Young and middle-aged officials attend a lecture in 2010. [File photo]
"Sometimes, discussions among county-level officials sound like quarrels."
According to Jin Wei, most students are forthright during classes. She once gave students a theoretical test question, asking them that of five HIV-affected people: a sex worker, a housewife, a homosexual lawyer, a truck driver and a drug-addicted youth, who deserved the only dose of anti-AIDS medicine. This question generated heated debate. A student from the public security department in central China's Hunan Province said that none of them deserved the medicine, because all their miseries resulted from their own misdeeds. The student also became extremely angry with the lawyer mentioned in the test because he was outraged at that a lawyer could even commit homosexual acts.
Xie Zhiqiang is a sociology professor at the school. He is also deeply impressed by the frankness of the students. For him, county-level officials are extremely outspoken because they fear no pressure from higher leaders in the school. "Sometimes, discussions among county-level officials sound like quarrels," laughed Xie Zhiqiang. "They come from grass-roots government and they have a deep understanding of the troubles faced by common people." Some county-level officials once told Xie Zhiqiang that the school offered them a good environment to discuss problems. They could learn from each other and find better solutions. "I take every opportunity to discuss my problems in class. When I leave school, I hope that I'll be more ready for practical work," said one of the county leaders.
Openness and frankness are long-cherished traditions in the school. In the late 1970s, students at the school held a discussion covering the criterion for testing truth, which subsequently led to a nationwide liberation of thoughts. Hu Yaobang, the then vice president of the school, set up four rules to encourage free discussion among students. Here, no one would be discriminated against or punished for speaking out his real mind. When former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited the school the liberal classroom environment surprised him greatly.