June 8, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1637

A Packaged Past – Part II: How 'Chinese History' Treats Modern History

June 8, 2022
China | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1637

  • Constructs the historical narrative of China being bullied by foreign invaders

  • Instills the belief that only the Chinese Communist Party can save China

  • Praises the great achievements of the Communist Party of China

Modern Chinese history began in 1840. The theme of the CCP's history textbooks is the following: China, a great ancient civilization, had fallen behind in modern times. Its technologies were inferior to other countries', and China was bullied by Western powers (including Japan). The Chinese resisted and tried to become stronger as a nation, but they were unsuccessful. Finally, the Communist Party of China, founded in 1921, led the Chinese people and, through arduous struggle, established socialism with Chinese characteristics, and achieved major achievements that commanded the attention of the whole world. The core purpose of the CCP's history textbooks is to justify the Chinese Communist Party's continued rule over China. A main task of those books is to ensure that Chinese students form the belief that only the Communist Party can save China.

JIANGXI CHINA – September 30, 2013: "Jiujiang, East China, primary school students play police, reporters, nurses, photography models, and firefighters, experiencing all the hard work and fun." (Copyright (c) 2017 humphery/Shutterstock

For the modern history of China before the founding of the CCP, most parts of the textbooks are built on the narrative of foreign invasion and the oppression of China. In the first volume of Chinese History for 8th grade, the title of the first unit is "China Began to Plunge into a semi-colonial and semi-feudal Society." The book clearly states: "In order to open up their overseas markets and plunder the means of production, Western countries pointed the finger of aggression and expansion at China, who had vast lands. In 1840, Britain launched the Opium War and the Qing government was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing. China began turning into a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. In 1856, Britain and France jointly launched the Second Opium War, which further exacerbated the social crisis in China....In 1843, the British forced the Qing government to sign the Treaty of the Bogue, from which it obtained consular jurisdiction, one-sided most-favored-nation treatment, and the right to lease land and build houses at the trading port...The Opium War altered the course of Chinese history, and China lost its full independence and sovereignty. The natural economy of Chinese society was destroyed, and China began to change from a feudal society to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society." (Chinese History, 8th grade, Volume 1, pg. 2-7)

Chinese and foreign historians have conducted considerable research on the Opium War. The Qing Dynasty was completely incapable of dealing with the external world. It neither had the ability to see its extremely vulnerable position in the world, nor the willingness to interact with other civilizations or understand how to do so. Especially when comparing China to Japan's reaction after having its door knocked on by Western gunboats, it is not difficult to see how much of the Qing's doom was due to its own arrogance, isolation, backwardness, and barbarism. In this regard, the section "Academic Dynamics" in the teachers' guide book mentions various views on the reasons for the failure of the Opium War. The book also mentions that students should be guided to think that at that time "China was still at the end of its feudal stage, with political corruption, economic backwardness, and slack armaments," and its military operations were in chaos. No one can deny that the Qing Dynasty was powerless to resist external civilizations, whether in terms of military technology, national governance, and political system.

The "consular jurisdiction" clause and the "burning the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan)" incident have always been an important part of the CCP's so-called "(don't forget) national humiliation education," and the CCP's history textbooks are no exception. However, the books do not remind students that "consular jurisdiction" had to do with the incompatibility between the judicial system of the Qing Dynasty and rule of law in modern civilizations. The judiciary of the Qing Dynasty practiced torture regularly, which was equivalent to the medieval period in Europe, especially the practice of "instant decapitation" without trial, and there was a huge difference between this and the procedural justice required by the modern judicial system that had begun to take shape in the West at that time. The prelude to the tragedy of the 1860 "burning of the Old Summer Palace'' was the massacre of Western diplomatic delegates by Qing government officials. Eighth-grade history textbooks vaguely allude to the incidents, stating: "In 1860, Britain and France used the obstruction of the exchange treaty as pretext, and once again sent troops to occupy Tianjin and put pressure against Beijing." The fact that the "exchange treaty was obstructed" here obscures certain extraordinarily bloody details. On September 17, a Qing prince and general detained the British and French delegations who tried to enter Beijing to discuss the exchange treaties, a total of 39 people including Sir Harry Parkes, the British Envoy to China. They were put into the prison of the Ministry of Punishment, where they were tortured. By October 8, when the detainees were lucky enough to be released, 20 of the 39 people had been tortured to death. Despite the horrific nature of this incident, under the concealment, brainwashing, and propaganda of the Chinese authorities, up to this day, Chinese online public opinion shows that a large number of people still do not think this kind of behavior is unacceptable. Film and television works even glorify the atrocities as patriotic, heroic acts to protect Chinese sovereignty.

