Given that the Chinese government has banned Twitter, Facebook and Google, we shouldn’t be too surprised that it also restricts free speech on China’s campuses. Earlier this month, the president’s office at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou released a list of guidelines to lecturers that included a ban on criticising the Chinese constitution and the ruling Communist Party. It also warned that the spread of religion and superstition was prohibited.
Ever since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, in which students played a prominent role, the Chinese regime has sought to minimise the possibility of dissent on university campuses. Following the 2014 student-led ‘umbrella’ protests in Hong Kong, it has extended its efforts. Last month, President Xi Jinping said that universities must ‘serve the rule of the Chinese Communist Party and serve to strengthen and promote socialism within Chinese characteristics’. Universities, he went on, must be ‘strongholds that adhere to party leadership’.
But while we in the West might find this shocking, state censorship on university campuses is not unique to China. Earlier this month, the Chinese government called on universities to limit the use of foreign textbooks that promote Western values. But, interestingly, in the UK, a country built on ‘Western values’, there is a growing trend towards state interference in the academy.
As part of the Home Office’s Prevent Strategy against extremism, the government requires universities to ban ‘extremist’ speakers and watch for signs of student ‘radicalisation’. A few weeks ago, King’s College London admitted that, to meet the obligations of Prevent, it now monitors all student emails.
This isn’t limited to universities, either. Prevent was taken to an absurd extreme in 2015 when police questioned a Muslim schoolboy in Islington after he uttered the phrase ‘ecoterrorism’ in a French class. And when Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from speaking at his old grammar school in Kent, it wasn’t at the behest of the school or its pupils – many of whom later expressed their outrage at the decision. Rather, it was the result of an intervention from the Department for Education’s extremism unit.