The death of Peking University

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

I was hoping to lead with the wonderful news that China and Japan have agreed to stop threatening each other and cease mutual aggression, but the story of a guy with a background in the Ministry of State Security being appointed to run China’s Harvard somewhat spoiled my sunny mood.

As always, let me know what you think!

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

P.S. The transcript for Darren Byler’s chat earlier this week is available on our Slack on the #access_qa_archive channel. It is posted as a PDF along with all other guest expert chats we have done this year.

1. Security apparatchik to lead Peking University

Peking University is China’s oldest modern university, founded as the Imperial University of Peking in 1898. Often called PKU or běi dà 北大, the university’s alumni include Chén Dúxiù 陈独秀 — co-founder and first general secretary of the Communist Party of China — Máo Zédōng 毛泽东, and several leading 20th-century writers and public intellectuals, such as Lǔ Xùn 鲁迅, Hú Shì 胡適, and Lín Yǔtáng 林语堂.

PKU’s pleasant campus in northwestern Beijing has been the breeding ground for some of the most significant political movements in modern Chinese history:

  • May 4, 1919: Students from 13 universities led by PKU activists marched to Tiananmen to protest the Treaty of Versailles, and demand the resignation of three government officials. This protest launched the May Fourth Movement.

  • May 25, 1966: A lecturer at PKU wrote a big-character poster (大字报 dàzìbào) that criticized the university leadership for trying to restrain the revolutionary fervor of the students. This was one of the first acts of what became the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: Mao endorsed the dazibao as “the first Marxist big-character poster in China.”

  • April 15, 1989: Students at PKU and other universities in Beijing erected shrines to deceased Party leader Hú Yàobāng 胡耀邦. On April 17, around 3,000 PKU students marched from the campus toward Tiananmen Square, starting the ill-fated demonstrations there.

The year 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, and the 30th year after the Tiananmen demonstrations and their violent suppression. The Communist Party isn’t taking any chances. Which is probably why they chose a man with experience in China’s secret police to lead the university.

On October 23, the Ministry of Education announced (in Chinese) that Qiū Shuǐpíng 邱水平 was appointed as Party secretary of PKU, a vice-minister-level position in the Party hierarchy. Qiu’s predecessor was demoted to president of the university: As with all organizations in China, the Party secretary is the person with the power. This is a summary of Qiu’s résumé, sourced from Baidu’s encyclopedia (in Chinese):

  • 1979–1990: Student and teacher at PKU’s law school and Jiangxi University.  

  • 1990–1996: Deputy secretary and then secretary of PKU’s Communist Youth League Committee.

  • 1996–2013: Big-shot roles at various Beijing city government organs ranging from head of a state-owned construction company to director of the city’s massive Chaoyang District.

  • 2013–2017: Various leadership roles in the Beijing government’s Political and Legal Committee, which oversees the police. From 2013 to 2014, Qiu was also Party secretary of the Beijing branch of the Ministry of State Security, China’s intelligence and counter-intelligence agency, which also handles domestic threats to the Party’s rule.

Qiu spent 2017 and most of this year as head of the Higher People’s Court of Shanxi Province, before his transfer this week back to his alma mater.

No doubt his orders are clear: Make sure nothing remotely like 1919 or 1966 or 1989 happens at PKU in 2019. We can expect further purges of the faculty, and clampdowns on all kinds of student activities.

—The only reports on Qiu’s appointment I have seen so far: on Xinhua (in Chinese) and on

2. Japan and China agree ‘that we do not threaten each other’

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concludes his three-day visit to Beijing tomorrow. This is what has come out of the trip so far:

  • Speaking at a forum today, Abe said that bilateral relations with China are at a “historic turning point,” according to Reuters, calling today “the dawn of new Japan-China cooperation,” and mentioning cooperation “in industries such as infrastructure, logistics, healthcare and finance.”

  • Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强 and Abe gave a press conference today. According to the South China Morning Post, Li announced that China and Japan had signed more than 500 business deals, as well as a series of cooperation agreements. These include reviving a currency-swap deal dropped in 2013 worth $29 billion.  

  • “We also agreed that we do not threaten each other and do not direct aggression toward each other,” Li said, according to the SCMP, adding, “We need to have constructive ways to eliminate any kind of frictions or conflicts between the two countries.”

  • Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 met Abe today and made nice noises. Xinhua has a report. Excerpt:

“Under the new situations, China and Japan, increasingly interdependent in bilateral areas, also share more common interests and concerns on multilateral occasions,” Xi said… The two sides should effectively implement the consensus that they are partners rather than mutual threats, facilitate positive interactions, and deepen mutual political trust, Xi said.

3. State media: Xi tells his troops to prepare for war, then shakes Abe’s hand

“Xi meets Japanese Prime Minister, urging effort to cherish positive momentum in ties” is Xinhua News Agency’s top story today in English and Chinese.

But the Party’s newspaper, the People’s Daily, leads with a story (in Chinese) that is also prominent on all other central state media about Xi inspecting the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command. Here is Xinhua’s short English report on the inspection. Xi gave a speech to the troops urging preparedness for combat, calling on the PLA “to strengthen its sense of mission, resolutely eliminate weaknesses of peacetime, and concentrate on preparing for war” (集中精力推进备战打仗 jízhōng jīnglì tuījìn bèizhàn dǎzhàng).

My take on the jingoistic noises in state media: to ensure the citizens do not think Xi is talking to visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from a position of weakness. Related: The Global Times does not want you to think that American pressure has anything to do with China’s warming to Japan, either. One of the nationalistic rag’s classic tortured opinion pieces published today is titled Internal factor promotes China-Japan ties. The Chinese version is titled “Abe’s China visit: Internal factors in Japan and China far outweigh external forces.”

