BEIJING (Reuters) – A top Chinese university has cracked down on a campus student Marxist society, replacing its leadership after its former head was detained and questioned by police on the sensitive 125th birthday of the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong.
China has an awkward relationship with the legacy of Mao, who died in 1976 and is still officially venerated by the ruling Communist Party.
But far leftists in recent years have latched onto Mao’s message of equality, posing awkward questions at a time of unprecedented economic boom that has seen a rapidly widening gap between the rich and the poor.
In particular, students and recent graduates have teamed up with labor activists to support factory workers fighting for the right to set up their own union. Dozens of activists have been detained in a government crackdown that followed.
Qiu Zhanxuan, head of the Peking University Marxist Society, said he was approached on Wednesday morning at a subway station by plainclothes police who said they wanted him to answer questions about an event he was organizing to celebrate Mao’s birthday. Mao was born on Dec. 26, 1893.
When Qiu refused, the men took his phone, forced him into a car and drove him to a police station where he was questioned for 24 hours before being released with a warning, Qiu said, according to accounts provided by fellow students, who declined to be identified.
Late on Thursday, the university’s extracurricular activities guidance office released a notice saying police had penalized Qiu and he “did not have the qualifications” to continue as head of the society.
The teachers in charge of guiding the group had determined its members had deviated from promises made to teachers when the group was registered and so had “restructured” the group, the office said.
The “restructuring” was an attempt to “scatter” the group after weeks of continuous harassment by campus police and attempts to cast its members as being involved in a “conspiracy”, Qiu said, according to the accounts of his comments.
Qiu declined to comment directly to Reuters.
None of the new list of student leaders released by university authorities were previous members of the group, and many of them are members of the official Student Association that had been involved in harassing the group, Qiu said.
“We don’t recognize this,” he added, according to the accounts of his comments.
The university did not answer calls seeking comment. The Ministry of Public Security also did not respond to requests for comment.
Qiu said his non-academic school adviser, a deputy secretary of the Social Sciences party committee, Shi Changyi, was with him while police questioned him and had advised him not to be “extreme” or “impulsive”, according to the accounts of his comments.
Reuters was unable to reach Shi for comment.
Police gave Qiu a subpoena saying he was suspected of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”, which is a crime, but they declined to elaborate, he said, according to the accounts of his comments.
“This was, plain and simple, a plan to restrict my personal freedom and to use these inhuman and illegal means to stop me from going to commemorate Chairman Mao.”