In a study about the Chinese historiography on the peasant rebellions that often occurred in feudal China, historian James Harrison considers the Chinese Government’s actions of rewriting Chinese history as "the most massive attempt at ideological reeducation in human history." (James P. Harrison, The Long March to Power, 1972).
Many peasant rebellions that happened in Chinese history, including the brutal Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864) which was regarded by some historians as the major reason for China's decline in the modem era, were beatitied as heroic peasant class struggles against the ruling class. The communist victory over the nationalists, as the CCP historians alleged, was largely the result of the successful mobilization of the peasants according to the theory of class struggle. Based on class struggle theory, the emphasis of Chinese modem history education was put on China's internal politics-the corruption and incompetence of the feudal or capitalist rulers-the Qing Court or the KMT; foreign invasion thus became the secondary factor in explaining China's decline and suffering. The CCP also depicted the Anti-Japanese War in Marxist terms, with Japanese workers and peasants as fellow victims of militant imperialists.
In fact there is much discussion concerning the rise of nationalism in China after the end of the Cold War. A number of scholars believe that Chinese nationalism in the 1990’s was also constructed and enacted from the top by the Communist state. Or as Suisheng Zhao explains, the CCP has been using nationalism instrumentally to regain its legitimacy:
There were no major military threats to China' s security after the end of the Cold War. Instead, the internal legitimacy crisis became a grave concern of the Chinese Communist regime because of the rapid decay of Communist ideology. In response, the Communist regime substituted performance legitimacy provided by surging economic development and nationalist legitimacy provided by invocation of the distinctive characteristics of Chinese culture in place of Marxist-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. (Zhao, 1998, p. 287.) Through his case studies on the "Campaign for Patriotic Education," Suisheng Zhao argues that Chinese nationalism in the 1990s was "a state-led nationalist movement."
Generally speaking, the new history no longer centered on the ideologieal and political conflict between the communist CCP and capitalist KMT. Instead, the "defending fundamental fissure" for Chinese national identity was now drawn between the Chinese nation and foreign nations, especially those nations had invaded and humiliated China in the past.
In his Foreign Affairs article, Thomas J.Christensen holds a similar point of view. According to him, nationalism is ''the sole ideological glue" that holds the People's Republic together and keeps the CCP government in power. "Since the CCP is no longer communist, it must be even more Chinese.” (Christensen, "Chinese Realpolitik," Foreign Affairs 75,5, 1996).
After the "Tiananmen Incident" then, the CCP believed that the western countries have a master plan-a long-term conspiracy-to change China through influencing the thoughts and beliefs of Chinese younger generations.
Thus in a document dated March 9, 1991, President Jiang Zemin instructed:
We should conduct education on Chinese modem and contemporary history and national conditions to pupils (even to the kids in kindergarten), middle school students and to the university students. (People's Daily, June 1, 1991.)
Jiang also included a summary description of Chinese modem history . Since its publication, this description has been used in many versions of government documents, and it became the "master narrative" of China' s modem history . Jiang wrote, "to conduct the education, we should at least make clear the following main points:"
1. Because of the corruption of the feudal rulers, in the more than one hundred years after the Opium War, Chinese people were subjected to bullying and humiliation under the foreign powers. This can be further illustrated by listing some main historical facts.
2. During this period of time, many people with high ideals and the masses shed their blood and lay down their life, one stepping into the breach as another fell, to resist foreign aggression. They were resolved 10 defend Chinese nation.
3. After the "May Fourth Movement," the Chinese Communist Party was created. Under its leadership, Chinese people of different ethnic groups
went through the Agrarian Revolution, the Resistant War of Anti-Japanese, the Liberation War and finally built the new China. Chinese people have stood up since then. After the liberation, we also experienced several anti aggression wars, these demonstrated that Chinese people cannot be bullied.
4. Chinese people have always been against foreign invasions, they are justice-upholding and have never feared brutal forces.
In this narrative, Jiang emphasized the "bullying and humiliation" of Chinese people under foreign powers. If not for the CCP's successful revolution and sacrifices, China would still be a weak and divided country. By emphasizing the "bullying and humiliation," Jiang was also "using the past to allude to the present"-to compare the sanctions and the containment policy the western countries have asserted toward to China after the "Tiananmen Incident" to the bullying and humiliation the Chinese people suffered during the "century of national humiliation."
In olden times, written instructions from Chinese emperors were called an "imperial edict" (shengzhi). Officials who received a shengzhi had to implement the emperor's instruction immediately and thoroughly. Under the leadership of the autocratic Chinese Communist Party (CCP), instructions from the CCP leaders have still been received by the lower officials as an "imperial edict." In China, most elementary schools, middle and high schools, colleges and universities are run by the state. That means nearly all the school officials are appointed by the education agencies of local governments. Most schools also have CCP committees or branches established.
