Xiaofen’s lack of trust in how her university would respond to activism is also linked to widespread cultural attitudes. These are a result of deeply rooted distrust in local officials and the tightly controlled and censored media, which has targeted low-level officials as scapegoats for social problems and corruption.
In addition to town fellowship organisations, many students are members of the Chinese Communist Party. Xue Zhang, a 23-year-old postgraduate, offered us some insights into the popularity of CCP membership.
A Party member for three years, Xue swore by her absolute loyalty to the Party State. When speaking, she consistently switched between Wo and Guo Jia (“I” and “nation family”), a linguistic move demonstrating an affinity between a person and their country. She told us that, “An individual’s life chance is entirely dependent on a nation’s development.”
However, the unspoken motive of joining the CCP was to advance one’s own competitiveness in Party membership, which opens doors to graduate schools and leads to job opportunities. Xue had not socialised or bonded with her Party fellows. She expressed distrust in her “individualistic” Party fellows, considering them to be “competitors” rather than “comrades”. Her trust was in the Party State, not the members of her community.
The Chinese government’s focus on meritocracy has led millions of youth to become preoccupied with academic degrees, competitiveness and employability. This preoccupation has also prevented university youth from engaging in activities devoted to the public good.
Unquestioned loyalty to the State and strong in-group trust in town fellows firmly lock university students into closely knit bubbles. This leaves little space for civic engagement.
The participants’ identities and institutions were anonymised, and pseudonyms were used instead.
This article was originally feature in The Conversation, you can read it here.
Protests in Hong Kong, June 9 2019. PaulWong/Shutterstock
Graduates from Peking University, China. tangxn/Shutterstock