouble with islands India's boarder.

China said from the start, nothing will happen when we grow. They even said we will never build build up big. We will never build attack weapons. We will never build aircraft carries. No now that we got busted and did do all them things, even after releasing statements, going on TV saying groundless & lie. Aircraft carries are only for shipping lanes now, after there last statement said they never would build them. We will never use them in a war. then there army  come out saying they will be used for wars / disputes.

10 busted lies just for building up weapons. even after saying to us groundless & lies, they had already started making attack weapons to attack people, and even already did the deal to buy the aircraft carries, why the said groundless & lie with know proof. "murders people" that should be in jails.

They give orders to murder innocent civilians people. They are just like the people in jails in the west and there, that murder people and get locked up.

100% we know they have at first hand had mass people killed. protesters, people that right book and many other people.

They are murders that give the orders to make those people shut up "kill them". So we are going to give them a market, trust them even after been busted lying so many times about building up weapons, a risk to the world and peace / democracy. yes murders people.

Your taking the world of murderers, that have been busted lying about building up, as each time they have said to the west media, "groundless and a lie". They have said when we put it to them about building up, groundless and a lie with no proof, but then they did it & built  it. They have build attack weapons, build aircraft carries, and lied again & again. 

so we know they as murders that give the orders to kill and shut people up. we know they have lied to us about building up that leads to war, and they have been busted lying to us 100s of times.

So we are talking the word or people that murder people. So we would take the word of some mass or murderer in a jail in the west.

So even when we trusted them murders that 100% u all know murdered them people non stop and counting. we let them grow and build. Even after they said to the media / us. We are wrong and we only want peace, but they have been busted lying about building them weapons and every signal thing.

Dar they are murders that crush and murder the people if they try talk out. we all know the gov does this. we are going to trust them murders that have even been busted lying about what they are doing over and over again? 

Nothings going to happen A?

This is a joke and shows u how dumb the west gov is, and all the people that know this, and are doing nothing to stop what is clear.

Its amazing what we are letting take place. Don't even take into account "lest we forget, after ww2", and to never let something lie this happen ever again". We know they are pure murders that kill people, and not just that, that they have lied to us about building up weapons and are letting this happen OMG.

The human race is thick ass, and will repeat its self again. 

jefforsythe9
jefforsythe9

People living in Mainland China have been so brainwashed by the brutal Chinese Communist Party that when the Chinese Military was mowing down thousands of Chinese students with machine guns during the Tiananmen Massacre, fellow students were saluting and singing the National Anthem. Since 1949 the cruel Party has murdered over one hundred million of its own people. It is far too late for the  Chinese Communist Party to own up to or redeem itself for its past sins because those sins are too great and too heinous.  Crimes such as the attempted genocide of tens of millions of innocent Falun Gong practitioners by the use of torture, slavery, organ harvesting and murder which is happening right now. Once the cruel Party dissolves, and it soon will, the common gangsters, who call themselves leaders, will have to pay in court for their crimes. This is just my understanding, thank you for your consideration.

ysprefer
ysprefer

As confucius says: "respect and honor the god and ghost, while keep a distance from them". All religions in the world request people to be upright, kind, just and fair, and to cherish life; what kind of religion or gongfu it is for falun gong, to ask people to burn himself; "It's always absurd to me that the god will reward or punish a mortal by the standard of a mortal", it was said by Einstein. It's seemed more absurd to me about the propoganda of Falun Gong practitioner. It's not good to attack your own country and mislead people in some heresy that no one believe.

Am I brainwashed, may be, I am brainwashed by the book of many great men of China and the World before me. For this issue, I think the government of china has done a good job by crashing down a heresy, that may have the potential of misleading people and make chaos in the society.

jefforsythe9
jefforsythe9

@ysprefer The burning video has been long ago proven to be made by Communist Chinese actors and police. Falun Gong practice truthfulness,compassion and tolerance. There is a brutal genocide being committed by the CCP in China, but if you choose to ignore it, that is up to you.

ysprefer
ysprefer

Very interesting article from the point of view of western society. Truely confident people do not care about the criticisms of other people, he may cherish them, knowing that criticism is good, even its self is wrong. whatever is right will be right, and what ever is wrong will be more obvious to be wrong after a thorough thinking.

1. The situation is " some people are easy to be agitated by misleading propoganda, while another people do not care what you say, he will see the world in his own eye, and judge the situation according to his own sense."

2. If China want to be a great country, it shall has the courage to wear the national flag as its underwear, it shall have the courage to criticize itself in the most serious way, and welcome the criticism from outside world, no matter if its intention are good or not.

3. The world is changing very fast, the mind of people also change, although in a relatively slower manner. Most Chinese people are educated in English language, they can understand what they are saying about, and they can judge by themselves. And with the help of internet, information are spreaded much quicker than before. The letter from Chinese leader to the students of PKU, is just a posture of  encouraging the students to study more harder and work more harder for a brighter future of China, and the letter responed is just a posture of the sycophantic officers. it's not a big deal.

yvonwest007
yvonwest007

Very interesting how these Chinese students adeptly strike at the very heart of the problem (intellectual and spiritual submission to the party) instead of threatening the Communists’ right to rule as a political entity. This leaves the party cadres with very little justification to retaliate or strike back, even though encouraging an independent mindset and freedom of thought actually bring the one-party rule dangerously close to a slippery slope that will eventually undermine its power.