Scheme at Peking University in Beijing angers undergraduates and prompts comparison with Cultural Revolution.One of China's most prestigious universities has announced plans to screen all students and identify those with "radical thoughts" or "independent lifestyles", provoking angry reactions from undergraduates and comparisons to the Cultural Revolution.
Administrators at Peking University say their focus is on helping those with academic problems. But the institution's announcement identifies nine other categories of "target students" – including people with internet addiction, psychological fragility, illness and poverty, plus those prone to radical thinking and independent or "eccentric" lifestyles.
It adds: "The objective of the consultation programme is to help individual students achieve an all-around and healthy development." It says officials should respect students' individual differences but they must "address ideological problems and practical issues" and help to guide them.
Zha Jing, deputy director of the office of student affairs, insisted the university was not trying to punish or control students but to "create an environment for healthy growth".
Zha said: "We've noticed ... some students having radical thoughts and bigoted character and encountering difficulties in interpersonal communication, social adaptiveness and their studies. They cannot analyse and handle their problems in daily life in a rational and manifold way. For example, they cannot get on well with roommates, cannot handle love setbacks in a calm way and cannot adapt to career life after graduation."
Earlier, when asked about students with "radical thoughts", he told the Beijing Evening News: "For instance, some students criticised the university just because the food price in the canteen was raised by 2 jiao [2p]."
While some students have voiced support for the university, others are furious. One student told the Beijing Evening News that the college where the scheme had been piloted was known for liberal thinking, but that the new rules would make people think it wanted to cage its students' minds.
Peking University has a similar standing to Oxford or Cambridge but, unlike those institutions, has a reformist reputation: its students played a crucial role in the 4 May movement of 1919 and the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square demonstrations.
Zhang Ming, a politics professor at Renmin University, also in Beijing, said: "For a university to see a student having radical thoughts or independent thinking as a bad thing that has to be punished, is terrible. College students are all young and energetic – it is normal for them to have differentiated, active thoughts. It is their right to be radical. If a university punishes this, the university is morally degenerating."
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century education research institute in Beijing, told China Daily: "The university is somewhere to cultivate people's independent personalities and thinking, so it's totally wrong for Peking University to intervene in students' freedom to express their different opinions."
A university spokesman told the Guardian that all interviews had to be requested seven days in advance. The ministry of education has not responded to faxed queries.
The scheme has been piloted in a college at the university since November. It is due to be rolled out in May, although a statement posted on Monday.