Friday, September 01, 2006

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There's a new history curriculum for grade schools in China, and it has a few obvious omissions:

Socialism has been reduced to a single, short chapter in the senior high school history course. Chinese communism before the economic reform that began in 1979 is covered in a sentence. The text mentions Mao Zedong only once — in a chapter on etiquette.
The current regime has long since jettisoned most of Mao's ideology, though they are not ready to denounce his atrocities. So they've settled on an oldie but goody - they're going to ignore him. And if this policy remains in place, Mao will fade from Chinese consciousness. This may seem ludicrous. Mao's legacy is ubiquitous in China - how could he be forgotten? But it's easy enough - my students today, born on average in the mid-1980s, not only do not remember Ronald Reagan - many have never heard of him. History, besides the things I listed in the previous post, is what we choose to remember. Those on the right who complain about an overemphasis on minority history in grade school curriculum, or who say there's too much talk about slavery, Indian removal, or the struggles of the early industrial working class, think that these things are unimportant in large part because they don't know much about them. They have, through the choices of their teachers and their own choices in reading, been exposed to a version of history that marginalizes these issues. When they are confronted with a different version of U.S. history, they see it as being incorrect. It is not what they "know" to be correct. If the current curriculum changes remain in place in China long enough, in a generation or so we'll be faced with a nation that "knows" that the legacy of Mao - who? - is trivial.

It's really that simple to remake the past. If you control the conversation about the past, you can turn the past into anything you want. You can even make Mao disappear.

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