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From Mozart to Mao

By TD / August 18, 1989



LATE, late at night last month at Beijing University a loud chorus arose from student quarters: ``Without the Communist Party, there will be no new China!'' The patriotic anthem was sung with heckling sarcasm and bitter irony by students who saw more clearly than ever the falsities of Chinese communism. Do China's leaders really believe their latest plan, announced this week, to indoctrinate all new freshmen in a Marxist ``patriotic education'' is going to thwart the widespread student interest in democratic ideas and expressions? It won't. It's more likely to make conditions more intolerable for the bright future leaders needed to build a new China.

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The plan gets students going and coming. Many will have to spend up to a year in a military camp before college. Before graduate school, they will have to work in factories or on farms. It's all an unenlightened throwback to the pre-Cultural Revolution days of the 1950s. Predictably, political reliability rather than academic quality will get students ahead. Expect their cynicism to deepen.

What's both comical and grotesque is how naked this move to snuff out truth is. It's about as subtle as a tank in Tiananmen Square. At Beijing U., history, philosophy, and international relations will be curtailed in favor of Mao, Marx, and Deng Xiaoping's ideas of party control. Teachers will have to present liberal Western ideas as divisive and spiritually polluted. At institutions devoted to seeking truth, they will have to lie. Freshman will be told that the People's Army would never shoot the people. That dissent and questioning are illegitimate.

Yet the larger truth is that it's 1989, not 1959. Political consciousness in China has changed. Many students feel the academic crackdown is a sign of weakness, not strength. Suppression will further whet the democratic appetite. Students will grimace this fall. Yet as during the song in Beijing last month, they might also wink.