September 7, 2006
Written by C.N.
As China becomes increasingly integrated into the globalized international community, how is that likely to affect their traditional communist ideology? The New York Times presents one possible answer by reporting that the latest Chinese textbooks significantly downplay China’s communist history and ideology, to the extent that Mao Zedong is mentioned just once in one major textbook:
When high school students in Shanghai crack their history textbooks this fall they may be in for a surprise. The new standard world history text drops wars, dynasties and Communist revolutions in favor of colorful tutorials on economics, technology, social customs and globalization. Socialism has been reduced to a single, short chapter in the senior high school history course. Chinese Communism before the economic reform that began in 1979 is covered in a sentence. The text mentions Mao only once — in a chapter on etiquette.
Nearly overnight the country’s most prosperous schools have shelved the Marxist template that had dominated standard history texts since the 1950’s. The changes passed high-level scrutiny, the authors say, and are part of a broader effort to promote a more stable, less violent view of Chinese history that serves today’s economic and political goals.
Supporters say the overhaul enlivens mandatory history courses for junior and senior high school students and better prepares them for life in the real world. The old textbooks, not unlike the ruling Communist Party, changed relatively little in the last quarter-century of market-oriented economic reforms. They were glaringly out of sync with realities students face outside the classroom. But critics say the textbooks trade one political agenda for another.
I’m not sure what to make of this particular development. On the one hand, we might see it as a positive trend in that the political dimensions of communist ideology are deemphasized and instead, more “pragmatic” aspects of Chinese society are stressed. On the other hand, we might also see this as another ploy by China’s totalitarian regime to control the flow of information, to control what its citizens learn by literally rewriting history however they want to.
In that sense, we might liken this particular development to efforts in other countries to deemphasize less-than-flattering episodes in their history, most notably illustrated in Japan where a nationalist movement seeks to downplay Japan’s atrocities committed against its foreign neighbors during World War II, and by efforts of nationalist Hindu groups to influence history’s depiction of Indian culture.
It just goes to prove the old adage that the victors are the ones who get to write history.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Is China Becoming Less Communist?" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/09/is-china-becoming-less-communist/> ().
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