In August 1991, the National Education Council issued the "General Outline on Strengthening Education on Chinese Modern and Contemporary History and National Conditions." The Outline asked the education administrations of different levels to organize all their officials and teachers and have them study the Outline and President Jiang's letter and use the Outline as the "guiding document" for history education.
Three years later, in August 1994, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council jointly issued another document "Outline on the Implementation of Education in Patriotism." This Outline set off an upsurge of patriotic education in the whole society. The education content of this Campaign is "about what China was like in the old days and what kind of a country it was to become.”
Beijing called upon the whole nation to study China's humiliating modem history and how much the country has been changed by the Chinese Communist revolution. The education focuses on China's "chosen trauma" ("a century of humiliation" starting from the Opium War in 1840) and "chosen glory"-its splendid ancient civilization and "revitalization" via the recent achievements.
In the Outline on the Implementation of Education in Patriotism. the CCP Central Committee states explicitly the mission of this nationwide political campaign:
The purpose of conducting patriotic education is to inspire the national spirit, strengthen the national cohesion, set up people's sense of self-respect and sense of pride. and to consolidate and develop the most widely united front. Our purpose is also to lead the people's patriotic enthusiasm to the great cause of building socialism with Chinese characteristics, and to unite our people striving for the realization of the four modernizations and the rejuvenation of Chinese nation.( Its Chinese version is available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/ziliao/2005-03/16/content_2705546.htm )
As Suisheng Zhao observed, this Campaign is "a state-led nationalist movement," and "one of the most important maneuvers" that the Communist government launched to redefine the legitimacy of the post- Tiananmen leadership in a way that would "permit the Communist Party' s rule to continue on the basis of a non-Communist ideology.”( Zhao, 288. )
As Geremie Barme already observed, "every policy shift in recent Chinese history has involved the rehabilitation, re-evaluation and revision of history and historical figures. "( Barme, "History for the Masses," in Jonathan Unger, ed., Using the Post to Serve the Present: Historiography in Contemporary China, 1993, P. 260. )
Under Mao the emphasis was on China as a victor-it was under the leadership of the CCP that Chinese people overcame the difficulties and won national independence. In the new textbooks, the old class struggle narrative was replaced by a patriotic narrative. Since 1994, the Chinese Modern and Contemporary History has become a required core course in high school and a subject of the nationwide university entrance examinations for all candidates. Beijing also constructed more than ten thousand "patriotic education bases"-museums, memorial halls, and monuments in memory of China's past wars with foreign countries, civil wars and the myths and national heroes in history. Visiting these memory sites has been a regular part of the school curriculum.
This patriotic education as we have seen from the reactions to the three incidents we took as a case study, served its purpose, evident in the strong support by the younger generation of intellectuals of the government's positions against foreign pressures. And the Campaign has greatly contributed to the rise of nationalism in China in 1990’s.
This ''western pressures" explanation concurs with the points of view that have been expressed in a number of books published in this period, such as the runaway bestseller, China Can Say No.38 The publication of this book created an unusual cultural phenomenon, drawing unexpectedly wide attention, and provoked a great deal of debate.
The basic theme of this book is that China should stand up to pressure from the United States and other foreign countries, that it should be strong enough militarily and economically to be treated with respect. Like many nationalistic Chinese, the authors blame the United States for bullying China and for encouraging independence movements in Taiwan and Tibet.
Here actual excerpts of the recent, 2002 Teaching Guidelines for the high school Modern and Contemporary History Textbook (Volume I):
Chinese modem history is a history of humiliation that China had been gradually degenerated into a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society; at the same time, it is also a history that Chinese people strived for national independence and social progress, persisted in their struggle of anti
imperialism and anti-feudalism, and was also the history of the success of New-Democratic Revolution under the leadership of the Chinese communist Party.( Ministry of Education, "Lishi Jiaoxue Dagang' (Teaching Guideline for History Education), 2002. lt’s Chinese version is available at the official web site of the People's Education Press: http://www.pep.com.cn/200406/ca412138.htm)
The Outline further states:
Different sorts of museums, memorial halls, buildings in memory of martyrs, sites of important battles in revolutionary wars, and scenic sites are important places for conducting patriotic education. The propaganda departments of different level's party organizations should work with the local education, to select and determine the local education bases. Work units of different levels in both the urban and rural areas should actively use these bases to conduct educational activities. Schools should incorporate this kind of educational activities into the curriculum of moral education.
