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China education

Fake story about US tycoon removed from Chinese school textbook

Move comes amid greater scrutiny of textbooks on the mainland from parents wary of propaganda being taught to their children

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 12:52pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 11:21pm

A fake story about the American oil businessman Armand Hammer has been removed from a Chinese primary school textbook, its publisher said, after parents and teachers expressed anger over the fabricated information.

A passage in the textbook said Hammer was a refugee in California as a young man who refused to take food from a town official for free. The official was touched by the young man’s dignity and independent spirit and decided to let his daughter marry him, the article said.

The story about the tycoon born at the end of the 19th century was later found to be false.

Beijing-based People’s Education Press said in a statement on its website that the passage had been taken out and it was also excluding other “controversial” articles from updated versions of textbooks.

The publisher, which has a near monopoly in producing textbooks for China’s primary and middle schools, said the story about Hammer was originally reported in a Chinese magazine in 1998 and it was later picked up by other periodicals.

The statement gave no details about the other articles that would be corrected.

School textbooks in China are coming under increased scrutiny from middle class parents who are more wary of propaganda or distorted views of the world being taught to their children.

There is also more pressure on publishers to produce textbooks that more relevant and keep pace with changing attitudes and trends.

Textbooks change: China’s war against Japanese aggression lasted 14 years instead of eight

In one case, questions have been raised by scholars and teachers about a history textbook’s account of China’s war against the Japanese from 1937 to 1945.

The book has been accused of playing down the role of Nationalist forces in defeating the Japanese and emphasizing the impact of communist troops. The Nationalists lost China’s civil war against the communists and fled to Taiwan in 1949.

Wu Zhonghao, a professor at Shanghai Normal University’s college of education, said it used to be a common practice to fill textbooks with fabricated stories as the Chinese education authorities tried to impose socialist values and a political agenda on students.

The situation has greatly improved since the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, but “since this is a society with fake things penetrating everywhere, it’s not strange to see one or two fake stories”, according to Wu.

Other controversial articles found in mainland textbooks include one about how the American inventor Thomas Edison helped save his mother when he was seven by holding mirrors to reflect light from oil lamps so a doctor could operate on her for appendicitis. Critics said the world’s first comparable appendicitis operation was carried in 1886. Edison was seven in 1854.

Other myths taught to Chinese students include the “fact” that Karl Marx left a foot imprint on the floor of the British Library as he always sat at the same spot while researching. It was used to glorify Marx as a diligent scholar, but mainlanders travelling to London discovered the story was bogus.

Another myth is that China’s Great Wall is visible from the moon, a “fact” proved wrong by space missions.

Sex, lies and China’s uproar over a primary school textbook

Affluent cities and provinces such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong and Jiangsu now have their own textbooks compiled by local publishing houses, although the books still have to strictly toe the Communist Party line.

Wu said political correctness and ideological education would continue to dominate the compilation of Chinese textbooks.

“They will pay more attention to scrutinise the ideological aspects than to check whether the stories are true or not,” he said.

Chinese textbooks with greater rigour and accuracy on subjects such as maths and sciences are, however, proving popular.

HarperCollins, the publishing house, signed a deal with Shanghai publishers earlier this year to translate Chinese maths textbooks for use in British schools.