Purging Mao from Chinese textbooks is a Maoist thing to do

I enjoyed this editorial but felt it missed an essential point:

It’s more than a little ironic that Chairman Mao has been all but removed from new history books in China’s high schools.

After all, the architect of the Cultural Revolution knew a lot about controlling information and the importance of shaping the future by influencing young minds. Today’s leadership in China wants its high-schoolers to view the future through the eyes of Bill Gates, not Mao Zedong.

This new version of China’s history is being rolled out this school year in Shanghai. Socialism is relegated to a single chapter in the course. Chinese Communism before 1979 is limited to one sentence, and Mao is mentioned only once. History in China now focuses on economics, the rise of technology and the importance of social customs in a global marketplace.

This isn’t a whitewash of history; it is the erasure of history. It’s another sign that, as China plows ahead into the high-tech global market, it remains opposed to free exchange of ideas.

Mao may have been purged from China’s high-school history books, but it’s clear his tactics are alive and well.

So here’s the essential point I referred to: This editor makes it sound as though China’s textbooks in the past gave a fair representation of Mao, and now they are deleting it. Or at least that is the implication, because they are unhappy that Mao is being “erased.” But what they don’t seem to get is that “Mao” (the real Mao, constipated and perverted and bloodthirsty) was never depicted in these texts to begin with. There can be no “erasure” of something that was never there. I have no problem with them erasing from their textbooks what they had written in decades past about Mao, since it was all horseshit to begin with. What the editorial should be ragging on is the fact that Chinese students are never given a fair picture of who Mao was and the horrors he wrought. I’d rather he be erased altogether than idealized.

And, in anticipation of the chorus that we do the same thing in America, whitewashing US history, all I can say is, No, we don’t. My 10th grade social studies term paper was on the history of the Ku Klux Klan and racism in America, all based on books in my high school library. We were taught that some of our presidents were corrupt fools (like Harding) or overbearing drunks (like Grant). We do not glorify the Vietnam War, and we even debated whether it was right or wrong to drop atomic bombs on Japan, and to firebomb Dresden. They taught us to think for ourselves and draw our own conclusions, not to repeat slogans written by some old fart on the blackboard.

The Discussion: 22 Comments

Can’t argue with that! You GO boy! Next time I hit the independent and free thinking nation of the little island east of Xiamen, I’ll buy you a brewski!

Keep it up

September 4, 2006 @ 1:32 am | Comment

For comparison’s sake, at the large Northern California Public University where I am a grad student, our lower-division undergraduate Chinese history survey usually spends about one week on Mao (we have a lot of history to cover) with one lecture on the 1950s to the GLF and another on the GPCR followed by a third on Deng Xiaoping and the 1980s reforms. If we’re lucky we can take a last class to talk about all that has happened in China since then plus 15-20 minutes to cover Taiwan.

I also seem to recall, despite the curriculum, never getting past WWII in my primary and secondary school US history classes due to time constraints.

I’ve said this before in other places, but in many ways these “revisions” follow similar trends in the West over the past 25 years as our history curricula have moved away from the “Great Men and Their Times” style of history towards a more comprehensive approach that includes economics, society, culture, as well as war and politics.

Just a question, has anyone actually seen these texts? Any of the reporters out there in the “Duck Pond” actually have a copy?

September 4, 2006 @ 2:23 am | Comment

J from Granite Studio: If you’re under the mistaken impression that what you’ve described (“moved away from the ‘Great Men etc’ style of history towards a more comprehensive approach) is any kind of recent cutting edge “advance” in historical scholarship, then you’re the one who is way, way, WAY behind the times.

What you’ve described there is something straight out of the rusty old 19th century. Go and read Tolstoy’s nonsensical appendix to “War and Peace” for a prototypical example of it.

The cutting edge of historical scholarship today, is moving toward a reconsidered emphasis on the personal and away from mechanical/sociological nonsense from the 19th century Steam Age. If that’s where your grad school is stuck at, then they’re dinosaurs.

September 4, 2006 @ 2:35 am | Comment


I think you misunderstood my post. We were discussing high school and junior high school history classes–certainly not a ‘state of the field.’

