Mao: Airbrushed Again

By Tripathi, Sulil | New Statesman (1996), September 25, 2006 | Go to article overview

Mao: Airbrushed Again


Tripathi, Sulil, New Statesman (1996)


A history textbook that revels in globalisation, praises the role of the New York Stock Exchange and stresses the importance of JP Morgan and Bill Gates may sound like required inspirational reading for the American classroom, especially when a figure as significant as Chairman Mao merits barely a passing mention.

But the book in question is being used in Shanghai's state schools. It is a rewriting of history so brazen that it could be possible only under a regime already highly practised with the airbrush. Socialism merits a single chapter, less space than the industrial revolution, and Chinese communism before the economic reforms of 1979 gets just one sentence. Yes, one sentence.

In the country where at one time everyone had to wear the Mao suit, the new history text has a section on the popularity of neckties, while the Long March, for years enshrined as a pivotal event for 20th-century China, is presented in the tightest of summaries.

In future-focused China, it seems, the past is becoming a foreign country, as inconvenient facts are discarded lest they prompt the young--already protected from many of the evils of the internet--to ask unwelcome questions.

This is ironic, as China loses no opportunity to throw a tantrum whenever a Japanese history textbook plays down war crimes such as the massacre in Nanjing, or any of the other atrocities committed by the imperial army in China in the first half of the 20th century. During the last burst of protests, Japanese factories in China were targeted in a series of well-orchestrated demonstrations.

At home, the rules of history are apparently different. …

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