Education and ideology in China

It is almost trite to observe that any education system – its structure and curriculum – closely reflects the values of the society in which it is formed. Thus in a democratic nation such as Australia, educational institutions are valued as places of academic freedom, critical inquiry and the preservation of freedom enjoyed by the broader community. In a totalitarian state such as China, education reflects the values of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP): dictatorship, authoritarianism and rule by the party. In a country which rejects the notions of freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of expression, educational institutions are expected to be accountable to the goals and needs of the national state. This is no less true for the China of today – with its burgeoning economy and increased international clout – than it was during the horrific years under their first Communist leader, Mao Zedong. In fact, since 2012, the Communist Party seems to have become more ideologically focussed, with tighter controls on all facets of society, including education.

Xi Jinping and the resurgence of ideology

Since the 1980s, there has been a widely held perception that Marxist ideology was no longer the driving force in Chinese politics. It had been blunted by the desire for economic growth and increased living standards. Ideology had given way to pragmatism –the Communist Party did not believe in anything but growth. This perception was perhaps temporarily shaken by the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989,but overall persisted as China became an increasingly important economic player on the international scene. In an age of globalisation it seemed inevitable that a capitalist China would finally embrace Western democracy.

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (Picture is a cut out from a photo of Narendra Modi, on www.flickr.com)

The election of Xi Jinping in 2012 and the direction his government has taken since then has laid bare the reality. Xi hails from the ‘revolutionary aristocracy’; his father was a powerful Communist, a Long March hero, who, after a fall from grace during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, re-emerged strongly continued a long career as revolutionary. More than any leader since Mao’s death in 1976, Xi has projected himself as natural successor of Mao, recommitting China to a mix of old-style Marxist thought and nationalism. Once more, ideology has become number one, an ideology which demands continual revolution through the crackdown on (real or imagined) ‘enemies’. This has been well documented in the past few years: in Xi’s determination to quash the influence of Western liberal ideas, in increased internet censorship, in religious persecution and in anti-western rhetoric. In 2013 an official party document was leaked which directed party officials to wage ‘intense struggle’ to root out ‘false trends’ and ‘evil weeds’ of democracy, universal human rights and the Western idea of a free press (1)(and it’s worth noting that the dissident journalist who leaked the document received a 7 year jail sentence).(2)

 

CCP and education

Education in People’s Republic of China is under the tight control of the CCP. It directs the Ministry of Education and considers education an important means of ideological control. Every public education institution has its resident CCP officials who outrank school administrators. They run CCP organisations for staff, and Communist Youth League organisations for students; mandatory League activities begin as red-scarfed Young Pioneers in primary and continue through secondary school and university. Students undergo a program of ‘moral’ or ‘patriotic education’, aimed at instilling socialist values. Patriotic education emphasizes China’s victimization and humiliation at the hands of foreign powers, and promotes absolute loyalty to the CCP as the only way to prevent further humiliation. Students are also required to participate in People’s Liberation Army military training activities, including about three weeks of mandatory military training before beginning classes at their freshman year of university.
A year ago, the importance of educational institutions as centres of ideological training was reset by Xi Jinping. Education, he said, is the battle-field in which hearts must be won for socialism.

‘Higher education is a forward battle-field in ideological work and shoulders the important task of . . . propagating Marxism, fostering socialism . . . and providing intelligent support for the realisation of the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation . . . to form a common basis for the united struggle of the entire Party, the entire country and all the people’

(Cited by J. Fitzgerald from a speech in December 2016).

The country’s universities were called upon to pledge loyalty to the Communist Party, and be strongholds of Party Leadership, by firmly upholding the ‘correct political direction’. In many of the universities, adherence to the basic Party line is a basic requirement for teaching. The ‘illegal’ spread of ‘harmful ideas’ is forbidden. As to what those harmful ideas are, these were spelled out in a CCP communique in 2013. They included constitutional democracy, economic liberalisation, freedom of the press, historical critiques of the Communist Party, challenge to socialism and the propagation of academic freedom.(3)

While the tightening of controls over education is perhaps most felt in the universities (and particularly in the humanities areas) primary and secondary schools have not been unaffected. Just this year, new textbooks were introduced into Chinese schools; revised editions of old text books in order to bolster confidence in the core values of Chinese style socialism. The revision added more traditional Chinese literature, they strengthened the revolutionary tradition of the CCP, and added content highlighting the CCPs significant role in ‘the war of resistance’ (the Sino-Japanese War 1937 – 1945). In addition, they reflect the hard-line, nationalistic foreign policy of President Xi Jinping; for example the South China Sea, Tibet and Taiwan are emphasized as historical and inseparable parts of China.

Challenges

For those who are optimistic that China is changing – at this stage it seems a rather forlorn hope; its education system is geared in such a way to ensure that the anti-Christian ideals of Marxism are inculcated into all its citizens.
As God’s people, we understand the importance of education. So much so, that, when our forefathers came to Australia, setting up covenantal schools followed on the heels of instituting the Church. Even 60 years ago, when Australia considered itself to be a Christian nation, and state school curriculum still reflected some of that. Under God’s blessing, our schools thrived and they have been of vital assistance in bringing up the children of the church in the fear of the LORD. We can also richly appreciate and thank God for the freedoms in this country, and the political institutions which have enabled this to happen.
In China, schools are simply part of the apparatus of the state. They may pursue high standards as citizens are called to realise the Great Dream of greatness for China; education and research in science/technology may be second to none; but ultimately it is designed to not only enhance the power of the CCP, but also to produce citizens who unquestionably accept the soulless religion of Marxism. We understand the extreme challenges this poses for Christians in China as they strive to bring their children up in the fear of the LORD. This is a matter for prayer that God will sustain the faithful, and open doors to allow for Christian education.

Reason to Hope

We know the power of God. Throughout history, the reality of God’s control of the nations has been driven home, time and again. At a time when the Chinese Communist Party seems to be straining every nerve to reassert the dominance of Marxist ideology and its totalitarian control, mission work is flourishing and the number of Christians rapidly increasing. Through the Word and Spirit, the hungry souls are nourished. This is the miracle of the ages as God continues his Church gathering and preserving work. Continue to pray for the mission work occurring, that it may continue to flourish and the number of Christians continue to grow.

Written by Geraldine Plug
Geraldine Plug is teacher at John Calvin Christian College in Armadale, WA