Friday, September 01, 2006

Chinese Amnesia

Chinese communists have given up on the past of conflicts and struggles in favor of a short, technology-filled present:
When high school students in Shanghai crack 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.

Socialism has been reduced to a single, short chapter in the senior high school history course. Chinese Communism before the economic reform that began in 1979 is covered in a sentence. The text mentions Mao only once --— in a chapter on etiquette.

Amazingly, they not only bleach out decades of red revolution, but they reduce all history to a bland stew of socio-economic progress.

"History does not belong to emperors or generals," Mr. Zhou said in an interview. "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."

Mr. Zhou said the new textbooks followed the ideas of the French historian Fernand Braudel. Mr. Braudel advocated including culture, religion, social customs, economics and ideology into a new "“total history." That approach has been popular in many Western countries for more than half a century.

Mr. Braudel elevated history above the ideology of any nation. China has steadily moved away from its ruling ideology of Communism, but the Shanghai textbooks are the first to try examining it as a phenomenon rather than preaching it as the truth.

Please, bring the Braudel, but could someone get Mr. Zhou a copy of The Mediterranean? He put the usual history of politics and ideology in its place, but he did not obliterate the event from history.


At 7:33 AM, Blogger Alan Baumler said...

I generally agree with a lot of what you are saying, but its worth pointing out that this is not "China" changing its textbooks, it's Shanghai. Shanghai being the place in China most likely to go for a technocratic, class struggle free version of history.

I also have at least a bit of sympathy for what they are doing with Mao. The authors don't want to do the old revolutionary history. They are worried what will happen if they do something new, and are probably not really sure what to make of Mao anyway. Not noble or groundbreaking, but an attractive choice if you are told to write a new Chinese history text right now.

Follow the links here

for some Chinese comments on the books


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