This ‘trend’ (and as you so sagely noted, it’s hardly ‘cutting edge’–a term I did not use) I’ve described has been a part of undergraduate curricula since the 1970s (beginning, I would guess, with the hoary Fairbanks/Reischauer text). Grad curricula longer than that. As your remarkably erudite post demonstrates, I’m sure you know that there is a bit of lag between graduate ‘cutting edge,’ undergraduate textbooks, and high school curricula. In this case, I was referring to the undergraduate curricula and textbooks. My history classes at the local high school occured about 20 years ago. Granted, New Hampshire is not really ‘cutting edge’ in anything, but we were still doing “Life and Times” that recently.

It’s also worth noting, despite the “Great Men Style of History” being long ago jettisoned in the academy, it still remains the dominant view of history for many people. Take a look at the history ‘bestsellers’ and biographies of ‘Great Men’ still dominate the list. The History Channel still focuses most of its attention on war and generals.

As for an emphasis on social history, most of the newest works in the Chinese history field, which my Europeanist and Americanist colleagues tell me suffers from its own lag, still qualify, if with increasing unease, under this heading.

I look forward to reading your research challenging these conventions. I have no doubt it will be fascinating.

All the best.

September 4, 2006 @ 4:07 am | Comment


If you ever read one poem of Mao, you will realize something. I hate everything Mao, except for his handwritings and poems. Those are indeed superb. For example, he wrote the quiet winter wilderness as:

“Mountain dancing silver serpents,
Plain dashing wax elephants.”

I hope you read the Chinese version, Mao is Mao. You do no know him at all.


September 4, 2006 @ 10:28 am | Comment

Their past history books are full of lies that it is better that they purge the lies than keep repeating them. It is even better if they have the courage to confront their past history. But it may be asking for too much.

September 4, 2006 @ 11:35 am | Comment

Maos handwriting


September 4, 2006 @ 12:53 pm | Comment

Among many places in China, you can also find Mao’s handwriting at Peking University. His calligraphy adorns the West Gate there and is sometimes used on lapel pins and publications as a quasi-logo for the school.

September 4, 2006 @ 1:55 pm | Comment

Again, Chinese language is so unique comparing to western languages. Handwritings uniquely identify a person’s character and reveal his background. Just by looking at the handwriting of Mao, I am left speechless. They take my breath away. It is not something common or ordinary. It is OUTSTANDING. No Chinese leaders, from Den to Hu today, ever achieved the same level. I am not a blind worshipper. I know this stupid Mao had many women and messed up China for quite a while. But if you understand Chinese calligraphy, you cannot deny his talent. He is the ONE who kicked the western invaders out. Yes, yes, he did it with his determination. I also love Chinese literatures. Again, it is undeniable the poems of Mao are plain accomplished. It is just that simple. Westerners like Richard have no clue.

September 4, 2006 @ 2:16 pm | Comment

so, the ONE raper and infamous liumang is a hero and kicked the evil westerners out by means of his exquisite calligraphy? some logic there, JESSICA, way to go. in case you are not an imbecile border case I can only assume this drivel coming from a deeply confused mind of a communist whore

September 4, 2006 @ 3:13 pm | Comment

Huh, and yet, if you look at accounts of Mao’s younger days, his calligraphy was considered that of a barely educated country bumpkin – one of the things that fed his inferiority complex towards the intellectual class, which worked itself out in some pretty violent ways (e.g., the anti-Rightist Campaign, the CR).

I’m in no position to judge the merits of peoples’ calligraphy, personally, since my written Chinese abilities are pretty dreadful.

September 4, 2006 @ 3:22 pm | Comment

Lisa, I hope you understand we Chinese look at people with dynamic attitude. Even the greatest calligrapher of all time – Wang XiZi – had to practice for 20 years to accomplish Lan Tin Xu. I would say no matter how hard you try, you do not have a chance to achieve anything remotely close to Mao’s handwriting.

September 4, 2006 @ 3:30 pm | Comment

Jessica, I can say that’s a safe bet. I started too late, and more to the point, I am not particularly interested in becoming a skilled calligrapher. Being able to speak to people in properly-pronounced Mandarin and understand them when they speak to me is enough. Being able to read better than I do now will be a nice bonus.

Though what Mao’s handwriting has to do with his purge from Chinese history textbooks is beyond me.

