China's leadership has issued guidelines requiring universities to strengthen ideological controls in classrooms and telling professors to champion Marxism, traditional culture and socialist core values.

The orders come as President Xi Jinping tightens his grip on political power and cracks down on the encroachment of supposed Western values such as press freedom and civil society groups.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported late Monday that the orders from top officials within the Communist Party and the government's powerful State Council require that ideological work be seen as strategic in the country's education system. It also said universities should approve and supervise student associations.

Last month, Xinhua quoted Xi calling for the Communist Party to enhance its ideological controls over universities. In November, a party-run newspaper in northeastern China reported that it had sent journalists to monitor college classrooms across China and had found professors who criticized founding father Mao Zedong and the party.

Zhang Ming, a politics professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said he and his colleagues have not yet felt pressure to change their instruction.

"We don't think we're doing anything wrong, so we don't think there'll be any need to make big changes," Zhang said.

But Willy Lam, a political analyst at Chinese University in Hong Kong, said other professors were reporting tighter controls, including government monitors filing covert reports on classroom lectures. Control over professors has significantly tightened since Xi took power in late 2012, Lam said.

"For intellectuals, this is a disturbing phenomenon. It's a return to Maoist values," he said.

The recent clampdown reflects the thinking of a document leaked last year and believed to outline the Chinese leadership's top perceived threats to its power. Known as Document 9, it warned of "Western anti-China forces" and unhealthy criticism that "appear in public lectures, seminars, university classrooms, class discussion forums, civilian study groups, and individual publications."

While such ideological controls have long been a part of academic life in China, this time they are clearly part of a broader propaganda effort, said Dali Yang, an expert in Chinese politics at the University of Chicago.