Last September, a new set of history textbooks for use in Shanghai public schools set off quite a stir. So stirring in fact, that the new texts–which downplayed Marxist teleology among other changes–got pulled almost immediately.
Li Datong, a historian and former editor of Freezing Point 冰点, has a new essay up on openDemocracy.net that takes the Shanghai textbook controversy as a jumping off point to criticize the government for its insistence on unity of thought and ideology both in education and in the larger society.
History is a prime vehicle of propaganda, from the textbooks which recycle the myth that “class struggle is the driving force of historical progress” to the classes which exaggerate China’s suffering at the hands of imperialism in order to foment among the young a desire for revenge against foreign countries. Students are also taught lies about how “great, glorious and correct” the communist party is, and how history “chose” the party to rule China.
In the study of Chinese literature and language too, many of the set texts praise the party; some are even written by party leaders themselves. The students are asked to judge literature on whether or not it is “healthy”, and to write essays which contain politically-correct lies. The psychic consequence is that students gradually develop split personalities, learning to parrot the official version in public while preserving their truer individual thoughts for private expression.
The background to this system of indoctrination is that throughout thirty years of Chinese reform, only two institutions have managed to survive unchanged: the propaganda and education departments. The reason these departments are so impervious to change is doubtless that they are vital ideological pillars in maintaining the central power-structure.
As A. Whitney Brown once said, “What’s the point of flogging a dead horse–I mean, except for the fun of it?” I think many, if not both, of my readers know where I stand on this. History education should not be force-feeding students a single party line. It’s not supposed to be about ideological indoctrination. It’s wrong if it happens in Florida, and it’s just as wrong when it happens in Shanghai.
The CCP and the Ministry of Education is failing Chinese students by not providing them with the best possible history education but rather hijacking curriculum for their own political purposes.
It’s another brilliant essay from Li Datong and a must-read on this Sunday morning.