The headline of Joseph Kahn’s article in today’s NY Times on Chinese textbooks is, “A less ideological Chinese text puts Mao in his place.” Marxism is out, replaced with the New and Improved Communist Party’s “new history,” with emphasis on the global economy.
When high school students in Shanghai crack open 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.
Discussion of socialism has been reduced to a single, short chapter in the senior high school history course. Chinese communism before economic reform in 1979 is covered in a sentence. The text mentions Mao Zedong 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 1950s. 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 current economic and political goals….
…Socialism is still referred to as having a “glorious future.” But the concept is reduced to one of 52 chapters in the senior high school text. Revolutionary socialism gets less emphasis than the industrial revolution and the information revolution.
Students now study Mao, still officially revered as the founding father of modern China but no longer regularly promoted as an influence on policy, only in junior high. In the senior high school text, he is mentioned just fleetingly as part of a lesson on the custom of lowering flags to half-staff at state funerals, like Mao’s in 1976.
A little eerie, to see how the Mao cult is perpetuated even as the powers that be quietly work overtime to erase him from China’s history.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.