From Southern Weekend via the Bokee blogs we learned that the controversial Shanghai high school history textbooks—the very ones that were the subject of a New York Times article last year (Sept. 1, 2006)—have been banned.
In that article, Joseph Kahn claimed that China’s decades old Marxist template was being abandoned and that class struggle and other mainstays of Marxist theory were being downplayed. Instead, world history and civilization figured more prominently. Bill Gates was mentioned. The times they were a-changing.
It started off well, for the editors of the Shanghai textbooks—everyone came to their defense against the ‘biased’ reporting of the Times, lauding the new books as a step in the right direction not only for Chinese education but for society as a whole.
However, since the last time we touched upon the issue, the history textbooks here in Shanghai have been subjected to severe scrutiny by history experts up in Beijing, who concluded that the Shanghai textbooks did indeed have problems—they deemphasized the notion of class struggle and were to weak on ideology.
Professor Su Zhiliang of Shanghai Normal University, who was the main editor of the new history books, learned as of May of this year that his books were getting the ax, and that new books would have to be made in time for the beginning of the school year in September. However, neither he nor his team were allowed to be part of that process, and, seeing the writing on the wall, he resigned as chief editor.
Writing history books for high school students is not something you can normally do in two months, and so high school students this year have found their textbook divided into part one and part two, with part two being furiously written at this very moment.
Su seems bewildered by the turn of events, saying that his superiors had always reminded him that “these books are not your individual scholarly work in history, they are expressions of the will of the government.” That said, Shanghai was supposedly designated as one of the places where they would do experiments in historical pedagogy, trying out different types of textbooks and ways of teaching.
Joe Kahn, when reached for comment on the latest turn of events, expressed regret that his article in some sense lead to Su’s resignation and the suspension of the use of his books in Shanghai classrooms. Kahn said that his original motivation in writing that article was a sense that the erstwhile textbooks were a positive signal that things were changing for the better.
Photo of Su Zhiliang from Sohu News