More messaging from the Global Times — this cartoon, showing a supplicant Abe arriving at the imperial gates of the Forbidden City (source).

Jeremy Goldkorn

4. The mystery of Room No. 13 in a Shandong internet bootcamp

The Fourth People’s Hospital of Linyi, Shandong Province, which accommodates the most notorious internet addiction treatment center in China, has come under fire (in Chinese) after a viral video in which a boy can be heard screaming for his mother while receiving “treatment.”

  • Weibo user IADSER龙徒 (lóng tú) captured the moment and shared the one-minute clip on October 22. He says that he took the video while eating in a nearby restaurant, and that the boy had been crying for over 10 minutes before he started shooting the video.

  • “I spent a month in the internet addiction treatment center. I shot the video at the window of Room No. 13. That’s where they used to punish us with electric shocks,” says IADSER龙徒.

  • Although the clinic was ordered to close in August 2016 after earlier abuses were exposed, IADSER龙徒 says it was not shut down: “They just removed the sign outside.”

Linyi is notorious for its thuggish security services: Ruffians acted on behalf of the Linyi government, which persecuted blind self-taught lawyer Chén Guāngchéng 陈光诚 for nearly a decade.

For the long version of this story, please click through to SupChina.

—Jiayun Feng

5. Trade war, day 113: RMB nearly hits seven to the dollar

Today, one U.S. dollar traded for 6.9647 Chinese yuan (RMB). According to Reuters, that’s a 22-month low for the Chinese currency, and about 6 percent weaker than it was at the beginning of the year. But sources tell Reuters that the currency won’t be allowed to weaken further:

Two sources involved in internal policy discussions, but who are not the final decision-makers, said that a defense of the yuan at seven per dollar would be mounted to show investors that the authorities wouldn’t allow a runaway market.

The seven-to-the-dollar threshold is psychologically significant, and economists like Leland Miller, the international CEO of China Beige Book, have said that passing that milestone would be effectively a “declaration of currency war.”

The U.S. Treasury Department has repeatedly warned China against using currency devaluation to offset the effects of tariffs, but in the end agreed with most economists that China was not artificially devaluing its currency. In its semi-annual report earlier this month on the currencies of major trading partners again declined to name China a “currency manipulator.”

Here are just a couple other links relating to the trade war and U.S.-China relations:

—Lucas Niewenhuis


Our whole team really appreciates your support as Access members. Please chat with us on our Slack channel or contact me anytime at

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • Sinister new details of China’s internment camps in Xinjiang emerged: An Agence France-Presse investigation by Ben Dooley revealed that there are at least 181 such camps, and that evidence such as their purchases of cattle prods and handcuffs shows they are run more like prisons than schools. The BBC also interviewed some witnesses, and analyzed satellite photos to show that one camp in particular could hold between 11,000 and 130,000 prisoners. Anthropologist Darren Byler also documented an elaborate homestay program that is designed for forced cultural assimilation.

  • Chinese stock markets briefly surged, in reaction to expressions of confidence by four key economic officials — Liú Hè 刘鹤, Guō Shùqīng 郭树清, Yì Gāng 易纲, and Liú Shìyú 刘士余. But then a day later, the rally sputtered out. Economic anxiety is high, and a stimulus of $195 billion in special infrastructure bonds does not seem to have been very effective.

  • The U.S.-China trade war is at an impasse. It was first reported early this week that Trump “wants them to suffer more,” and then later in the week confirmed that U.S. officials were refusing to negotiate until China declares exactly what concessions it is willing to make. Meanwhile, tariffs were having a few unintended consequences, as it was reported that a Chinese-owned pork producer in the U.S. qualifies for government subsidies, soybeans are being routed through Southeast Asia, and foreign investment into China reached an all-time high. Companies with supply chains in China are preparing to move them, in many cases to Southeast Asia, as tariffs are set to again expand at the end of the year.

  • Xi Jinping embarked on a symbolic trip to southern China — but like his last “southern tour” in 2012, and unlike Deng Xiaoping’s in the early 1990s, we don’t expect it to lead to a new great opening up or reform.

  • The Cyberspace Administration of China set its sights on censoring blockchain transactions — though we don’t know how that would even be possible, as the whole point of blockchain is that you can’t change or delete the information it records. This article on Longhash says that the new regulations may break the blockchain industry in two, “just like the Internet has been.”

  • A massive bridge connecting Hong Kong to Macau and Zhuhai in the mainland was declared open by Xi Jinping on October 23. Though in theory it can cut travel time between its endpoints from three hours to 30 minutes, the entire project has been chased by controversy from start to finish.

  • U.S.-China relations remain gloomy, and several commentators are even warning that the chances of military confrontation are farther from zero than we would like to think. Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded with unexpected levity when addressing allegations that China had spied on Trump’s iPhone.

  • Bankers briefly panicked after a UBS wealth manager was delayed from departing Beijing. Several banks urged their staff to “to reconsider any travel plans to China,” and others in the financial industry wondered if more bad news would follow. But then UBS chief executive Sergio Ermotti said that the employee’s delay was unrelated to the company’s activity in China, allaying fears.

  • Kǒng Línlín 孔琳琳, the CCTV reporter in London who slapped a volunteer at a conservative political event in the U.K., was charged with assault.

  • State-owned Chinese dairy company Yili Group accused its former president of embezzlement and defamation — but the details of the case are very murky.

  • Chinese medical tourism to South Korea is reportedly causing the majority of medical disputes in that country.





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