Controversy over Chinese textbook’s Cultural Revolution chapter as state publisher denies censorship

Firm says title of chapter referring to period of massive social upheaval and violence in China changed to ‘Arduous Exploration and Development Achievements’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 January, 2018, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 January, 2018, 11:50pm

Changes made to a middle-school history textbook’s chapter on the Cultural Revolution have sparked controversy in China, with its state-run publisher denying it censored the book.

The furore came after a post widely shared on Chinese social media suggested that politically sensitive content about the political movement had been removed.

The post showed photographs of the old version of the textbook and a revised text.

The pictures appeared to show that a chapter formerly devoted to the Cultural Revolution had been taken out.

The post also suggested that a sentence referring to the political movement in China in the 1960s and 1970s – which caused a decade of violence and political and social violence upheaval – had been altered to remove a reference to the Communist Party.

The original version read, “Mao Zedong wrongfully believed that the central leadership of the party had the problem of revisionism and the party and the country were facing the risk of the restoration of capitalism. ” The later version said, “Mao Zedong believed that the party and the country were facing the risk of the restoration of capitalism”, according to the post.

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The textbook’s publisher, the People’s Education Press, issued a statement on Wednesday saying the new edition of the textbook, meant for Grade 8 pupils aged about 14, still contained content on the Cultural Revolution.

One chapter’s original title “The 10 years of the Cultural Revolution” had now been changed to “Arduous Exploration and Development Achievements” in the new version, the publisher said.

The chapter had also been made the sixth rather than seventh lesson in the book and the number of paragraphs boiled down to six rather than nine, the statement said.

A member of staff at the publisher told the South China Morning Post that the revised chapter covering the Cultural Revolution still covered three pages in the textbook. He declined to comment on the changes in the text related to Mao, but added that the textbooks have yet to be distributed to schools.

Social media users questioned the changes, saying China should be open about its history.

One man in his 20s commented: “To be honest, I don’t know what happened during the Cultural Revolution … it’s always been a vague thing [to me], but I think we should face up to history. No matter if it’s good or bad – it’s history.”

Some questioned why the publisher had to change the title of the chapter referring to the period.

“Was the Cultural Revolution an ‘arduous exploration’ or a ‘development achievement’? Please make sure you understand basic classifications and the nature of the content before compiling a book, especially a history textbook for our children,” one person wrote.

China’s struggle to reflect, 50 years on from the Cultural Revolution

The Cultural Revolution, which spanned 10 years from 1966, saw China undergo massive sociopolitical upheaval that ripped families apart and left more than 1.7 million people dead, according to the official death toll. It remains a hugely sensitive political topic in China.

The movement was the brainchild of Mao and did not end until his death in 1976.

It was aimed at eliminating “impure” elements in Chinese society and reviving the revolutionary spirit that had led to the founding of the People’s Republic, as Mao tried to reassert his authority after becoming sidelined as chairman of the party.

It is not the first time changes to history textbooks have created controversy or upset in China.

People’s Education Press announced last month that it would reintroduce stories about the Western Han dynasty (206BC-24AD) generals Wei Qing and Huo Qubing in a seventh grade history textbook after complaints that previous content had been taken out of the latest version.

Wei and Huo are considered heroes in Chinese history for victorious campaigns against the nomadic tribes of the Huns.