In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion broke out, shocking China and the world. The Qing government manipulated secret societies and martial arts groups, declaring war on 11 countries including the United Kingdom and the United States at the same time, despite the opposition of some Qing government officials who were even beheaded for their attempts at dissuasion. All foreigners and Chinese Christians in China immediately became the target of indiscriminate slaughter.

The seventh lesson of Chinese History in the eighth-grade book is "The Eight-Nation Alliance Invading China and Boxer Protocol Signed." The book states: "The Boxer Movement was developed from Yihequan (the Righteous and Harmonious Fists), secret societies, and organizations practicing martial arts in two provinces Shandong and Zhili. At the end of the 19th century, with the intensification of imperialist aggression and the rampant activities of foreign missionaries, these organizations gradually changed from anti-Qing secret associations or pure martial arts groups into anti-imperialist struggle organizations with broad support from the masses. (Chinese History, 8th grade, Volume 1, pg. 32-36)

Chinese History, 7th Grade, 2nd Volume; (Approved by the Ministry of Education in 2016; A Textbook for Compulsory Education; People's Education Press)

While the book points out the "blind xenophobia" of the Boxer Movement, the key point of the lesson repeatedly emphasized by the teachers' guide is to make students remember "the basic facts of the Boxers' fight against the Eight-Nation Alliance," and define the Boxer Movement as "the magnificent anti-imperialist patriotic movement."

After the Boxers were "appeased and accepted" by the Qing government, "many of them marched into Tianjin and Beijing. They posted notices along their way disclosing the crimes of the imperialist aggression, and expressed their anger at foreign invaders by destroying churches, demolishing railways, and cutting off power lines." (Ibid, pg. 33) The book does not mention that, according to church records, the Boxers killed a total of 240 foreign missionaries and their families, as well as 20,000 Chinese Christians. In Zhujiahe Church in Jingzhou, Hebei alone, more than 2,000 Boxers and more than 2,000 Qing soldiers jointly killed 2,500 Catholics who had taken refuge in the church (another record says 1,800 were killed). Most of the victims were elderly, women, and children, in addition to two foreign priests.

A large number of non-believing Chinese were also killed by the Boxers, but no one has bothered to count the number of these dead. In the process of seizing power, the CCP used methods similar to those of the Boxers. After taking power, the party continued to incite xenophobia to achieve its own political goals. The sympathetic attitude towards the Boxers in the CCP's history textbooks reflects how the CCP regime has kept its tradition of inciting xenophobic populism to maintain its rule.

The CCP history book unit titled "Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution and the Establishment of the Republic of China" covers the 10-year history from the Revolution of 1911 and the abdication of the Qing emperor to the establishment of the Communist Party of China in 1921. Beginning with Sun Yat-sen and the Revolution of 1911, and ending with the restoration of the monarchy and the separatist regime of warlords, the core narrative of the history textbooks is that, although the revolution overthrew the autocratic monarchy, the nature of China's semi-colonial and semi-feudal society had not changed. The task of the democratic revolution against imperialism and feudalism had not been completed. (Chinese History, 8th grade, Teachers' Guide Book, pg. 154)

In July 1921, the Communist Party of China held its first congress in Shanghai. The book called the birth of the Communist Party of China "an epoch-making event in Chinese history.... It was to meet the objective needs of China's social progress and revolutionary development since modern times, and it was the inevitable result of the choice of modern history." For the period that follows, the CCP's Chinese history textbooks revolve entirely around the history of the Chinese Communist Party. The teacher's guide for Lesson 14, "The Birth of the Chinese Communist Party," in Volume I of the eighth-grade Chinese history book, states clearly:

