Universities told to credit propaganda as publication

Ideologically-correct articles posted online could earn academics credits that could lead to promotion within the university, similar to credits earned from papers published in academic journals, according to universities that have received the diktat.

In some cases it can include publishing in China’s often bombastic tabloid newspaper the Global Times, which is an offshoot of the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, as well as any postings, of not less than 1,000 word articles carried by no less than 10 mainstream media outlets, or on the Chinese social media app WeChat, that attract more than 100,000 readers, as also being equivalent to publishing in a local Chinese-language academic journal.

Zhejiang University in Hangzhou on China’s eastern coast has informed faculty of its trial implementation of what it calls ‘network culture’ achievements to be ‘integrated into scientific research achievements’, with details published in China’s mainstream media.

Promotion evaluation and a range of evaluation awards will be based on implementing the approach, Zhejiang University’s guidelines said. The articles must reflect ‘core socialist values’ and influence public opinion with ‘correct thinking’, it said.

Also included are influential national-level education and science-related media such as China Education, China Youth Daily, Chinese Science, Beijing News, China Education Television, as well as important business portals, ‘with readerships of not less than 10 million’, among which were named Sina, internet giant Tencent, and Phoenix.

Articles in provincial-level papers with a readership of not less than 400,000 would also count towards academic credits.

It will apply to all students including research students, and faculty members, with the evaluation to be carried out by a committee of experts in June each year.

But some academics have said it is hard to assess the impact of articles published in such online media. "There may be some problems with the current promotion and evaluation system, but academic value should not rely on the number of clicks," Yin Jun, a teacher at Shenzhen University in Guangdong province was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying.

Ideological drive

The aim of the directive is two-fold – ideological strengthening within universities and flooding the media with politically-correct material written by intellectuals.

The ideological drive is seen as being linked to President Xi Jinping’s strengthening of party discipline on campuses in the run up to the important 19th Party Congress due to start 18 October, and seen as a bid to cement his leadership.

Inspectors from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s discipline watchdog, in June named 14 top universities as being weak in their political work.

Last year Chen Xu, party chief at the prestigious Tsinghua University, was quoted by China Education Daily as saying that lecturers’ political stance would be central to their performance evaluations, and that faculty and department party committees must routinely report on the political thoughts of young lecturers.

Similar credit for publishing articles on online state media websites and commercial portals was brought in last year by Jilin University in northeastern China. The university said at the time that propagating China’s achievements in “mainstream foreign media” also counted as an academic achievement.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu in Sichuan province have also informed their staff of similar schemes for obtaining academic credits.

But the ideological drive cuts both ways. Shi Jiepeng, a lecturer at Beijing Normal University, reportedly had his contract terminated on 25 July after being accused of posting "inappropriate comments" on social media, including WeChat, according to a copy of his termination letter posted on Twitter.

A statement released on 15 September after a meeting of the Party and the ministry of education emphasised the party’s authority over all centrally-administered universities and said universities should adhere to socialism and uphold the party leadership.