Former journalist, deputy principal at Peking University High School and the director of its International Division, Jiang Xueqin, writes:
I remembered when I was working as a journalist, I saw the Communist Party as a monolithic and top-down political system that controlled the direction and destiny of 1.3 billion people. Now, working as a Beijing public school administrator, I can see for myself how difficult it is for the government to control a Beijing school, let alone 1.3 billion people.
In theory, Beijing public schools report to Beijing’s education bureau, which then reports to the Ministry of Education. In practice, each public school is an independent kingdom that pays nominal deference to education authorities. To understand this relationship, think of Beijing’s education bureau as the United Nations: It has neither financial nor political control over schools, so it projects the illusion of authority by issuing meaningless proclamations and convening boring conferences.
It’s taken for granted that Peking University High School, because of its affiliation with China’s intellectual centre, does whatever it wants. But each of Beijing’s top 43 public schools is fiercely independent.
Take, for example, Number 101 High School, which our school’s administration toured last week. Founded in 1946, 101 is a sprawling campus of 200,000 square metres with the Old Summer Palace as its backyard. Their alumni include Zeng Qinghong and other powerful politicians, and they draw their students from Beijing military and political families. Their annual budget is more than that of most Chinese counties, and their school leadership has been in place for over a decade. The meeting room that hosted us had the year before hosted Kai-Fu Lee, the founder of Google China, and a visiting delegation of leading American journalists and writers.
The problem with Beijing is that there’s so much power – whether it be political, military, economic, financial, technological, education, or cultural – concentrated in the city, which in turns forces everyone to focus on cultivating and managing guanxi. The prevailing attitude in Beijing, from corporate honchos to the lowest government clerk, is that as long as you maintain well your network of relationships or guanxiwang you can do whatever you want.
That’s why Beijing high school principals concern themselves primarily with student recruitment and admission. Their power derives from their gatekeeper status, and they use admittance tickets to build up their guanxiwang and extract political favours – like getting an international division approved. [Read more here.]