A System Afraid of Its Own History

In the New York Times, Didi Kirsten Tatlow interviews , the teacher who has encountered many difficulties due to his unorthodox views, and looks at the failure of China’s system to teach students their own history:

Even as China’s economy and society become increasingly diverse and sophisticated, its relationship to its own history remains stubbornly mired in cover-ups and silences. A look at how high school textbooks present the six decades since the establishment of the People’s Republic reveals the problem. Glaring omissions include mass famine, violent political campaigns, deadly labor camps and the suppression of a movement that was televised live around the world. Taken together, these events killed dozens of millions of Chinese.

The reason is simple, say critics. The political party that caused the tragedies is still in power, and it fears challenges to its authority. “They didn’t begin telling the truth in the Soviet Union until after it collapsed, did they?” said Yuan Tengfei, a teacher in Beijing.

A result is that high school graduates, many headed for university and top jobs in China and, increasingly, abroad, leave school in a miasma of ignorance about their country, Mr. Fan said.

He lists the history hot spots: “The 1957 Anti-Rightist Campaign, the 1958-61 Great Leap Forward famine, the Cultural Revolution, June 4th” — the army’s crushing of democracy protests near Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

“All these things have happened in our history, and we need to talk about them,” he said. “What kind of country are we that our history is so tragic?”

Read a CDT profile of Fan Meizhong.

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