Academic journal article China Perspectives

Shanghai's History Curriculum Reforms and Shifting Textbook Portrayals of Japan

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Shanghai's History Curriculum Reforms and Shifting Textbook Portrayals of Japan

Article excerpt

In post-Mao China, the pursuit of national "progress" has typically trumped that of socialist equality. Just as schools and universities have, In practice If not always In name, been divided Into "key" Institutions and the rest, so certain cities and provinces have been assigned flagship status as China has charted a course for "modernity." Shanghai, whose International culture and capitalist heritage counted against It during the Maoist era, by the 1990s found Itself In the vanguard of a renewed push for ex- port-oriented, capitalist economic growth. This vanguard status extended to the realm of education, as In 1990 the decision was taken to designate the city as China's only "educational experimental zone." 0) If certain cities or regions were to fulfil their developmental potential, then they would have to be liberated from the old Stalinist shackles. Where Shanghai led, the rest of China might then follow - providing the results of Its greater li- cense met with Party approval. But the precise extent of that license has remained vague and uncertain.

In this article, we examine the coverage of Japan In Shanghai's senior high history textbooks since the early 1990s.This period has seen Shanghai vie with Hong Kong for the status of China's main gateway to the outside world, <2> but the city has also reflected the rising tensions between China and Its main Aslan trading partner. For example, the anti-Japanese demon- strations of April 2005, sparked by outrage at the Japanese government's approval of extreme right-wing history textbooks and Its bid for permanent UN Security Council membership, were "particularly large and violent In that most cosmopolitan of China's cities, Shanghai, Deng Xiaoping's show- piece for the global era."!3) The portrayal of Japan In local history texts offers a window onto the tensions, within official discourse, between a vision of an outward-looking and open China and one that focuses on the legacy of "national humiliation."

Senior high texts provide the fullest exposition of the officially-authorised narrative underpinning history education at all levels of schooling. Moreover, their senior high years represent for most students their final experience of formal Instruction In history. Indeed, the majority give up history after the first two years of senior high, with only those In the "arts and humanities" stream studying It for a third year. We therefore focus primarily on the texts for the first and second years.The focus on senior high texts Is further war- ranted by the rapid expansion of access to education at this level over the period In question. In the mid-1990s, In Shanghai, as In China generally, many students abandoned their schooling before senior high level. However, by the early 2000s the growth of the university sector meant that most Shanghai students were attending senior high school and sitting the college entrance examinations (the gaokao).

This article begins with a brief discussion of the political and Ideological context - both domestic and International - for Shanghai's curriculum de- velopment since the early 1990s. It discusses shifts In policy and educational scholarship that have Impinged on the preparation of the history curriculum, making comparative reference to Hong Kong, Shanghai's chief rival for the status of China's premier "global city." An overview Is then provided of the three textbook series used In local high schools since the early 1990s, dis- cussing the historiographical and pedagogical assumptions that have In- formed them, and ways In which these are reflected In the portrayal of Japan in each successive series.The article concludes by discussing how depictions of Japan In local history textbooks have changed, the possible reasons for these changes, and their Implications. Among the questions addressed are: to what extent have local textbooks offered a vision of Japan distinct from that offered In mainstream official discourse (especially as manifested In textbooks and museums); and what can the changing portrayal of Japan In local history textbooks tell us about the nature and limits of Shanghai's au- tonomy In curricular matters? …

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