Chinese academics are still pushing that idea. At a conference on international relations organized by Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University in July, one scholar suggested that the protesters had fallen prey to “cognitive and ideological manipulation” by countries including the United States. Such efforts by “hidden forces” were growing harder to detect, said the professor, Han Na, from People’s Public Security University, the country’s top police academy.
“Some call them spies, some call them special operations. They’re the people among us who are from some special departments.”
She added: “That’s why we have our current problem.”
Part of the authorities’ solution is teaching young people to be more on guard. Mr. Xi has called for expanding national security education, and universities have created squads of students tasked with reporting people who, among other things, use overseas websites.
But the constant exhortations also remind students that they, too, are being watched. University students in Beijing have been questioned by the police or administrators for exchanging messages with New York Times journalists — in at least two cases, before any article had been published.
Perhaps the central effect — or goal — of the campaign has been to make even the slightest connection to foreigners grounds for suspicion. That has extended to cultural fields where exchange has historically been richest.