"The takeaway from this lesson includes: 'Only under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party can there be hope for the Chinese revolution.' (Ibid, pg. 221)

The 'emotional attitudes and values' that students are required to establish from the lesson are: 'By studying the founding of the Communist Party of China, let students realize that the Communist Party of China is the strong leadership core of the Chinese revolution and a great political party. The Communist Party of China has led the Chinese people to achieve national independence, and move toward prosperity and strength." (Ibid, pg. 222)

In addition to following The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), this narrative in the CCP history textbook can also be traced back to the "First Draft of the Outline on the Question of Nations and Colonies" written by Vladimir Lenin for the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920. In this article, Lenin characterized Britain, the U.S., and other Western countries as "imperialist," and defined some countries, including China, whose politics were not yet on a revolutionary track, as semi-colonial and semi-feudal countries. According to Lenin, the revolutionary task of the Communist Party in these countries was to oppose imperialism and feudalism.[1]

Against this historical background, in July 1922, the Communist Party of China convened the Second National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai. The CCP history book says the meeting "reaffirmed that the party's ultimate goal of struggle is to achieve communism, and at the same time formulated the party's basic program. The program stipulated that during the stage of the democratic revolution, the main task of the party was to overthrow the warlords, overthrow the oppression of imperialism, and unify China into a true democratic republic. In this way, the Communist Party of China, for the first time in Chinese history, put forward a democratic revolutionary program that was thoroughly anti-imperialist and anti-feudal." (Chinese History, 8th grade, Volume 1, pg. 66)

With new research and the gradual declassification of the historical archives of the Soviet Communist Party after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Chinese historians have been able to obtain more historical materials about that period. Therefore, Chinese people have a clearer understanding of many historical details about the founding of the Communist Party of China. For example, among the early party members in China, Li Dazhao and others were already members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the Comintern directly carried out various intelligence and military activities in China, and was actively involved in domestic Chinese politics.

As a result, the official history book has also loosened its stance of completely covering up this history in favor of imposing its own interpretation of events. In the Teachers' Guide for the eighth-grade Chinese History, under the column of "Academic Dynamics," there is a section on the "relationship between the Comintern and the birth of the Chinese Communist Party." The guide says: "The Communist International played an important role in the establishment of the Communist Party of China and the convening of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China. There is no disagreement among academics on this point. However, there are two different opinions on how to understand the role of the Communist International. One opinion is that the founding of the Communist Party of China was a direct result of the activities of the Comintern. ... Another opinion holds that the role of the Comintern in the founding of the CCP was more subtle, and should not be overstated. "

XINGTAI CITY, CHINA - December 2016: "Baixiang County Board of Education school sports activity evaluation. Unidentified students do various activities. (Copyright (c) 2017 jianbing Lee/Shutterstock)

The historian Yang Kuisong, who holds the former opinion, examines the influence of the Comintern on the founding of the party from the perspective of empirical historic evidence. He writes: "From 1920 to 1922, there were at least seven self-proclaimed communist organizations or political parties in China...All these communist organizations inevitably needed the recognition and support of the Russian Communist Party and the Comintern in order to survive and develop. Of course, the one that was ultimately recognized by them could only be the Chinese Communist Party, which was founded inside of China with the direct help of the Russian Communist Party, and composed of a group of Chinese progressive intellectuals."

Here, let us take a look at the financial sources for activities in the history of the CCP, especially during its early days. In 1922, the then-leader of the Communist Party of China, Chen Duxiu, detailed in his report to the Comintern: "A summary of the party funds from October 1921 to June 1922. The total expenses of the central office are 17,650.15 yuan; the fund of 16,655 yuan came from the International, and 1,000 yuan has been raised by ourselves. Expenses breakdown: about 10,000 yuan for several local labor movements, 1,600 yuan for setting up a printing house, 3,000 yuan for printed products, 1,000 yuan to cover a labors' gathering, and 2,000 yuan for other uses." At that time, the Communist Party of China, which had 195 members, raised less than 6% of its own funds, and the other 94% came from the Comintern. (Report by Chen Duxiu, Secretary of the Executive Committee of the CPC Central Committee, to the Comintern (June 30, 1922))

Not only did the CCP received funding from the Soviet Union, but Sun Yat-sen, who was regarded as the "Founding Father of the Nation" by the Kuomintang and the Communist Party, as well as warlords such as Feng Yuxiang, Yan Xishan, and Sheng Shicai, all received considerable financial and military assistance from Soviet Russia.

