China and Neighbourhood

Madness and Peking University: A Review of Insanity in the Age of Harmonious Society


Written by ANTONY OU

Sunday, 03 April 2011 16:00

tiananmen_copyOn 4th May 1919, over 3000 students of Peking University and other colleges demonstrated at Tiananmen. They condemned their current government for not having been able to secure national interests against the Imperial Japan and the West. Expressing disapproval of signing the unfair treaty “Twenty-One Demands” initiated by Japan, they demanded their government to refrain from signing the Treaty of Versailles in June of the same year—since, according to Article 156 of the Treaty, the concession ofShangdong peninsula (the birthplace of Confucius) would be transferred to Japan instead of to China. To a large extent, the demonstration was a nationalistic movement; yet, the incident marked the beginning of the New Culture Movement—an important milestone of Chinese modernization. Influenced by western thoughts such as liberalism, feminism and anarchism, the Chancellor of Peking University, Mr Cai Yuanpei, believed that science and democracy were the two most crucial intellectual forces and prescriptions for China, and by appointing “new culture” scholars such as Lu Xun, Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao and many other scholars, Peking University had subsequently developed to be the intellectual hub of China before the Japanese invasion.

The students of Peking University today (as well as Tsinghua University) are as brilliant as the students in 1919. The university has been the cradles of CCP leaders and big corporate chairmen. Nonetheless, the two universities—the Chinese equivalent of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK— are vastly different today.

Students are “measured” by GPA, and are maestros of the American graduate school exams such as GRE, GMAT and MCAT. In late October 2007, less than a year before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the “Democracy Wall”, a sacred place for students’ political and academic postings in decades, was replaced by an electronic board, with information censored by a school committee. The students were in general apathetic and the alumni were very upset about it, since the students have lost the battle of defending their own political space.

Comparing to the students of 1919, the majority of students may be much happier, because there is a considerable number of grills and bars at Wudaokou near the two universities. Moreover, joining a Peking/Tsinghua university Putonghua summer camp is a “perfect getaway” for most of the foreign exchange students. Share a taxi by “gang of four”, pay around 100RMB (£9.5) in total to Worker’s Stadium at Chaoyang District, arrive at Vics Club or Mix Club, 10pm; then get drunk and wasted with the local oriental girls. When they get back to their apartments, Zijing International Student Apartment at Tsinghua for instance, their provided towels are all printed “Tsinghua Property”. The rooms are cleansed every day by the diligent female workers. They are always doing their best to serve their customers.






“A Chinese cartoon depicting radical students are like cactus that should be abandoned.”






Like any gigantic corporations in the 21st century, universities are expanding both in terms of sizes and investments. The students are understandably more anomic and less enthusiastic to politics and social affairs. They are trained to be technocrats rather than romanticists and idealists. Quantity and efficiency are the norms for any “successful” universities. In these senses, Peking University and Tsinghua University are just like any other universities which embrace the virtue of global standardization.

What makes Peking University different, is that an infamous proposal attempting to examine and categorize “problematic” students shocks most of the school members and alumni. The university has designed a list of ten categories which denote “suffering” students of various kinds of predicaments. According to the university press release, there will be individual consultations (会商), organized by the university and its medical centre, for students who are “in need”. The students will be analyzed in depth and taken care of by related departments. They will be given plans to follow and eventually eradicate the problems. The new policy will begin in May this year. The ten-point checklist is as follows:

  1. Learning difficulties
  2. Radical thoughts
  3. Psychological fragility
  4. Poverty
  5. Atypical student statuses
  6. Independent way of living
  7. Internet addiction
  8. Employment difficulties
  9. Intractable illnesses
  10. Violating regulations and punishment


Cha Jing, deputy head of the university’s student affairs office, insisted that the proposed program was not intended to control and punish students. Rather, it would help the students who could not finish their degrees for various reasons. Yet, the university was also concerned about the students with “radical thoughts” who might exaggerate their complaints. For instance, according to Cha, some students would protest for a 20-cent rise of canteen food prices.


Students and academics were shocked and outraged by the proposal, condemning the authorities for having brought back the haunting memories of the Anti-Rightist Movement (starting from 1957) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Once a student is labelled with any of those “problems” on the checklist, they will automatically become the “untouchables” at school and even have his/her career jeopardized.

Peking University has opened up a new chapter in Chinese history of insanity in the age of harmonious society. It attempts to objectify and externalize the ten student categories, with the convenient help of science and medication. The “radical” students, together with the poor and ill ones, will be classified as the mad people. For the ones who once enjoyed of being “radical” to express their grievances are now keeping silent. They are afraid of being problems of the others. It is not necessary to set up a physical “great confinement”, since eventually, everyone can confine themselves perfectly.



I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Miss Eva Leung for her editing of my script. Usual disclaimer applies.


* Antony Ou is a PhD Researcher of University of Sheffield, the China Review editor of Political Reflection Magazine, and the China Representative of CESRAN. His monograph, Just War and the Confucian Classics: A Gongyangzhuan Analysis, has been published and is available at




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© Copyright 2011 by CESRAN

This material is available for republication as long as reprints include verbatim copy of the article in its entirety, respecting its integrity. Reprints must cite the author and CESRAN as the original source including a “live link” to the article. Thank you!

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