In March 1995, the Ministry of Civil Affairs announced that after a careful nomination, one hundred places were selected as the national level "demonstration bases" for the patriotic education. Among the one hundred bases forty of them are memory sites of China's past conflicts or wars with foreign countries. This also includes the War with the Dutch over Taiwan(1), Opium Wars (7),Eight powers (1) Patriots (4) and so on.
Compared with the Anti-Japanese War and the Opium War, the Korean War was not fought in China's territory, therefore, two of the memory sites for the Korean War are actually commemorations of two Chinese soldiers and were built in the soldiers' hometowns, the Memory Hall of Huang Jiguang. The web site of this memory hall calls him "a good solider of Chairman Mao," and asks people to learn from his "spirit of patriotism and internationalism.” (http://cn.netor.comlm/box200106/m6373.asp?BoardID=6373 )
After they had been selected as "demonstration bases," most memory sites received government financial support for construction or renovation and enlargement. Being "demonstration bases" also means they will receive a large amount of organized visits from the schools, the army and the government agencies.
Chinese President Jiang Zeming wrote an inscription for the reopening in 1997 after the enlargement of the People's Memorial Hall of Anti-Japanese War. The inscription reads:
"Hold high the patriotic banner, use history to educate people, promote and develop Chinese national spirit and rejuvenate the Chinese nation.” (www.china1937.org.cn)
The Memorial Hall for the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese lnvaders is another large-scale "demonstration base." Enlarged and renovated in 1995. Inscribed the front wall of its main building is the phase "VICTIMS 300,000"-the official Chinese estimate of killed victims-in Chinese, English, and Japanese language. The memorial hall has received more than 10 million visitors since. More than 80 schools and organizations have established affiliation partnership with the Memorial Hall for regular visits and for holding different ceremonies there.
According to a published interview with the Deputy Minister of the Propaganda Department Jiefangjun Bao in 2001, a dozen of provinces annually put more than ten million Chinese Yuan into the development of the patriotic bases. (The PLA Daily, June 13, 2001, Section 4. )
Taken from the above list in 2005, China's National Bureau of Tourism published a list of"100 Red Tourism Scenic Spots" and recommended them to the tourists. And the CCP skillfully declared 2005 as "Year of Red Tourism,” with "tourism" to replace "education." (Xinhua News Agency, February 22, 2005: China Boosts "Red Tourism" in Revolutionary Bases.)
According to a report of Xinhua News Agency, more than 150 major "red tourism" sites in 13 provinces and municipalities received 20 million visitors in 2004. During the week-long Spring Festival that started on February 9, 2005, Yan'an (a small town in Shaanxi Province where the CCP stayed during the Anti-Japanese War period) received 110,000 domestic and overseas visitors.
Earlier, in 2004, seven PRC ministries and CCP departments, including the Ministry of Education and the Propaganda Department, jointly also recommended 100 selected films, 100 selected songs and 100 selected books to “the whole society.” (Xinhua News Agency September 9, 1004: China Puts "Mainstream" Movies to Test.)
Films on historical events, such as the Anti-Japanese War, Opium War and the Korea War."Sangkumryung Campaign" for example tells the story of the brutal battles between the Chinese and the Americans in Sangkumryung during the Korea War.The government normally provides support to cover costs of making these films. However, these "mainstream" films-films on the themes of patriotism and socialism-normally also receive very good profits.
The reason is that the government agencies and schools would always organize their employees and the students to watch these films. For example, Final Decision (2000), a film about the civil war between the CCP and the KMT after the end of the Anti-Japanese War, received a profit of US$ 15.7 million. (Xinhua News Agency September 9, 1004.)
Not surprising, knowledge of Chinese modern and contemporary history is mandatory for anyone who wants to be tested in the Polities section for students of sciences/engineering major plus several others today.
In the current school text books , the emphasis is put on the international and ethnic conflict between China and for example Japan, rather than the internal and class conflict between the CCP and KMT as was the case with earlier school text books. For example where the high school history textbooks of for example 1985, gave detailed descriptions about the KMT's corruption and impotence and its non-resistance policy. It seemed that the Anti-Japanese War was fought solely by the communist troops. However, in the new textbooks today, the narrative gives "considerable credit" to the KMT's military resistance. "It still criticized General Chiang's anti-communist attitude, but also stressed that he had never given up resistance campaign against the Japanese and even claims that the KMT and CCP shared common interest in countering foreign aggressors and reviving China. This "China as victim" in nationalist discourse, with for example a focus on Japanese brutality and Chinese misery during the war, is not without results as can be seen on the anti-Japanese protests by University students on the streets of China early this year 2006:
Above Chinese students during an anti-Japan demonstration.