Amid an ongoing campaign against “Western values” in classrooms in China, including a ban on textbooks that “promote” Western values, Yang Guiren, the Minister of Education, defended China’s adherence to Marxism, which itself could be considered a “Western” ideology. The Wall Street Journal’s Te-Ping Chen reports on Yang’s response to her question at a recent press conference:
At a press conference Thursday, The Wall Street Journal asked Mr. Yuan if he could clarify his definition of Western values that he found problematic, given that Marxism, one of the foundations of Chinese Communist Party thought, originated in the West. The Journal also asked whether Mr. Yuan could offer any details on what the ministry was doing to manage materials containing Western values.
“I don’t know if you are an American or if you are [a Chinese person] working here for The Wall Street Journal,” Mr. Yuan responded, in a reply that circulated swiftly online. “Do you have faith in Marxism? The fact that Marxism is our guiding principle reflects the Chinese Communist Party’s spirit of openness.”
Mr. Yuan didn’t elaborate further on his definition of problematic Western values or ministry activity on the matter, but he went on to stress the importance of moral and political education for China’s youth. “The goal and orientation of running schools is to make our students become people qualified to inherit and build up socialism with Chinese characteristics,” he said.
An abridged video of the exchange was posted by state broadcaster China Central Television on its verified Weibo microblog, captioned, “The Education Minister Cleverly Answers Reporter’s Question.” While Weibo users were blocked from commenting on the post, videos of the exchange posted elsewhere had garnered several thousand comments — many of them fiercely critical — within a matter of hours. [Source]
Xinhua briefly reported on Yang’s defense of Marxism: “‘The Communist Party of China combined the Marxist theory with practical situation in the country, establishing it as a guiding thought,’ Yuan said at a press conference on the sidelines of the national legislature annual session.”
The role of ideology in guiding policy under Xi Jinping—and whether Party ideology is in fact atrophying or resurgent— has been the subject of recent debate by observers of Chinese politics. A number of scholars have responded to an essay by Taisu Zhang on the subject; their essays are collected on Larry Catá Backer’s blog.