‘Into the brains’ of China’s children: Xi Jinping’s ‘thought’ to become compulsory school topic

Textbooks to be updated and teachers trained to incorporate president’s ideology into class curriculum

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 10:24am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 11:08pm

Chinese schoolchildren will soon be studying President Xi Jinping’s political ideology after it becomes official Communist Party dogma later this week.

Education Minister Chen Baosheng said the new ideology, unveiled at the start of the party’s national congress last week, would be incorporated into curriculums across the country.

“[The thought will] go into textbooks, into classes, and into the brains [of students],” Chen said last week on the sidelines of the congress.

“We will design specific teaching methods that combine texts ... of various grades and subjects.”

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The formal title of Xi’s ideology will be revealed when the congress amends the party constitution on Tuesday.

Chen said the ministry would start amending textbooks and training teachers after the congress as part of the education sector’s “historic task”.

The topic will become part of political ideology courses that all pupils and students in the education system are required to take.

While first-graders learn to identify the national flag and doctoral candidates analyse communist theory, ninth-graders tackle the list of “guiding principles” from previous Chinese leaders, including Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

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The pupils are also required to memorise China’s “main constraint” – defined for decades as “the contradiction between backward social productivity and people’s ever-growing material and cultural needs”.

Textbooks will now have to be revised to redefine that contradiction as “between unbalanced, inadequate development and people’s ever-growing needs for a better life” – the definition Xi outlined last week.

Beijing is already in the process of standardising the country’s political ideology textbooks for first to ninth grades, gradually replacing those published by provincial authorities with a new set produced by the Ministry of Education.

A person familiar with the process said officials working on the new texts had been told to increase “explicit expressions” of socialist values and party leadership.

The source also said Xi’s ideology was likely to be taught at fifth or sixth grade.

“Such a complicated concept needs to be turned into something children can appreciate,” the source said. “For example, you explain the ‘new era’ by asking them to identify what’s new in their hometowns.”

Cheng Chen, a US-based political scientist at the University at Albany, said teaching the new ideology in school would strengthen the image of both Xi and the party as champions of the Chinese nation.

“It will solidify Xi’s image as a transformative leader in the history of the people’s republic who ushered in ‘a new era’,” she said. “It is [also] likely to contribute to a further rise of the already-growing nationalism among Chinese youth, who will now see China as finally arriving at the global centre-stage.”

The party has traditionally imposed tight control on school curriculums, with textbooks eulogising the contribution of Chinese communists while omitting events such as the 1989 pro-democracy protests.

It has also strengthened its grip on Chinese academia since Xi came to power in 2012, warning against the spread of “Western ideas” in classroom and calling on universities to serve the party rule.

In June, a number of prominent universities were publicly named and shamed by the party’s discipline inspectors for their weak efforts on the ideological front.

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The education minister said Chinese universities were become more effective at keeping opposition out of the classroom.

“At one time things were a bit messy,” Chen said. “There was some historical nihilism, populism, extreme liberalism and so on.

“Now the leadership of higher education ideological work is in the tight grip of the people who support socialism with Chinese characteristics and Marxism … There is less and less noise.”

Critics say tighter limits on academic freedom are undermining China’s efforts to build “world-class” universities, another major drive of Xi’s administration.

But when asked whether ideological work undermined the creativity of Chinese academics, Chen said the problem “does not exist”.

“There is no limit in doing research,” Chen said. “But you are not allowed to voice [dissidence] in the classroom. You must follow my textbooks.”