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Mao Disappears in Chinese Textbooks

Newsmax | September 2 2006

Mao Tse-tung, one of history's greatest mass murderers, and the tyrant who ruled China with an iron fist for 27 years, has all but vanished from China's newest history books.

Instead of reading about the blood-soaked history of Mao's reign, students in Shanghai will be learning about J. P. Morgan, Bill Gates, the New York Stock Exchange, the space shuttle and Japan’s bullet train.

According to Friday's New York Times, China's new standard world history text eliminates mentions of "wars, dynasties and Communist revolutions in favor of colorful tutorials on economics, technology, social customs and globalization."

Even socialism get short shrift in the new texts, although it is still referred to as having a "glorious future.” The changes now initially limited to Shanghai cover socialism in what the Times called "a single, short chapter in the senior high school history course," and Chinese Communism prior to the onset of 1979's economic reform is covered in a single sentence. Mao is mentioned just once - in a chapter on etiquette.

It's all part of a government effort to banish the grim history of Chinese Communism under Mao and promote "a more stable, less violent view of Chinese history that serves today’s economic and political goals," the history book's authors told the Times.

"Our traditional version of history was focused on ideology and national identity,” Zhu Xueqin, a historian at Shanghai University told the Times. "The new history is less ideological, and that suits the political goals of today.”

Zhou Chunsheng, a professor at Shanghai Normal University and one of the lead authors of the new textbook series, told the Times he wanted to rescue history from its traditional emphasis on leaders and wars and to make people and societies the central theme.

"History does not belong to emperors or generals,” Zhou told the Times. "It belongs to the people. It may take some time for others to accept this, naturally, but a similar process has long been under way in Europe and the United States.”

Zhou, a Shanghai scholar who helped write the textbooks, told the newspapers the new history does present a more harmonious image of China’s past. But he says the alterations "do not come from someone’s political slogan,” but rather reflect a sea change in thinking about what students need to know.

"The government has a big role in approving textbooks,” he said. "But the goal of our work is not politics. It is to make the study of history more mainstream and prepare our students for a new era.”

The Times reported that the Shanghai textbook revisions "also ignore many domestic and foreign concerns about the biased way Chinese schools teach recent history. Like the older textbooks, the new versions play down historic errors or atrocities like the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the army crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989."

Not all scholars are happy about the revisions.

"The junior high textbook castrates history, while the senior high school textbook eliminates it entirely,” wrote one Shanghai history teacher in an online discussion. The teacher asked to remain anonymous because he was criticizing the education authorities, the Times reported.

Supporters, the Times wrote, 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."


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