Even the "Northern Expedition," taught in Lesson 15 of Volume I of the eighth-grade Chinese History, was planned and commanded by the Soviet Union's army officers and was equipped with a shipload of Soviet made ammunition. Only with the Soviet Union's direct involvement could the Northern Expedition be carried out.

We cannot expect any middle or high school history books to cover so much historical detail. We just want to point out that when the CCP conducts propaganda projects and goes about brainwashing students, it always does so wearing the words "Independence" and "Patriotism" on its forehead, and too often accuses the opposition of "colluding with foreign countries," "betraying the motherland," and "being a traitor to the country." So, the CCP's textbooks are very reluctant to face their own history.

The following lessons of Chinese history contain three units and a total of 10 lessons, which discuss the CCP's role in Kuomintang-Communist cooperation, Jinggangshan guerrilla warfare, the Long March, the Anti-Japanese War, and the civil war, or the People's Liberation War. This content revolves around how great and how wise the Party was while under the leadership of its great leader, and how it heroically defeated all enemies and achieved victory in the Chinese revolution. In the teachers' books, almost every lesson expressly requires indoctrinating certain emotions and values ​​in students:

"To help students take to heart the heroic deeds of the [CCP] heroes during the Great Revolution which destroyed the old society, their daring to be pioneers, their courage to pursue the trend of the times... [teachers must] cultivate students' strong will to fight for their ideals." [The word "ideal" in the CCP's discourse refers specifically to the "ideal of communism".] (Chinese History, Teacher's guide book, 8th grade, Vol. 1, pg. 239)

"...[Students should] recognize that the Jinggangshan Road is a revolutionary road that was found by the Chinese Communists – represented by Mao Zedong – in line with China's own conditions. This is a glorious example of how Mao Zedong integrated the general principles of Marxism-Leninism into the specific practices of the Chinese revolution... [Students should] take to heart that the Jinggangshan spirit is a precious treasure handed down to us by older generations of proletarian revolutionaries. " (Ibid, pg. 256)

"[Students should] realize how martyrs did not fear hardships and dangers, worked hard, and devoted themselves to revolution..." "[Teachers should] stimulate the noble emotions of students towards love for the Communist Party of China, love for the people's army, and love for the socialist motherland." (Ibid, pg. 272)

"[Teachers should] introduce the Xi'an Incident and its peaceful settlement, making sure students understand the broad-mindedness of the Communists who put China's national interests first." (Ibid, pg. 290)

After the "Mukden Incident (9/18 Incident)" in 1931, a series of events occurred, including the founding of Manchukuo in 1932, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 (the July 7 Incident), and the Battle of Shanghai (the second Shanghai Incident). As a result of these events, China and Japan entered into full-scale war with each other. Regarding this part of history, the CCP's conventional talking point is that "national conflict overwhelmed class conflict." In the history books, Japanese imperialism is the primary antagonist during this period.

Although the current textbooks have more or less acknowledged the fact that the Kuomintang government fought the Japanese aggressors on the front lines, the CCP still devotes many more pages to tell how the "Kuomintang government maintained a passive stance towards the Japanese army while actively attacking the Communist Party," how badly "the Kuomintang army was defeated and pushed back," and how the resistance led by the CCP behind enemy lines grew strong and assumed a primary role during the eight-year War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. After all, students must remember that "the Chinese Communist Party played a mainstay role in the whole nation's united war of resistance." (Chinese History, 8th grade, Volume 1, pg. 107)

Chinese History, 8th Grade, 1st Volume; (Approved by the Ministry of Education in 2017; A Textbook for Compulsory Education; People's Education Press)

Many historical materials show that during this period, Stalin used both the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party as his pawns, deployed the Soviet Union's defense line in the Far East, provoked and exacerbated incidents between China and Japan to protect the interest of the Soviet Union, and took the opportunity to force China to give up its sovereignty over Outer Mongolia. Obviously, in its history textbooks, the CCP does not mention any of these forces and players behind these events, nor the role the CCP played in them by faithfully implementing Stalin's strategic plan in the Far East.

