Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Challenging the Big Brother: Sovietization of Chinese Higher Education and Its Criticism in the 1950s

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Casuarina, Lower Ground Floor

Beginning in 1952, Chinese higher education went through a brief, intense, and transformative period of Sovietization, as the entire university system was reformed after the Soviet model. General education was replaced by professional training for technocrats, schools and departments were regrouped to prioritize engineering over humanities and social sciences, and private or Christian institutions were dissolved. Despite these transformations that have made a lasting influence on the Chinese higher education even till today, the guiding principles of the Party-state and Partification through indoctrination have been continued, if not intensified, in both the Republican era and the Mao years.


My paper explores how the Sovietized university education in China changed campus life in the early 1950s, and more importantly, how university professors and students criticized these dramatic changes in the blooming and contending of 1957. The process of Sovietization in Chinese universities was by no means smooth because it generated and exacerbated tensions between Western-educated “bourgeois intellectuals” and Communist indoctrinated “red/expert” cadres. Nevertheless, learning from the Soviet Union was politically unquestionable and not up to challenge – except during the Hundred Flowers and the Rectification Campaigns of 1957, when not only university professors but also students spoke out against Sovietization in education and beyond. Ironically, the education system that called for obedience created its own dissidents. Thus, I argue that despite adopting the Soviet model in Chinese higher education in an effort to strengthening ideological indoctrination, independent and critical thinking persisted among college students through in the 1950s.

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