Distorted Facts in History Textbooks

by    /  January 29, 2018  / No comments

A doctored textbook from the Chinese government. Image via the author.

The Propaganda Department of the Central Committee is a world champion in tampering with the historical facts. Nowadays they use Photoshop to do their manipulative work, and it is just as easy as a childs game. For example, a historical picture of 1949 shows Mao Zedong standing in Tiananmen Rostrum and declaring the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Behind him is a group of high-ranking Party leaders – including Madame Song Qingling. For political reasons, this picture has been manipulated  several times. The images of these comrades have been treated as flower pots- moved here and there to serve the Partys political purposes. The first to disappear was Gao Gang, a CCP (Chinese Communist Party) leader, who fell to disgrace in the 50s. Later Liu Shaoqis image was deleted, too, during the Cultural Revolution.

  1. Blind Chess, a column by Tienchi Martin-Liao
  2. During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison til 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
  3. Tienchi Martin-Liao
  4. Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners, and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

With the same cynical and blunt spirit, the Propaganda Department, together with  the Ministry of Education, recently released the new version of the history textbook for 8th grade students. Their manipulation of the historical facts has alerted and worried the media. A public WeChat account jiangshitang (talking history class), has reported about it and pointed out that in the section on contemporary history- starting with the founding of the Republic in 1949- the chapter “Ten Years of Cultural Revolution” has been replaced with the title “Hard Search and the Accomplishment of the Election.” Although there are still accounts of the ten chaotic years of the Cultural Revolution, the content has obviously shrunk, and some wording has taken a moderate tune. The main malefactor, Mao Zedong, is treated more mildly in the new context. For example, the previous version read, “Mao Zedong thought wrongly that there was revisionism in the Party Central, he believed the Party and our country were facing the danger of the restoration of capitalism.” The word “wrongly” has been removed in the new version. Furthermore, a placating sentence is added at the end of the chapter: “There is no easy and smooth undertaking in the world, world history is always moving forward on its twisting way with ups and downs.” Does the establishment want to sanitize Mao and trivialize the horrific and catastrophic Cultural Revolution?

Actually, if one looks at the history textbook, there are no chapters about the important Anti-Rightist movement (1957-59), to which more than half a million intellectuals fell victim, no mention of the three years of the Great Famine (1959-1961), during which, according to the scholar Frank Dikötter, 45 million Chinese died. Of course there are no words about the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989.

There is no “contemporary history” in China. There is only the Chinese Communist Party playing the role of storyteller, dictating the selective accounts of historic and current happenings. As the main perpetrator of all these calamities, it hides its criminal record and presents itself as a glorious, great, and correct (Party jargon- guang wei zheng) ruling party.

No wonder that many citizens are angry with this embellishing act of the government. One man with the name Dongfang mingyue (Oriental Shining Moon) wrote the comment: “If they do not distort the history, how can they survive? Should the history revert, they will be shown as bandits. Should the lies be exposed, they turn out to be a bunch of swindlers. If their property is uncovered, they would be proved robbers. When there is exposure of their private life, they emerge as robbers. If we find out their nationality, they are foreigners (all have foreign passports). Spread out the map, and we would see they are traitors to the nation.

The people in China do not trust the government and do not trust the Party and its leader. They understand that a real record of history cannot be found in a textbook or in normal publications. Yet it is still very scary how the young students are educated in the schools. What they read and learn are very often twisted facts. Internet access to unfiltered and uncensored information is so limited that it could not provide them with true information. They see their own country only through the glasses of the Communist Party. In the long run, the people become manipulable subjects.

The French president Macron visited China in January. He did not want to offend the Xi government by mentioning the human rights abuse in China, but still wanted to encourage the people, so he said in his speech in Xian to the audience: “Social justice is important. The human being has a free nature, each person carries the ability of thinking, creativity and innovation.”

Living under such a regime and its strangulation of freedom of speech and other basic rights, how could the Chinese people develop their free nature? Those who tried to release their free nature are mostly in prison. Yet, there are still a minority of people just like the netizen Dongfang mingyue, who if they crossed the firewall successfully, would find out the truth and speak out the truth themselves.

About the Author

Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

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