Academic journal article Education

The Educational Reforms in the Cultural Revolution in China: A Postmodern Critique

Academic journal article Education

The Educational Reforms in the Cultural Revolution in China: A Postmodern Critique

Article excerpt

Like many Chinese educators and students whose teaching and schooling experiences happened to coincide with the period of the Cultural Revolution, the author personally experienced the educational reforms that came along with this political movement. People in China have always been bewildered by what happened in that period, why it had such a devastating impact on education in China, and why the reform failed its promises to people. Many questions remain unanswered. This article is a critical analysis of the educational reforms and the drastic curriculum changes that took place in China during its Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)in light of postmodern curriculum theories. It is hoped that by taking a postmodern perspective, this analysis will shed some light on why the educational reforms in the Cultural Revolution failed.

The Cultural Revolution, together with the educational reforms that took place along with it in China, was an experiment on the largest scale in the world and influenced the life of a whole generation of young people in China. An attempt to understand this experience may have relevance and implications for other countries, which face similar problems and seek alternatives to the conventional ways of educational development.

Related Studies

Although the Cultural Revolution ended some twenty years ago, the memory and impact of it still linger fresh among people in China. Several insightful observations of the influence of Mao and the Cultural Revolution on the development of contemporary Chinese education exist, but little effort has been made to examine Mao's educational thought and the educational reforms during the Cultural Revolution in the context of postmodern curriculum theories.

Singer (1971) does a comprehensive review on the involvement and roles played by young people in the Cultural Revolution and the impact of it on these young people. Singer (1971) recalls, "Mao asked the educated youth to be `vanguards' of the revolution which involved awakening the masses to the need for revolutionary changes and destroying the elements of bourgeois" (p.80). Educational reforms were conducted to consider the complaints made by students from poor peasant and worker families that they had been discriminated against by the bourgeois-oriented educational system (Singer, 1971).

Sheringham (1984) describes measures that were taken to popularize education during three decades under the Communist Party's control (from 1950s to 1970s). He also discusses policies which gave priority to students of working-class background, adapted courses to their needs, and which aimed at narrowing the gap between social strata, between town and countryside and between formal and non-formal education during the Cultural Revolution.

Unger (1984) discusses the attempt, during China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), to sever links between school performance and student career. It often depended on social class and admission to higher education for resulting upward mobility. Most students then felt it useless to study because success or failure at school had no bearing on their future.

Zhou (1988) offers historical observations on Chinese educational reforms during the transition from traditionalism to republicanism, which began in the late Qing dynasty and continued through the Republican Revolution of 1911 to the early years of the People's Republic. Zhou also deals with the socio-economic, political and cultural contexts for educational reforms in post Mao period.

Sautman (1991) discusses the radical policy that resulted in a hyperpolicization of education in China during the mid 1970s. A member of the Gang of Four is quoted saying "We'd rather read a couple books less than allow the bourgeoisie to influence our younger generation. I prefer workers without culture to exploiters and spiritual aristocrats with culture" (Sautman, 1991, p.670), indicating a willingness to sacrifice academic standards in favor of class struggle and revolution. …

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