CHENGDU, China – With a neon-red backpack and white Adidas shoes, it looks like any other college student on the Sichuan University campus in southwest China.
But Peng Wei, a 21-year-old chemistry student, has a special mission: he is a student and a spy.
Mr. Peng is one of a growing number of "student information officers,quot; who control the ideological opinions of his teachers. They are there to help eradicate the teachers who show any sign of disloyalty to President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party.
"It is our duty to ensure that the learning environment is pure," Peng said, "and that teachers follow the rules."
In a setback to the Mao Zedong era, Chinese universities are deploying students as guard dogs against their teachers, part of a radical campaign by Mr. Xi to eliminate dissent and turn universities into party strengths.
The use of student informants has increased under Mr. Xi, the most powerful leader in China in decades, with hundreds of universities now employing the practice, according to interviews with more than two dozen teachers and students, as well as a review of records public
"Everyone feels they are in danger," said You Shengdong, an economics professor at Xiamen University in eastern China who was fired last year after students denounced him for criticizing one of the favorite propaganda slogans of Xi.
"How do we progress?" You asked, "how can we produce inventions in this environment?"
Universities are running ads that recruit students to spy on their teachers, with the goal of having one in each classroom. It has created a chilling effect that some have compared to the ideological purification campaigns of the Cultural Revolution of a decade, in which radical students attacked Mao's perceived enemies.
At a time when Mr. Xi is trying to avoid alleged threats to Social stability and to silence the foci of opposition to their authoritarian policies, students increasingly play a key role in monitoring how teachers see Mr. Xi, the party and ideas such as democracy. In return, they are promised rewards such as scholarships, higher grades and advancement within prestigious groups of the Communist Party.
Professors and students described at least a dozen cases since the beginning of last year in which professors from Chinese universities were dismissed or punished after students filed reports against them.
A university in central China fired a professor after a student denounced her for criticizing the removal of the presidential term limits by Mr. Xi, a measure that allows her to remain in office indefinitely. In Beijing, a university suspended a math teacher after a student complained that she had suggested that Japanese students work harder than their Chinese counterparts.
The proliferation of student informants has generated concern among academics and students, who see the practice as another attempt to quell the debate in the classroom. All universities in the country are controlled by the party, which designates the main administrative officials of the institutions and directs party committees on campus.
"Teachers can be denounced for anything," said Tang Yun, a veteran professor of literature at Chongqing Normal University in southwest China.
Professor Tang, 56, spoke from experience. While teaching a class earlier this year, he criticized a popular and popular phrase that Mr. Xi often uses: "roll up and work hard," as rude. A student complained, which led Chongqing Normal officials to strip him of his teaching credentials and reassign him to the library this spring.
Mr. Xi, who has sought a historical position alongside Mao, has Borrowed from his playbook to restore the party place at the center of everyday life in China, including higher education.
Education officials dismissed dissident professors, banned some Western textbooks and ordered schools to initiate research centers dedicated to Mr. Xi's characteristic ideology, known as "Thought Xi Jinping."
China has long depended on students to serve as controls against their teachers. During the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and 1970s, academics and people with ties to the West or who were considered "class enemies,quot; were persecuted. Young people were asked to spy on and denounce teachers and other intellectuals suspected of dissenting.
According to Mr. Xi, many universities now appoint a student monitor by class, according to public notices published by universities. Students must apply to serve as informants, and many schools accept only party members or those who can demonstrate that they have "correct,quot; political opinions.
Some students have a broad vision of their mandate, watching not only what teachers say in class, but also their private lives, including tastes in books and movies, informants said in interviews.
Peng, the student informant at Sichuan University, said he also speaks regularly with other students to get impressions from teachers, including about his character, values and patriotism.
He rejected the idea that the increase in informants is damaging the debate in the classroom and said that for too long, Chinese universities have ignored the opinions of students. "Teachers need to hear student concerns," he said.
In some schools, student informants must submit reports about their teachers to branches of the Communist Party campus, according to the announcements of the positions.
Ankang University in northwestern China said in an online notice informing that informant students should formally inform teachers who spread superstition, cults and pornography, "promote Western political values,quot; and criticize the principles of the party. School administrators, the notice says, must respond to each complaint within three business days.
At Xiantao Vocational College in central China, informants are expected to monitor "the behavior or speech that violates the party line." Xinyang Normal University in central China asks informant students to report anything teachers say that "endangers national security,quot; or "national unity."
The Ministry of Education did not respond to a request for comment. Last year he issued new rules of ethics for teachers of all levels, saying they should not do anything to contradict party authority. Under Mr. Xi, the party also sent teams of officials to universities with the aim of monitoring the ideological opinions of the teachers.
Teachers say that the use of student informants is creating a climate of fear in the classroom.
Mr. You, the economics professor who had been fired from Xiamen University, said the students denounced him for questioning Mr. Xi's characteristic slogan, the "Chinese dream,quot;, a vision of prosperity and strength for the nation . Mr. You said he told his students that dreams are "illusions and fantasies, not ideals."
Mr. You, 71, who has since moved to New York, said his students began referring to him as extreme and "anti-communist." His classroom was equipped with a video camera, which is standard in many Chinese universities, and authorities warned that they could easily present evidence of inappropriate comments.
Carl Minzner, a law professor at Fordham University in New York, said the increase in student informants was part of Mr. Xi's efforts to make the party "a leading force in both the state and society."
"The goal of Xi is to reintroduce that element of self-censorship so that people start thinking twice before speaking," he said. "When political orthodoxy takes over, this is how the collective mind of society begins to close."
The culture of political denunciation has permeated the campuses of even the most prestigious universities in China. At Tsinghua University in Beijing, Mr. Xi's alma mater, Lü Jia, a professor of Marxism, was investigated by school administrators this year after students led an online campaign accusing him of critically speaking about China and socialism
The students said they were inspired by a They called Mr. Xi in March to strengthen ideological training and prepare for a "national rejuvenation." They started an anonymous account on social networks where they published criticisms line by line of Professor Lü's lectures and criticized him for saying that Western civilization was still predominant in the world while China's civilization was in decline.
Professor Lü could not be reached and the Tsinghua School of Marxism did not respond to requests for comments on the status of the investigation.
At Chongqing Normal University, Mr. Tang, the literature professor, called the decision to ban him from teaching "pure ignorance of power."
The school accused Mr. Tang of damaging China's reputation and forced him to apologize.
After the school stripped him of his teaching credentials, he wrote a social media post saying he didn't blame his students and that "not everyone is Judas."
"I'm leaving today, dressed in shame," Tang wrote. "But tomorrow I will definitely be adorned with laurels."