Former premier Zhu Rongji made a rare public appearance yesterday, delivering a scathing criticism of the mainland’s education system and other policies during a visit to his alma mater, Tsinghua University.
Zhu (pictured) lashed out at the much-criticised reform of tertiary education and urged mainland officials and scholars to speak the truth.
He said a newly published directive on trial reforms of the education system was “full of empty talk and nonsense”, according to excerpts of his remarks posted on the popular microblog platform Sina Weibo.
The 82-year-old made the unusually harsh comments two days ahead of the prestigious university celebrating its centenary. Zhu, who studied at Tsinghua more than six decades ago, was the founding dean of the university’s school of economics and management, established in 1984, and resigned from the post in 2001.
While students and internet critics of the education system expressed admiration for his candid remarks, witnesses said accompanying education officials, including State Councillor Liu Yandong and Education Minister Yuan Guiren, appeared to be embarrassed.
Zhu also appeared to be critical of the expansion of university and college enrolment, which his administration began in the late 1990s.
China National Institute for Educational Research professor Chu Zhaohui said the enlargement of tertiary enrolments had been shrouded in controversy from the outset as it was initially designed to stimulate the stagnant economy.
But the move ran out of control soon after and has been blamed for contributing to declining academic morality and rampant plagiarism.
Lamenting the state of rural education, Zhu said a luxury car could sell for more than 100 million yuan (HK$119.17 million) at the Shanghai Auto Show, yet many rural children still could not enjoy the free education they had been promised.
Although analysts said it was hard to interpret Zhu’s message from scattered reports of his speech, they said his comments must have been carefully crafted to defend his legacy.
Zhu was also critical of a best-selling book published seven years ago that exposed the dark side of rural life and the plight of mainland farmers, and fiercely attacked his agricultural policies. He also made a vigorous defence of the much-criticised revenue-sharing system between central and local governments adopted during his time in office.
Zhu’s fourth book will reportedly be published soon. It is being reviewed by the leadership as it contains criticism of officials from his time as vice-premier and premier.
Additional reporting by Raymond Li
South China Morning Post
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing
April 22, 2011