Jump to content
  • Sign Up

History is written by the victors


Recommended Posts

So I have had several students preparing to go to Canada/the U.S./England for schooling, and with these classes, I always make sure to discuss certain topics such as Tiananmen Square, Mao, and territorial disputes. What always surprises me is that they have little or no education about these things, or what they have been told, isn't the entirety of the truth. Anyways, one of these students' mother is a fairly prominent government official here, so I told him it would be better that he ask her for details rather than I tell him. The next class I find out that she told him exactly what I would have, except she also said that in China they don't get taught these things because they are considered embarrassing and/or counter-productive towards creating harmony.

So my questions for people on here are, have you encountered similar situations with any of your students/classmates/friends? Can you think of any specific examples from where you received your secondary education, such as this?

I know that all countries have their own views of history which may differ slightly from other countries' views. I'm mostly interested in whether the omission of these topics is an educational thing limited to my region or if it is common throughout China.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Really? A good number of my friends in China know about the things, and just don't care to talk about it. In their mindset, it's pretty much like: "Yeah our country does this and that, we know, we don't care, it doesn't affect us much." But those are just my friends.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm mostly interested in whether the omission of these topics is an educational thing limited to my region or if it is common throughout China.

Common throughout China. The education system is one of the most politicized spheres of Chinese life, especially when it comes to history, politics, and geography.

Regarding Mao's foibles and TSquare, sure, people may vaguely know that "things happened" then, but to what extent they're able to discuss the details and broader context is another matter.

But as far as territorial disputes, you can read all about them in the Chinese press (ie. Global Times), and I don't think this is treated in the same manner as history, which the CCP crafts to fit its interests.

Also, as far as territorial disputes, some might say that the state-run/led media is "brainwashing" people to take certain "nationalistic" positions, but I think other countries with other press and political systems also tend to have highly nationalistic populations when it comes to disputed territory.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In China, we have unified textbooks on most, even not all, subjects for before college schooling. No doubt that every student should have the same textbook/education(because teachers are required to follow textbooks) from school. This system has good perspectives on many ways, like control education quality in case teacher's quality is not good. I know in the U.S., some textbooks are selected by teachers.

It is true that the history is selected to be taught. But, when students grow up, we will learn how to learn history from different channels, books, newspapers, and internet.

Some interesting thing is if a person follows how a textbook changed, they may find out how the politics changed over time, particularly history textook and politic textbook. I remember one example, when Zhao Ziyang was not Chinese prime minister(you know the reason), the textbook skipped his names on all the possible. The politic textbook only mentioned that Chinese PM signed the agreement with UK PM Thatcher on taking over Hong Kong in 1999. No his name there. I was confused that when I first time read that sentence in the textbook, then, understood.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

History is written by the victors, of course, happens in every country.

Just as the Great Depression is portrayed as a market failure in the USA, just as American Civil War is said to be about slavery.

You could go on for months listing things like that.

The only big difference is in the way they cover things up. The west takes more of an open aproach, meaning that they do talk about those things, actually talk a lot, but present young people with a lot of "evidence" and ideologies that make them think the way they are supposed to.

But who cares after all? The only reason why there is so many many lies in history is because it's not very relevant to people's lives so they let it go.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think many strategies of the Chinese government/party can be understood as simple acts of self-preservation: the principal objective is securing the continued power and dominance of the party. (This is very natural: everyone wants to survive, right...?) The implication is that once knowing about a particular fact does not threaten the position of the party, they no longer make an effort in covering it up.

For example, criticizing the government/party in the pre-1978 (e.g., the Cultural Revolution, Mao's blunders) is usually tolerated: the current party is so ideologically detached from Mao and that era in general that it's difficult to interpret criticism about the party then as criticism of the party today. Criticizing the party in the post-1978 era (e.g., Tiananmen Square) will be a lot more sensitive, since that could be perceived of as a threat to the party today.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In a poll you never run short of opinions, it's especially true when talking about 1.3 billion people.

In China for a few years, I finally met a young girl from a village who doesn't know anything about this. "If I didn't know, it wouldn't be anything important to modern china." she said. After I told her some consequences of the incident, she was appalled.

But in my experience, China is a place you can have a buffet for any case studies. Among my friends, some embrace the liberal views, some seem to know more "entity of truth" than amateurs observers, and one of them was student leader who got back to China three years ago.

However, most seem to be relaxed with the government conclusions. Not that they really believe the government's reports or anyone's. In fact, a big trend in 2000s are the suspicion over everything from the government, this one is hardly of an exception. They just comfortably accepted that it had to be stopped because Chinese had enough of social unrest.

While I never agree this argument, I wonder if their answer is just the influence of propaganda, after the century of civil war, colonization, invasion and political turbulence. Brushed aside judgments from a high moral ground, what I can see is that the eagerness to keep stable is so strong that can suppress the interests of other things. Even if there were democracy, I wonder how much it'd make the difference.

What interests me is the word "entirety of the truth". Despite attending the anniversary candlelit vigil almost every year, I don't even know if anyone can hold "more % truth".

I don't mean that an enthusiastic missionary is a bad thing - in most time, I think they are notas complicated as depicted in the Chinese propaganda. But it wouldn't get you anywhere when the aim is to penetrate "entirety of truth" into this land, just because you came from a "free society".

I was "helped" by several enthusiastic travelers and expats to understand more "truth" about what happened in the time. But I often placed them into a quiz show and you would know how good they can answer.

- name the leader who stepped down during the time.

- tell me a name of any student leaders.

- there was an old and short man behind the order of execution. Do you know his name?

- which day did the incident happen?

- Do you know the current prime minister of china?

These questions don't reflect any % of "truth". It just ridiculed the enthusiasm to tell you the "truth". The word "truth" seems to give people complacence rather than confidence, illusion of truth rather than "real" truth. One biggest illusion I can see is that freedom of speech makes people know more - it's wrong, it only helps people to be smart, but it doesn't make them to be so.

Perhaps a question like "Budapest is the capital of which country" or "how many sides a triangle has" is more colorful, if not exaggeratedly, illustrative. :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

I don't reall know much about how it is in China but in Iran it's much worse. There are so many lies in the books and media that now a days most Iranians don't believe anything that the government says, even if it's true. At the same time no one really cares.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This sort of thing happens to some extent in every country. In the UK, we cover the Second World War, but there's no mention of incidents like the firebombing of Dresden. Neither do UK students learn about more recent events in Northern Ireland. And then look at the state board of education in Texas, who've just done a massive re-write of the history curriculum, to correct a supposed "liberal bias". I also agree with MakMak, that Chinese people do generally know about it, but aren't that interested. I have a Chinese friend here in the UK (i.e. who has full access to information) who is generally supportive of the Chinese government's actions present and past.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This sort of thing happens to some extent in every country. In the UK, we cover the Second World War, but there's no mention of incidents like the firebombing of Dresden

That's news to me. When I attended school (ok, a few years ago now) our class visit to Coventry Cathedral very much covered the bombing of Dresden.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...