NYU Shanghai’s Chinese students set to take compulsory ‘civic education’ course next month

Simone McCarthy

Chinese students at New York University Shanghai will soon be taking a break from their courses to learn about the history and heroes of the Communist Party, as part of a government push to provide compulsory “civic education” to the nation’s young scholars.

The scheme was launched in December last year, and in line with Beijing’s requirements, a second batch of students from the east China satellite of the prestigious American university will next month be attending a series of discussions and site visits.

A spokesperson for NYU Shanghai said the civic education course had nothing to do with the university’s own curriculum. Photo: Handout.

“As NYU Shanghai is in China, our Chinese citizen students are required to take this course,” a spokesperson for the university said, adding that it was not a requirement of the organisation itself.

While the person did not say what the course would comprise, a copy of last year’s syllabus was recently published by Motherboard, Vice’s tech-focused online magazine. Provided by a former student, it showed the eight-day course included trips to patriotic sites like the Longhua Martyrs’ Cemetery in Shanghai, which honours those who died for the communist’s revolutionary cause, and watching videos about the “development of socialist culture with Chinese characteristics”.

“The course is taught during winter break,” the spokesperson said. “[So] it does not interfere with and bears no relation to our students’ regular NYU academic course load and hence to academic freedom.”

China updates patriotic education push to forge stronger national identity

The course was neither led by university professors nor in any way related to its academic syllabus, the spokesperson said.

“The NYU courses offered and taught during the academic year are as diverse and unrestricted as those taught at NYU in New York,” the person said.

“Research and classroom discussions in Shanghai are no different from those in New York.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping is keen to promote party loyalty among young people. Photo: Reuters

While the specific requirements of the civic education course are unknown, the subject is compulsory for all Chinese nationals pursuing a higher education. About half of NYU Shanghai’s 1,300 students come from the mainland.

Beijing has ramped up its efforts to promote patriotic education in recent years and put particular emphasis on cultivating loyalty to the party among young people.

At a conference earlier in the year to mark the 100th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement – a 1919 anti-imperialist political campaign led by students – Chinese President Xi Jinping called for stronger “political guidance” for young people, saying they should “connect their individual aspirations to national rejuvenation and socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

The political climate at Chinese universities has become increasingly tense in recent months, with reports suggesting students have been mobilised to monitor and report “radical” political views. Several outspoken lecturers have been sacked or disciplined for publicly expressing opinions deemed out of line with party thinking.

NYU Shanghai opened in 2012 as part of a joint venture with East China Normal University. It is one of several such satellites to have opened in China to meet the rising demand for places at Western universities.

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