Revisions to Chinese Textbook Raise Questions of Western Influence

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

A new edition of a textbook currently in use in secondary schools in Beijing, China has sparked controversy over contents that critics claim undermine China's current political culture.

Recently, the textbook was revised to include more traditional culture, which was discouraged during the Mao era. However, some of the changes have been unpopular — like the inclusion of a Biblical story, a supposed focus on and praise for Westerners over Chinese people, and an emphasis on classical Chinese culture.

The textbook included a Bible story for the first time in the nation's history, leading to accusations by critics that the book violated a law separating education and religion. According to PTI writing for the Indian Express, other critics argue that it is spreading Western values at the expense of values that the Chinese people hold dear.

Proponents for the inclusion of the Biblical story argue that the Bible is an important part of Western literary and mythological tradition, which should be familiar to students if they are going to receive a well-rounded education. An employee of the Beijing Academy of Educational Services (BAES), which served as one of the textbook's two compilers and also acts as a textbook selection consultant for the city's educational authorities, said:

"[We] added some extracts from the Bible's Book of Genesis into the textbook to broaden students' horizons and introduce them to Western myths."

Others take issue with the textbook's supposed focus on praising Westerners and their culture rather than celebrating Chinese people.

Some feel that the revisions aren't a political message at all. Professor Yao Xinyong of the Chinese Department of Jinan University said that an ideological or political interpretation of this inclusion isn't necessary because:

"The purpose of basic education is to offer systematic knowledge of human culture, both domestic and foreign."

A professor from Guangzhou, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed. He said:

"Some people have misunderstood the priority of Chinese teaching. Some people still hold old-fashioned ideas that a Chinese textbook should mostly comprise patriotic ideological content, without noticing that the priority of Chinese teaching is to cultivate humanistic qualities in students."

The textbook was published in 2006, and the revised version will be in schools beginning this autumn, reports Xinhua of Shanghai Daily. The book will be used in Chinese language classes for first-year middle school students in Beijing and in other provinces as well.

About 40% of the content has been changed, and 30% of these changes are reportedly devoted to traditional poetry and culture. Traditional Chinese education has enjoyed a resurgence of interest, with 3,000 sishu (traditional private schools) in operation today, as well as training centers that teach students classical texts. These inclusions have been welcomed by teachers, though some parents argue that these texts will be unintelligble to students and cause them to lose interest.

Many articles and texts, however, still deal with patriotism and the revolution.

Li Yan of ECNS reports that the sections that have been replaced include an account of what happens to an intercontinental ballistic missile which was written in 1980 and a story in which a man punches another man to death. Critics have noted that an article about the 1937 Nanjing Massacre was cut, but the Language and Culture Press under the Ministry of Education notes that it was replaced by a similar article on the same topic.

06 6, 2016
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