Chinese History defines China's civil war (1945-1949) as "the People's Liberation War" and explicitly requires students to "recognize that a unified country and unity of all Chinese people are important guarantees for China's prosperity. The Chinese Communist Party truly represents the fundamental interests of the broad masses of the Chinese people." (Chinese History, Teacher's guide book, 8th grade, Vol. 1, pg. 386) "By learning about the victories in the three major battles [of the Liberation War], students should realize that the founding of the People's Republic of China came at the cost of countless martyrs and their blood and their lives. By learning about the victory of the New Democracy Revolution, students will realize that without the Communist Party, there would be no new China." (Ibid, pg. 384-385)

Volume II of the eighth-grade Chinese History textbook begins to tell the history after the CCP came to power in China. There are six units in total, and their titles are:

  • "The establishment and consolidation of the People's Republic of China"
  • "The establishment of the socialist system and the exploration of building socialism"
  • "The road to socialism with Chinese characteristics"
  • "National unity and the reunification of the motherland"
  • "National defense construction and diplomatic achievements"
  • "Science, technology, culture and social life"

Regarding Chinese history before the CCP came to power, especially ancient history, sometimes the CCP still reluctantly allows textbooks to tell students that there are various "academic viewpoints" and interpretations which differ from the CCP's textbooks. Regarding the history of the CCP itself however, especially the history after the CCP took power in 1949, the Party has implemented extremely strict control and regulations over the content and its specific expressions.

Regardless of the actual historical narrative at hand, the purpose of the textbooks is always the same: "To cultivate [students'] feelings of love for the motherland and the Chinese Communist Party..." (Chinese History, Teachers' Guide, 8th grade, Vol. 2, pg. 2) The Guide unequivocally states, "The modern history of China is the history of the Communist Party of China leading the Chinese people of all ethnic groups to carry out socialist revolution and construction, as well as the history of the Party's unremitting efforts for the prosperity of the country and the happiness of the people." (Ibid, pg. 3)

Since the various tragedies caused by the CCP in this history cannot be completely covered up, there is a unique set of euphemisms that the CCP relies upon. For example, every time the CCP textbooks mention "arduous exploration," it indicates that the CCP has caused a huge historical tragedy, one even the CCP's own textbooks cannot completely avoid. Another example is "national conditions," whose inclusion implies that although certain CCP practices do not meet the standards of the civilized world, they are "due to historical circumstances" and so can be accepted, forgiven, and forgotten. The so-called "turning point" means that all previous "mistakes" and "setbacks" made by the CCP have all passed, the Party has once again become the savior of the Chinese people, and students must "identify that the Communist Party of China is fully capable of leading the Chinese people to achieve success in building socialism." (Ibid, pg. 93)

The history textbook mentions two large-scale land reforms carried out by the CCP in 1947 and 1950. The 24th lesson "Victory in the People's Liberation War" in Chinese History describes the land reform in 1947 as follows:

"The land of the landlords was confiscated, the system of feudal exploitation was abolished, a new policy of farmers owning the land was implemented, and land was distributed equally among the rural population. A vast number of peasants were given land, houses, food, and clothing. Land reform in the liberated regions brought about fundamental changes in class relations and land ownership in the rural areas, which incited the enthusiasm of the peasants for revolution and production. A large number of peasants who received land voluntarily joined the army and fought in the war, providing crucial manpower and material resources for the victory of the People's Liberation War." (Chinese History, 8th grade, Volume 1, pg. 114-115)

As for the strategic meaning of the first large-scale land reform, the Teachers' Guide Book says clearly: "The People's Daily on January 8, 1948 stated that the new land reform policy includes a provision that if the Kuomintang army officers and soldiers surrender to the People's Liberation Army, their family members, and even themselves will be allotted a plot land. As a result, 'hundreds of thousands of Kuomintang officers and soldiers would rather be captured by the PLA.'" (Chinese History, Teacher's Guide Book, 8th grade, Volume I, pg. 391)

About Land Reform in 1950, Chinese History tells students: After the promulgation of the Land Reform Law of the People's Republic of China, "from the winter of that year, land reform was carried out in batches across the country. The land was confiscated from the landlords and was distributed to the peasants who had no or little land. A share was also left to the landlords, allowing them to cultivate their own crops and make a living. By the end of 1952, land reform had basically been completed in the whole country, except for some ethnic minority areas."

