The Chinese Communist Party employs a growing network of student informants who monitor political expression on university campuses and denounce professors and students for politically subversive or unconventional views, according to a recent report (pdf) from the Central Intelligence Agency.
Established in 1989 after the Tienanmen Square protests, “the principal objective of the Student Informant System [SIS] is to ensure campus stability and to control the debate and discussion of politically sensitive issues,” the CIA report said. “Students have had their scholarships revoked and their academic records penalized because of information provided by student informants that is sometimes highly subjective, such as facial expressions.”
“The SIS employs traditional political spying and denunciation techniques, seeking to create a ‘white terror’ (bai se kong bu) environment on campus — in which students and teachers fear surveillance more than arrest — to achieve and maintain influence and control.”
The SIS has been met with both scholarly criticism and popular resistance, the CIA report said. A leading academic journal contended last year that “The information reported by student informants is neither accurate nor objective” and that “promoting a culture of denunciation may become an obstacle to learning.” Meanwhile, “some Chinese students are resisting government efforts at political spying and rejecting the culture of denunciation. Netizens are publishing rosters of student informants online, resulting in the student informants being denounced by peers.” Yet “the government appears determined to continue to use the SIS as a tool to ensure political stability on Chinese campuses.”
A copy of the CIA report was obtained by Secrecy News. See “China: Student Informant System to Expand, Limiting School Autonomy, Free Expression,” CIA Open Source Works, November 23, 2010.