Friday, September 01, 2006

Revising Chairman Mao

According to the Times, new Chinese history textbooks have essentially purged Mao from the record: "The new standard world history text drops wars, dynasties and Communist revolutions in favor of colorful tutorials on economics, technology, social customs and globalization." Pre-1979 Communism has been reduced to a sentence, "the Marxist template that had dominated standard history texts since the 1950’s has been "shelved," and Mao is mentioned "only once -- in a chapter on etiquette".

(Was Mao renowned for his etiquette? Is there proper etiquette in the execution of a cultural revolution?)

The new, post-Marxist China may be more appealing in some ways than the old one. And it is likely for the best that Chinese students are learning about globalization rather than being indoctrinated in the dialectics of historical materialism. But China -- like, say, Germany -- needs to learn from its past and to incorporate the positive elements of its past into its rapid journey into a more globalized future. Mao may have done some horrible things while in power, and what he stood for may not be compatible with the aims of today's political leadership, but it seems to me that the Chinese people, and particularly their young people, the leaders of tomorrow, should keep that past firmly in mind as they look ahead to a more prosperous future. How else to avoid the repetitions of history?

Revisionism is the way of totalitarianism. The new totalitarianism may not be ideologically Maoist, and it may seek ties with the liberal democratic West even as it severs ties with its predecessors, but it seeks to brainwash nonetheless. The new propaganda serves a radically different end than the old propaganda, but, with or without Mao, the Chinese people still aren't free.

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