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Beijing’s new textbooks: “I am a disciple of Xi Jinping”

By Johnny Erling
Ein Bild von Johnny Erling

In Zhuxian, a village near Kaifeng, harbors a picturesque temple complex built in the 15th century to the glory of the Song-era general Yue Fei (1103-1142). His name traditionally epitomizes patriotic behavior in China. When I visited the site back in 2019, Yue Fei’s life was on display, with a 1950s comic book copied onto large display panels. The comic praised the army leader who sought to reclaim his former kingdom.

According to the museum, Xi Jinping’s mother once read this comic to her son. Little Xi is said to have been particularly fascinated by the part when Yue Fei’s mother engraved four characters on her 24-year-old son’s back with a red-hot needle: “Jin Zhong Bao Guo” (精忠报国) – “Serve your country with the utmost loyalty”. Xi himself later recalled, “I said it must have been a great pain to have those words tattooed on the back, but my mother said that although it was painful, he remembered it by heart. Since then, I’ve kept these four characters in my heart so that they will also accompany me throughout my life.”

The statue of General Yue Fei in the Zhuxian Temple, which has characters with patriotic meaning tattooed on his back by his mother.

This sappy anecdote can be found in the new third-grade primary school textbook, Financial Times UK reported. Xi’s stories, thoughts and statements about socialist values will find their way into the lessons for the new school year. In this way, patriotism is to be ignited in the youngest of children and all trainees are to be immunized against Western influences. Some parents secretly expressed their indignation to FT reporters: they felt reminded of the personality cult in Mao’s time.

The Committee Office of the Education Ministry had set the guidelines to include “Xi’s Thought” in the curriculum for each course of education (from primary and middle schools to universities). Xi’s theories have been enshrined in CCP statutes and the Constitution as China’s official guiding ideology since the 19th Party Congress in 2018. Therefore, “we must also arm students’ minds with Xi’s thinking.” Through descriptive examples as well as vivid and concise language, the young students are to be indoctrinated to love China, the Party, socialism, and that “General Secretary Xi leads the Party and the people.” Graduate students are to be able to “study and interpret his theory.” These guidelines are to be extended to all branches of education in the future.

The integration of Xi’s thinking as a direct part of education is a continuation of his ideological reorientation of schooling, which he demanded as party leader after his election in late 2012. The first thing he did was to reinstate the state monopoly on centralized and unified learning materials. He had textbooks revised. In addition to increased teaching of traditional classics, poetry, and literature, they are supposed to instill communist ideals in students, a love for collectivism, and a “correct” understanding of China’s history and national sovereignty.

From September 2014 on, 140 experts scrambled to write new textbooks. In the Chinese textbook handed to millions of first-graders at the start of the 2018 school year in September, the introductory drawing depicts a large crowd of children of the 56-Chinese nationalities. Students are now asked to find out whether they recognize themselves as Han Chinese, Tibetan or Mongolian. In the picture, the children from all different minorities stand in front of the red national flag at Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate and shout in unison, “I am Chinese.” That’s the first lesson for the six-year-old readers. Next, they learn to sing the back-to-school song: “I love learning, I love working. When I grow up, I want to serve the fatherland.”

A page of the 2018 “Chinese Language” textbook for first-graders: children in the traditional costumes of China’s 56 national minorities. All shout: “I am Chinese”

Xi brought the textbooks back in line. With one stroke, he undid all previous reforms. From the beginning of 2000, more than 70 academies and publishers had developed 167 experimental modern textbooks for 22 school subjects to supplement the compulsory curriculum. Beijing allowed them to be used as pilot projects with optimism at the time. China had joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). Its People’s Congress enshrined the right to property and the protection of human rights in the constitution for the first time.

This was reflected in the curriculum and in reform textbooks such as the six-volume Beijing New Citizens series (新公民) for students in third grade and above, published in 2006. It begins with “Know Thyself” and the prompt, “Look in the mirror. Who do you see there? Yourself! Just as there are no two sheets of paper alike in the whole world, you too are unique in this world. Can you stand yourself? Stand in front of your mirror and say: I like me!”

The first page of the 2006 Beijing New Citizens reform textbook, “Look in the Mirror. Know Thyself.”

100 renowned educators, historians, social scientists and natural scientists developed modern learning material for the Beijing University Publishing House. The intention was to prepare China’s students for a globalized world in which initiative, critical thinking, self-confidence, and the ability to innovate are essential. Every student was more than just an interchangeable cog in the socialist wheel, like the model soldier Lei Feng, whom party leader Xi Jinping is again touting as a role model today. Today’s textbooks demand the individual to be integrated into the collective and to demonstrate secondary virtues such as diligence, obedience, and civilized behavior.

The Party attaches “high priority” to socialist orientation in education, Xi announced at his Politburo meeting this Tuesday. With his recent reform of school textbooks, he has steered young people away from the once critical reform question, “Who am I?” Now, the answers are supposed to be “I am a Chinese” and “I am a disciple of Xi Jinping.”

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