Mao was 30 percent wrong

In Sunday's New York Times, Matthew Forney, a former Beijing bureau chief for Time, seeks to correct what he thinks may be a popularly-held hunch that China's growing class of educated urbanites will soon pressure the Chinese government to reform.

On the contrary, says Forney, "Educated young Chinese, far from being embarrassed or upset by their government's human-rights record, rank among the most patriotic, establishment-supporting people you'll meet."

He goes on:

The most obvious explanation for this is the education system, which can accurately be described as indoctrination. Textbooks dwell on China's humiliations at the hands of foreign powers in the 19th century as if they took place yesterday, yet skim over the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s as if it were ancient history. Students learn the neat calculation that Chairman Mao's tyranny was "30 percent wrong," then the subject is declared closed. The uprising in Tibet in the late 1950s, and the invasion that quashed it, are discussed just long enough to lay blame on the "Dalai clique," a pejorative reference to the circle of advisers around Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

"Of course," he acknowledges, "the nationalism of young Chinese may soften over time. As college graduates enter the work force and experience their country's corruption and inefficiency, they often grow more critical."

That seems like a smart observation. One can't imagine why young city-dwellers should be especially inclined to question textbooks that exaggerate or lie outright about the glories of their country. As they learn about the potential personal gains of free enterprise, however, they will undoubtedly try to push the government's hand farther away from the markets--which will likely lead them to question the wisdom of other government policies.

Still, teaching bogus history in the schools can only stifle the impulse to reform. The Chinese government's firm grip on the country may not slip for a while yet.

More By Author

February 29, 2008
March 17, 2008