The government has quite a bit of control over education. This is no secret even in countries like the United States, where educational reforms come down the pipeline from the President himself. What children learn is directly related to what politicians want them to learn. Luckily, it seems that, so far, the Common Core national educational standards seem pretty well-rounded and leave a lot open for teacher interpretation, especially when it comes to the reading and language arts standards. Literature teachers such as myself have a lot of autonomy in choosing books for their classes to read. Unfortunately, in China, this is not the case.
On July 15, the Chinese government released a list of 100 books and 100 movies, documentaries and television shows they found suitable for the nation’s youth to read. This list was a joint effort from three organizations: Central Propaganda Department, Ministry of Education and Central Communist Youth League. These organizations plan to promote these works heavily among China’s youth. According to them, their goal is to “deeply and thoroughly realize the spirit of the Party’s 18th National Congress, to strongly promote the national spirit and the spirit of the age among the youth, and to encourage all youth to fight to realize the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
What does that mean exactly? It means that they want to promote Communist ideology and Chinese nationalism. Just look at the titles of the first three books on the list: “Stories of Marx,” “China Has a Mao Zedong,” and “Zhou Enlai: the Early Years.”
Luckily, Chinese parents aren’t happy. The list was circulated electronically, and parents had their say in the comments sections with comments like, “When I have children, I guess I’ll buy books and read to them myself. This brainwashing is too intense.” The former head of Google in China, Kai-fu Lee, sent out this tweet that seemed to capture the sentiments of the nation: “I recommended the following children’s books, but they were politely rejected by a certain department: Cinderella, Charlotte’s Web, The Princess Diaries, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Now that I’ve seen this list, I understand why.”
Even though you would think such things wouldn’t happen in a democratic country like America, it most definitely does. I have had numerous parents ask that their students be given different books to read when we start “1984,” George Orwell’s infamous look at a too-controlling government. Parents sometimes don’t want their kids reading books with any kind of sexuality in them, and often times don’t appreciate the anti-government tones. Similarly, I was concerned when I started reading “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley with a class of sophomores, but I haven’t received any complaints about that yet.
It is for this very reason that books are banned in this country. People fear the power the written word has over young children, and they don’t want those children exposed to anything that might be contrary to what is taught at home. This movement in China is the opposite of the Banned Books movement in the United States in that the government is actively trying to use these books to brainwash the nation’s youth, but the message is the same: words are powerful, and they can be used to teach children whatever we want to teach them, just by allowing them to open up a book.
It is a power that should be respected and, as parents, teachers and citizens, we should be aware of what our students are reading to ensure that, by reading them, they are not participating in some kind of governmental brainwashing conspiracy. China’s parents had it right, and if their government continues to push ideology they do not agree with, it will be important for them to present a balanced view at home.
Photo Credit: Montgomery Planning Commission