After these land reforms, a series of major events took place in rural China. Regarding these histories, we would like to draw readers' attention to several important facts that no CCP history textbook will ever mention.

First, during the two land reforms, the CCP authorities used harsh methods to suppress the landlords. According to the speech of the Secretary of the Songjiang Provincial Party Committee of the Communist Party of China as reported by The Northeast Daily at the time: "The peasants' attack on the landlords should not be regulated or restricted by any rules. The more intense the attack, the more humane it is." "In 1947 alone, the CCP launched a land reform campaign in the CCP controlled zone in the Northeast, and as many as 250,000 landlords, rich peasants, and other peasants were killed during the campaign."[2] Some Chinese historians have also looked into the brutal acts that occurred during the two land reforms. All sorts of grotesque, inhuman details appear in their records. The question of how many people were ultimately deprived of land, house, property, and lives has caught some Chinese liberal historians' attention, who could only study this matter in private. So far, they have not been able to come up with exact results. Some studies say the number is 800,000, some say 1-2 million, while others say it reached 4.7 million.[3]

Second, the Chinese peasants who received land through land reform lost it only a few years later. It was the CCP that had led them to confiscate the land from the landlords in the first place, and it was also the CCP that seized their land. Beginning in 1954, the CCP launched a so-called Agriculture Cooperative Movement, in the name of leading peasants to achieve "collectivization and common prosperity." The peasants could only hand over their land and were taken into People's Communes within a few years. The textbook says, "At the end of 1956, China basically completed the socialist transformation of agriculture." In 1958, the CCP started the "People's Commune Movement." Since then, under the double shackles of collectivization and government monopoly over the purchase and sales of all grain and other agricultural products, millions of Chinese peasants lost their land, lost their markets, and lost their freedom. Peasants became the serfs of the CCP, struggling for their own survival in hunger and poverty.

Third, Lesson 6 of Chinese History, eighth grade, Volume 2, "Difficult Exploration and Achievements with Construction," states the following: The main task of the Party and the people is to "concentrate all forces on transforming our country from a backward, agricultural country into an advanced industrial country as soon as possible." In 1958, "the climax of the 'Great Leap Forward' and the movement of people's communes were spread across the country. The 'Great Leap Forward' and the people's commune movement reflected the people's urgent desire to change the backwardness of our country's economy, but they were so eager for success that they ignored objective economic laws. In addition to significant natural disasters and other factors at that time, from 1959 to 1961, China's national economy experienced serious difficulties." Neither the textbook nor the teacher's guide mentions what consequences these "serious difficulties" have had on the Chinese people.

When future generations look back at the history of China in the twentieth century, it will be very difficult to avoid the great famines that occurred in rural China in 1959, 1960, and 1961, in which 30 to 40 million people perished. Such a catastrophic event has left not a single mark upon the CCP's textbooks, and this topic is still a taboo in Chinese historical research. However, because of information that has come to light since then, it is impossible for the CCP to completely erase all traces of such a large-scale disaster. Even inside of China, fragments of the Great Famine can still be found in the oral histories of many Chinese families, in some Chinese literature and academic writings that escaped government's censorship, and even in the official "China Demographic Yearbook" for certain years.

But after the CCP's deliberate concealment and decades of continuous brainwashing over generations, among the Chinese people, the question of whether there has been a famine and whether the famine caused huge amounts of deaths has become a subject that can tear families and friendships apart. Many young people, even those with higher education or who have studied abroad in Western countries, firmly deny the existence of such a history. This absurdly large-scale denial shows to some extent the success of the CCP's brainwashing.

