China‘s president Xi Jinping has called for the Communist Party to exert greater ideological control over universities, state media reported Friday, amid a broad crackdown on academic freedom and dissent in the world’s second-largest economy.

Institutes of higher education must “serve the rule of the Chinese Communist Party and serve to strengthen and promote socialism with Chinese characteristics”, Xi said at a meeting on ideological and political work that ended Thursday, according to the official Xinhua news service.

Xi Jinping. Photo: StandNews.

The move is the latest effort by China‘s ruling Communist party to push its dogma in classrooms, raising fears over tightening limits on already curtailed academic and intellectual liberties.

Universities must integrate “ideological work” throughout the entire process of students’ education, Xi said, calling for more lessons in Marxist theory.

Chinese universities are “under the leadership of the CCP, and are socialist colleges with Chinese characteristics, so higher education must be guided by Marxism,” he added.

Tsinghua University. Photo: WikiMedia.

China has seen a sprawling crackdown on dissent under Xi, restricting citizens’ speech online and jailing hundreds of lawyers who had taken on civil rights cases considered sensitive by the ruling party.

Universities have become a major battleground in this quest for party control.

China has long mandated that all university students take “political education” classes, but state media have bemoaned that students in the country’s colleges have lost interest in official ideology.

Earlier this year Chinese professors wrote a letter claiming economics students were being “brainwashed by Western theories” and calling for more Marx in classrooms.

Speeches by the top leader send signals to cadres about the direction of policy.

The People’s Daily newspaper, the party mouthpiece, published Xi’s speech on its front-page Friday alongside a front-page commentary urging party members to “seize” the task of directing university ideology.

“Teachers are humanity’s engineers of the soul, upholding a sacred mission,” Xi said.

In November China passed a controversial cybersecurity bill that banned internet users from publishing a wide variety of information, including anything that damages “national honour”, “disturbs economic or social order” or is aimed at “overthrowing the socialist system”.

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