Mao is Dead, Part Two

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.

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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.

The Discussion: 8 Comments

Perhaps it’s actually worse than continuing to actively lionize Mao’s actions.

Eventually nobody will really be sure what Mao did, but just assume that it must have been good, and so even though China (and the world it may own) may become a better place through the abandonment of Mao’s ideas, the symbolic and personally gratifying removal of that malevolent tyrant’s portrait from T-Square will continue to elude us.

Heck we can see such personal deification in our own history. In the bipartisan spirit I shall introduce an example from the American left and right…

-JFK and “Camelot” are romantically remembered. We don’t focus on the Bay of Pigs, Mob connections, or philandering or what he did; we remember the existential “oh he was so young, handsome, eloquent, embodied postwar American idealism, etc.” (on a side note, it’s a shame the most mediocre Kennedy was the only one who seems to have eluded death–there may be an inverse relationship between Kennedy-esque greatness and propensity to die with Kennedy-esque tragedy)

-Same goes for Reagan on the right side of the aisle. Today conservatives glorify Reagan as the greatest republican in the history of the universe (Lincoln who? TR what?) as the grains of truth in Reagan’s staring down the Soviet Union and transforming America’s political landscape are transformed into a similarly overblown existential epic of singlehandedly bring the USSR to its knees and saving America….

To be fair, regardless of their deifications, I still consider the two men to have been great Presidents. Which is certainly more than I can say for the Chairman.

August 31, 2006 @ 9:36 pm | Comment

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….

That whole Communist dialectic of progress via struggle isn’t the model to promote “a harmonious society”, especially as the folks on the bottom are struggling to keep the Party faithful from stealing their land and homes.

But for those who remember T-Square ’76 (Zhou Enlai) and T-Square ’89 and this year’s Zhongshan shootings, there is still the Chinese national anthem to turn to.

:::Braving the enemy’s gunfire, march on!
Braving the enemy’s gunfire, march on! March on! March on! On!:::

September 1, 2006 @ 2:03 am | Comment

They may eliminate problematic history from textbooks, but they’ll just put more of it in entertainment:

The movie of the massacres of tens of thousands of Chinese civilians by Japanese troops will be based on Iris Chang’s best-selling account, ‘The Rape of Nanking’, Xinhua news agency said, adding it would involve a U.S. production company and British investors.

‘We hope we can make the film a classic on a massacre in the Second World War, just like ‘Schindler’s List’ about the miserable experience of Jewish people during the war,’ Xinhua quoted Gerald Green, the American producer of the movie, as saying.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/20060814-0745-china-japan-movie.html

Ah, but Schindlers List suggested a Nazi could be a human being. I haven’t read Rape of Nanjing, but will the movie have a single redeemable Japanese soldier?

September 1, 2006 @ 5:56 am | Comment

Dave, I think we all know the answer to your question.

September 1, 2006 @ 7:27 am | Comment

Hmm. I guess this means that all of the old school Maoist militarists must now be dead? Anyway, I can’t even decide which is worse. Blind worship, or national amnesia.

September 1, 2006 @ 10:57 am | Comment

That’s the thing, Kea. Blindness and amnesia in national identity are bordering on synonyms…

September 1, 2006 @ 11:16 pm | Comment

Well, a half dozen were ‘massacred’ at the Boston Tea party as every American textbook relates, but how many describe specific massacres of native peoples? I’ve picked up a copy of The People’s History of the US and I think I could easily get worked up over what is taught in American schools…

September 2, 2006 @ 8:33 pm | Comment

Well, at least my high school texts managed to keep the Boston Tea Party separate from the Boston Massacre. And, seriously, I think that even by then — and “then” refers to the late 1950s — there was some downplaying of the Massacre as historical atrocity. Maybe the real reforms of the 60s produced such a strong reaction from the Patriots that things are now taught even worse than in the 50s? Probably depends on where you live and who pays for the schools.

Even more seriously: Every student should see the book Lies My Teacher Told Me which exposes all the buried stuff and does it well. A few do, believe it or not, even in public high schools, but not enough.

Back on topic. The Chinese version of that book: that will be the day! But who knows — with Abe taking over in Japan, China could stil beat Japan in that race.

September 4, 2006 @ 1:18 am | Comment

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