Anti-intellectualism considers that power is the only source and centre of truth, and all other sectors and individuals have only one purpose, to demonstrate the rationality of power.
The true nature of anti-intellectualism is therefore authoritarianism, that is a form of thinking that is oriented towards power, puts power at the core, takes power as truth, and power as virtue. Power leads everything, power dominates everything. Power can everything, power has no limits.
Since after 1949, anti-intellectualism in China has been constant. In 1949, as the landlords were eliminated, so was the country elites. Later came the socialist transformation, which opposed capitalists, and eliminated the entrepreneurial and market elites. Finally came the anti-rightist movement, where intellectuals were targeted and didn’t dare say a word. Anti-intellectualism reached its peak in the cultural revolution, where Mao Zedong said ‘the most humble are the most noble, and the most noble are the most stupide.’ The more knowledge you had, the more you were reactionary, and intellectuals were ranked as part of the ‘ninth stinking category’.
After the Reform and Opening up, China reestablished university education, and for a period of time, anti-intellectualism disappeared from people’s view. But because political reforms have not come to completion, the status and nature of the university is not clear, and after fading out, anti-intellectualism soon returned to the university, and gradually became the dominant ideology and main form of consciousness within universities.
This is what anti-intellectualism looks like in the context of universities. First, university administration is dominated by officials. In this situation, teachers and scholars must follow the path laid by the officials: Shi Yigong, vice-president of Qinghua University, is a good example of this. As to the case of scholars who become officials, some people support it, some are opposed. The supporters say, if scholars become official, this will increase respect and recognition for other scholars. Scholars will not influence academic research, but certainly support its development in a certain direction. Those opposing the idea say, if scholars become officials, it will not benefit academic development, but the contemporary distortion of a bad tradition whereby the most learned men became officials. In fact, scholars becoming officials messes up with academic research, and with officialdom, and causes triple damage to students, other scholars, and the university itself. Having traditional officials and scholars side-by-side as official leadership of university causes great ridicule, and allows officials to be even more ignorant and tyrannical.
Two, university officials monopolize all sorts of resources. Chinese university presidents and officials are close to omnipotent. Apart from their roles as presidents and officials, they can also be scholars, teaching professors, famous PhDs, moderators on key national issues, receivers of special allowances from the State, national experts, provincial experts, academic leaders, and judges in all sorts of projects and committees. Those professors committed to academic life are eventually forced to quit academic research. There is neither future nor ‘funding’ in academic research, and engaging in research becomes a dead-end path for professors.
Third, university professors must submit to a whole range of officials. University professors do not bow to academic research, they have no particular reverence in their hearts for scholarship, but they do have reverence towards university officials, they surrender to officials, and flatter them. People at this level show all sorts of humilty towards official, writing essays on their behalf, conducting research or writing so-called monographs of no academic value, in short, the whole wedding dress. Those ignorant and incompetent officials thus become celebrated scholars and experts, while those who focus on teaching are educated gentlemen sweeping the floor. The officials eat meat, while the professors drink soup and cheer them,
Fourth, complex relationships at university make professors’ life miserable. Whether they’re doing their job well or not is not judged on their academic skills, but rather their interpersonal skills. If relationships are good, and academic skills are bad, that’s OK, they’ll get better at it. Conversely, if they’re not good with relationships, no matter how skilled they are academically, they’ll be pushed over by the first shopkeeper. In this kind of situation, a university professor cannot make research or teaching their main professional pursuit. They’re busy dealing with all sorts of relationships, and they’re particularly busy handling all sorts of complex relationships with various university officials and superiors at university. Efforts should not focus on academic work, but academic relationships, this has already become the guiding line for University Professors.
Five, university officials impose all sorts of evaluation measures on professors, leaving them exhausted. Each university conducts a full evaluation of teaching, research and examinations every year. 官员们年年搞，年年乐此不彼。These evaluations are important for professors career progression. The biggest killer among those is the evaluation of professors’ moral and political position. Whether a professor teaches well or produces good research, this does not count as much as political alignment. If they’re politically not right, or not aligned with mainstream ideology, they face the risk of being graded down. If a teacher’s research is not good, their lessons are not good, as long as they’re politically aligned, not only do they receive material rewards, but also symbolic ones. Among those winning provincial and national awards, who is not a politically aligned professor? If university professors have a low IQ, that’s not a problem, if they teach badly, that’s not a problem, if their research is bad, that’s not a problem. As long as they’re politically aligned, as long as they speak with an air of morality, all other problems disappear.
Six, university officials exert occasional supervision over the teachers by attending their lectures. What they hear during the lecture, either they don’t understand, or they only half understand, they might not even really understand if they’re quoting Mencius or Confucius, but by attending the lectures, they find fault with the way the teacher deliver their talks, and for the mode of delivery, not the content, attack the teachers livelihood, and leave them defeated.
Seven, university teacher demonstrate the power of language. What those in power say becomes law for universities, and their guiding ideology. And this leading ideology of those in power, whether it is right or wrong, whether or not it is in line with the law of development of the university, as long as it is the thought of those in power, it becomes a guiding ideology. Some university teaches and professors not only will not resist this, but will demonstrate the theory through their speech, giving the ideology of those in power the nature of a systematic theory.
Each generation of people of power have their own important speech, the previous officials are gone, the new officials have arrived, and university teachers tacitly accept to let go of the ideologies of officials who left, and listen to those of the new coming generation. In the absence of proof and theory, power is mainly about political correctness, and the process of demonstration is no more than that the starting point is correct, the process is correct, and the demonstration is correct. By demonstrating political correctness, the new ideologies of those in power immediately set up their new milestones.
Chinese universities have many, many problems, and it’s hard to even start solving them. But if we let anti-intellectualism become the dominant ideology in our universities, it we let it become mainstream, then there will be no way we can ever lift our universities back up.