Peking scholar urges college reform after visiting American universities
The noted scholar Zhou Peiyuan has made an impassioned plea for university faculties to fashion their research and teaching programs free of interference from "outsiders."
In a page-long article in the People's Daily April 2, Professor Zhou used impressions of his five-month visit to the United States and Europe last year as the vehicle for an appeal for thorough reform of the way in which universities are run in China.
Again and again he attacked remnants of "leftist" thinking and errors surviving the 10 years of turmoil known as the Great Cultural Revolution (1966- 76), during which intellectuals were referred to as the "stinking ninth category" -- below the eight enemy categories known as landlords, rich peasants, capitalist roaders, counterrevolutionaries, rightists, bad elements, traitors, and enemy agents.
Professor Zhou is president of Peking University and holds degrees in physics from both the University of Chicago and California Institute of Technology. He is a member of the Communist Party and of the Jiusan Society, one of eight tolerated "democratic parties" allied with the Communists. The Jiusan Society appeals mainly to intellectuals.
In his article, Professor Zhou praises many aspects of the elite American universities he visited -- Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and others.
He also maintains that China, being a communist country, must have a university system different from and better than that of a capitalist country. He finds no fault with the Maoist dictum that an intellectual should be both red and expert -- that is, both dedicated to the cause of communism and expert within his own field of study.
He even accepts that in a socialist (i.e., communist) university, the leadership of the party must be "resolutely maintained." But this leadership of the party, he continues, must be "improved" and "reformed." In what way? In the direction of getting rid of leftist mistakes, of bureaucratism, blind leadership , and having "outsiders [those outside the teaching profession] lead insiders."
In the economic field, these mistakes were explicit and are being reformed. In education they were implicit, and therefore much more difficult to reform. It becomes clear that what Professor Zhou wants is less interference by nonintellectual party cadres in policymaking about research and teaching in the universities.
It is the teaching and research staff that makes a great university great, he says. His two American alma maters, Chicago and Caltech, are examples of this. So was Peking University itself under Tsai Yuanpei, its early president.
Teachers and scientists should be red but they must also be expert. All that mattered in the past was that they be "red," and professors were often appointed without regard to their qualifications -- appointing a teacher was just another personnel job, in the eyes of the bureaucracy.
Professor Zhou contrasts this with American universities where "publish or perish" is the rule and where candidates are invited from all over the country and from abroad to compete for available academic positions. Professor Zhou criticizes the majority of American students today for being hedonistic, money-grabbing, and rather lazy.
But Chinese students of today also need better guidance, he says. In 1980 the average age of students entering Peking University was 17.25 years. Once they enter, after stiff competitive examinations, their subjects and departments are fixed. It is exceedingly difficult to change departments.
But in the United States, students have wide latitude in selecting courses and in changing majors. Even those specializing in the sciences or engineering must take at least 20 percent of their course in humanities and the social sciences.
"We are not just training scientists or engineers. Most fundamentally, we are training the whole man," the president of Caltech told Professor Zhou. Professor Zhou's article hints at the malaise that still grips many Chinese universities today, despite the overthrow of the "gang of four" headed by Mao Tse-tung's widow, Jiang Qing, that ruled China during the Cultural Revolution.
For all the lip service that is paid to restoring a place of honor to intellectual workers, the party bureaucracy within universities seems to be moving with glacial slowness.
"It takes more than one cold day to freeze three feet of water. Similarly, it is going to take more than a night or a day to unfreeze three feet of ice," Pr ofessor Zhou concludes.