edX Course on Mao Zedong Criticized Over Alleged Bias


An edX course called “Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought” has piqued international interest with more than 3,000 students from 120 countries enrolled. Offered by Tsinghua University in Beijing and designed by Feng Wuzhong from the School of Marxism, the MOOC provides a thorough look into the philosophy and practices of the Chinese leader – but some academics are concerned the course doesn’t present history objectively.

The course has been available on edX since September 15, and due to it being the first course of its kind to focus on the Chinese political and ideological theory, it has attracted an audience of students from the US, the UK, France, Spain, India, Canada and Australia. The course is compulsory for all Chinese students and focuses on the ideological principles and political theory of the Communist Party of China, which is strongly influenced by Marxist writings.

Discussing the course he developed, Feng Wuzhong said that people outside of China often misunderstand Mao’s teachings. He also expressed his astonishment that so many people outside of China were interested in studying it through edX. Feng is hopeful the course will offer a rational perspective from which to understand Mao’s philosophy.

The course lends an inside peek into the education students in China receive. A Chinese researcher and human geography lecturer named Kelly said she decided to enroll in the MOOC as a way of understanding her Chinese students a bit better, Vanna Emia writes for Yibada.

For Karla Cabrera, a lawyer in Mexico, the course was construed as propaganda. Cabrera was interested in learning more about the Chinese leader and his philosophy only to discover, according to the New York Times, that the course did not offer an objective, impartial account of Mao’s rule or his actions, but rather:

“Each class opened with a patriotic video montage. Talk of Mao’s errors was minimal, restricted to the Communist Party line. The professor, a faculty member at Tsinghua, one of China’s most prestigious universities, seemed eager to mimic Mao himself, dressing in a tunic suit and referring to Maoism as a “magic bullet” for the party,” Javier C. Hernandez describes.

The Harvard Crimson says the course is also raising questions over edX’s role in supervising the educational content provided through its digital courses.

Many professors argue that the course doesn’t present Mao’s theory and strategy objectively. Among them is Harvard Government Professor Roderick MacFarquhar, who says the course constitutes a ‘rehash of the Communist Party line” that only presents what China wants the rest of the world to know about the former revolutionary leader.

For William C. Kirby, a Professor of China Studies, censoring education is not an acceptable alternative. As he explained in an email, people should be comfortable with ‘multiple perspectives’, C. Ramsey Fahs writes for the Harvard Crimson.

Before being offered through edX, the course was available through Xuetangzaixian, a Chinese open-course website. According to the Want China Times, over 5,000 Chinese students signed up for the course last spring.