Sensitive words: “political background check”

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Article by Mandy Zuo in today's (11/9/18) South China Morning Post, "Chinese education officials sorry for announcing Mao-style political background check on students":

Education authorities in southwest China have apologised after they hit a raw nerve by announcing students must pass a “political background check” before they can take the national university entrance exam next year.

It was the Chongqing Education Examination Academy’s use of the term "zhèngshěn 政审" ("political review") that ignited the controversy:

In a statement late on Thursday, the academy said the “wrong word” had been used to describe the assessment. It said it was just referring to the routine assessment of a student’s “ideological and political character” required by the central government during college enrolment, according to the statement posted on its website.

That doesn't make it sound much better.

The term zhengshen refers to an investigation – often carried out by grass-roots party members – into not only someone’s own political stance but also that of their friends and relatives.

This political background check was used during the Mao Zedong era to filter out people whose families were categorised as “capitalists” from college admissions in the years before and during the Cultural Revolution.

Reaction to the use of the term "zhèngshěn 政审" ("political review") has been explosive, which shows that even the seemingly almighty CCP cannot act and speak with impunity.  They had best watch their words, lest people come to the conclusion that Chairman Xi is leading them down a path to the bad old days of Chairman Mao:

But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow

"Revolution", the Beatles

[h.t. John Rohsenow]


  1. Bathrobe said,

    November 9, 2018 @ 7:41 pm

    the routine assessment of a student’s “ideological and political character” required by the central government during college enrolment

    What exactly does this entail? Does anyone know?

  2. John Swindle said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 2:49 am

    Does this mean social media history nowadays?

    In 1964 or 1965 I was invited to apply for a fancy undergraduate scholarship to Michigan State University. We went to the campus, met some remarkable faculty members, and took some kind of test. We'd already been picked because of test scores, I think, but MSU had their own test. It included an essay question: It's been said that that government governs best which governs least. Does that mean that the best government would govern not at all? Discuss.

    I was amazed that they were probing our politics. I made some anodyne response but didn't get that particular scholarship.

  3. BZ said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 12:46 pm

    @John Swindle,
    If the question was exactly as you reproduced it, it is not probing your politics, but asking you to explain a point of view summarized by the quote. Nowhere does it ask whether you agree.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 2:46 pm

    FLASH: "Zhengshen Your Uncle!" — Vehement backlash against CCP's attempt to reinvoke the practice of zhengshen (political-ideological screening of college applicants) in college admissions:

    Radio France Internationale

  5. John Swindle said,

    November 13, 2018 @ 3:41 am

    I'm sure the question wasn't exactly as I reproduced it, and nonetheless you may well be right.

  6. Rodger C said,

    November 13, 2018 @ 8:02 am

    @John Swindle: What BZ said. I also suspect the writer of the question assumed a familiarity with Thoreau.

  7. Bathrobe said,

    November 13, 2018 @ 9:10 am

    What a marvellous post by 红拂女! It rips right into the arrogance of the Chinese authorities.

    One thing I did notice though: it combines scorn for the bureaucrats of the Communist Party with rabid territorial nationalism, as seen in the reference to the loss of 唐努乌梁海 (Tannu Uriankhai, currently Tuva in Russia). Hoping that Han rebelliousness will lead to any alleviation of oppression against smaller ethnicities is unrealistic. It seems that the opposite is more likely to be true.

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