September 4, 2006 @ 3:53 pm | Comment

jessica, you are one hysteric Mao fan. oh, anti-communist Mao fan, sure, just in line with the new CPC feint to deny the nasty past, and to promote the Papa Mao myth with Mao lucky charms for taxi drivers and as personification of money.
I really don’t know what you try to achieve by your deceptive talk.
I consider Mao’s calligraphy as rather feeble.

September 4, 2006 @ 4:23 pm | Comment


Listen, I am no fun of Mao. I am fraid politics have blinded your eyes.

September 4, 2006 @ 5:51 pm | Comment

you are no fun at all, and I’m not blinded by politics but your gibberish makes me a little dizzy.
btw, I hear Nero was an outstanding violin player

September 4, 2006 @ 6:35 pm | Comment

So Mao was good at poetry and calligraphy. Hitler had pretensions of being an artist, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Stalin had a good singing voice or that Pol Pot wrote novels in his spare time. The world would have been a better place if Mao could have been famous for his artistic skills instead of being the biggest mass murder in recorded history, who killed over twice as many Chinese as the Imperial Japanese Army.

September 5, 2006 @ 2:27 am | Comment

I had a professor who once suggested (uncannily echoing the CCP’s famous 70/30 rule regarding Mao), that the Chairman had been a great revolutionary leader who did a lot to organize the CCP to resist the Japanese as much as possible. She also felt that many of his ideas about equalizing landholdings and removing hereditary privilege had merit, but that as the head of a nation, he was too much in love with his own power. It might have been better for him to have retired in the 1950s and let the administrators, men perhaps not as brilliant but who were more effective statesmen, such as Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, or Liu Shaoqi, handle the affairs of state while Mao practiced his poetry and wrote his memoirs.

It’s sad when you think that many of Deng’s ideas in the 1980s were remants of similar plans that Liu had in the early 1960s. What would China be like today with no GPCR and a twenty-year head start?

September 5, 2006 @ 3:25 am | Comment

Granite Studio, I do not buy any thing led by “what if”.

BTW, I think the names of some posters here are interesting: Shenjingbingyuan – Mental Illness Hospital

September 5, 2006 @ 7:37 am | Comment

love your blog. this is the first time i’ve posted, but not the first time i’ve had somewhat of a difference of opinion…with regard to your anticipatory response to people harping on the fact that american history classes also idealize important historical figures, the examples that you cited – kkk, nagasaki, vietnam – don’t really offer a very convincing, relevant counter argument…we were encouraged to debate these issues in my high school as well and i’m sure the same can be said of virtually every other american high school, but they were not events critical to the birth of america. i don’t ever recall talking about george washington’s sexual appetite or his views on racial equality (of course, media freedom in america enables us to much more freeliy investigate the dirty secrets of famous american political figures on our own time in comparison to china). mao, like washington, was the first chinese leader and played an instrumental role in the establishment of the prc. ultimately every country’s school system idealizes their key political figures to some degree in order to instill a sense of patriotism in their impressionable students.

September 6, 2006 @ 10:34 am | Comment


Calligraphy is a minor art, nothing more. It’s on par with soap-carving or whittling wooden ducks. Look at Michalangelo’s ‘David’, read anything by Haruki Murakami in the original Japanese, listen to any form of classical music – Asian or western. That is art. Don’t read so much into minor artistic doodles – there is a whole world of the majestic instead.

September 6, 2006 @ 6:53 pm | Comment

Shenyangnese, I don’t care if the Chinese education system never teaches students about Mao’s sex life, just as I don’t care if the US system teaches about Washington’s, or their personal attitudes toward race or just about anything else – those are things to study later on, for . What I do care about is teaching the stuff that really matters, things that actually affected the destiny and history of the nation. The Founding Fathers’ attitudes toward slavery, therefore, are relevant, and we did learn about that in publich school. Yes, we do idealize our leaders – people throughout history in every nation do that. But we criticize them too, and we were taught Jefferson had slaves and that Hoover took an ineffective approach to the Depression and that Roosevely tried to grab too much power…. These are things that matter, just as Mao’s decisions that affected millions matter. When it comes to teaching the country’s history, warts and all, I think America does a decent job (at least when I was in public school). Looking at the article and seeingh ow Mao is portrayed, I’m reluctant to say the same for China.

September 6, 2006 @ 8:05 pm | Comment

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