Western ideas a no-no in China - except for top cadres

May 04, 2015 10:13
Cadres attend a discussion featuring US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and US deputy secretary of energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall at CELAP last month. Photo: AP

Western ideas are being taught to promising Communist Party members in China even as they are being banned from classrooms and campuses across the country.

At the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP) in Shanghai, about 10,000 party loyalists each year hear from top western scholars and executives about management techniques, media relations, urban development and innovation, AP reported.

"It does no harm for top leaders to get to know different ideas in the world," Zhang Xuezhong, who was barred from teaching at East China University of Political Science and Law in 2013, after publishing an article critical of the government, was quoted as saying.

"The Communist Party expects the people it rules to be ignorant, but they would not expect themselves to be like this."

Exposure to foreign ideas is becoming more important for those at the forefront of transforming China's economy and role on the world stage.

But for everyone else, education has become an ideological battleground, where destabilizing western values must be eliminated in case they weaken the party's grip on power.

"Young teachers and students are key targets of infiltration by enemy forces," Education Minister Yuan Guiren wrote in January.

At around the same time, he told university officials to bar "teaching materials that disseminate western values", the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Meanwhile, westerners continue to bring their ideas and best practices to CELAP.

More than 470 government leaders, business executives and academics from more than 30 countries have taught at CELAP.

The school says it has partnered with Harvard Business School, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School, Oxford University and the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

Former prime ministers Gordon Brown of Britain, Julia Gillard of Australia and the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore have visited.

Former World Bank president Robert Zoellick and former US treasury secretary Henry Paulson have given lectures.

The school also has tie-ups with IBM China and Procter & Gamble China.

"It's a very unusual institution in China," AP quoted Oxford's Nicholas Morris, who has taught at CELAP for a decade, as saying.

"This institution's job is to help Chinese leaders understand western practice."

The school can accommodate up to 800 cadres for one- to three-week courses, CELAP officials said.

CELAP, which does not offer degrees, was one of three academies founded in 2005 to train high-ranking cadres. Since then, it has hosted more than 100,000 students.

President Xi Jinping, in an address in 2010, two years before he rose to lead the country, tasked CELAP with being "more innovative in helping participants develop a global perspective and enhancing their governing capacity".

But innovation is kept within a Chinese context, the report said.

"We should understand the outside world," school spokeswoman Chen Yili said.

"China understands that ideas from the outside may not suit China, but we need to take the ideas that work for China."

Foreigners teach about 12 percent of the classes, the school said.

The deeper goal, some argue, is to help top cadres strike the correct balance between worldliness and ideological purity in China's shifting political environment.

"These cadres who have to mingle daily with foreign business people are treading a fine line," said Willy Lam, an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"They have a mandate to study and benefit from western management, but at the same time, they must satisfy Xi's demands on nationalism."

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