While complete control of the countryside and the peasants was accomplished through bloody land reform, cooperatives, and people's communalization, the CCP also baptized the cities with all sorts of revolutions. First, in 1951 and 1952, there was the "Three Antis" campaign (anti-corruption, anti-waste, and anti-bureaucracy) and the "Five Antis" campaign (anti-bribery, anti-tax evasion, anti-stealing state assets, anti-cutting corners in production, and anti-theft of national economic intelligence). In the name of anti-corruption, almost all industrial and commercial business owners were purged, including those entrepreneurs who had cooperated and were willing to obey the CCP's rule. The slogans of the CCP put up against these business owners were "Beating Tigers" and "Swatting Flies."

What history textbooks do not mention is that in 1950, after sending troops to Korea, the CCP launched a bloody campaign to suppress counter-revolutionaries in the country. Mao Zedong not only personally instructed people to "kill large swathes" of counter-revolutionaries, including "the remnants of the Kuomintang, secret agents, gang members, and bandits;" he also personally issued quotas for how many executions should be carried out in certain districts.

For example, on January 22, 1951, Mao telegraphed to the officials in charge of Guangdong Province: "You have already killed more than 3,700 people, which is very good. Kill another 3,000 or 4,000 people...This year's goal [for Guangdong] is to kill eight or nine thousand people." According to the report of Ye Jianying and Deng Zihui in May 1951, before that month, 188,679 people had been arrested and 57,032 people were executed in Guangdong and Guangxi. In April alone, "Guangdong executed 10,488 people." "As of the end of April this year, more than 358,000 counter-revolutionary criminals have been arrested and more than 100,8400 counter-revolutionary criminals have been killed in Eastern China, accounting for 0.78 per thousand of the population."

Mao Zedong himself said that during this campaign the CCP killed 700,000 people, detained 1.2 million people, and put 1.2 million people under surveillance. This statement is supported by a report issued in January 1954 by Deputy Minister of Public Security Xu Zirong. Xu's report stated that since the counter-revolutionary campaigns started, more than 2,620,000 people had been arrested nationwide, of which "more than 712,000 counter-revolutionaries have been executed, 1,290,000 have been imprisoned, and 1,200,000 have been placed under surveillance. Among those arrested, more than 380,000 people were released after re-education because they only committed minor crimes. (Yang Kuisong, "Research on the 'Suppression of the Counter-Revolutionary' Movement in New China, History Monthly, No. 1, 2006)

One Chinese official document in 1996 showed that the Suppression of Counter-revolutionary Campaigns suppressed more than 1.57 million people, of which more than 873,000 were executed. Some Westerners estimate that 1-2 million people were sentenced to death.

On January 26, 1952, Mao Zedong drafted for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China "Instructions on Launching a Large-scale, Resolute and Thorough Five-Antis Struggle in the Cities with a Firm Deadline." Just looking at the title, anyone who lived in China at the time or who has done some historical research on this period can understand how cruel the CCP's policies were from words such as "large-scale," "resolute and thorough" and "struggle."

The following are some historical records left from that time. According to these records, the secretary of the Suzhou Municipal Party Committee violently persecuted the manager of a tea factory, forcing his entire family of six to commit suicide.[4] Another internal document of the CCP shows how in Nanjing, a female bathhouse owner was stripped naked by employees and forced to kneel in a bathtub filled with snow, while a snowball was put on her head. She was tortured in this way for five days and five nights. [5]

There is no definite conclusion on how many deaths were caused by this political movement. The CCP's official materials say that 42 people were sentenced to death. An expert on the history of the CCP quoted material in an article saying, "According to the incomplete statistics of Shanghai from January 25 to April 1 (1952), the number of people who committed suicide due to the Campaign reached 876... Moreover, many business owner ['capitalist'] couples committed suicide together, and even took their children with them."[6] J.K. Fairbank and Roderick Lemonde MacFarquhar put the number of suicides "probably in the hundreds of thousands" due to political suppression,[7] while another exiled Chinese scholar estimates "no fewer than 200,000 to 300,000 deaths."[8]

But in this regard, the textbook says: "During the process of these transformations, the state implemented a policy of reparations for the means of production owned by capitalists; that is, a fixed interest (annual interest rate of 5%) is paid on the capital of the capitalists when it was implemented in industry-wide public-private partnerships. This reparations policy, which has achieved a peaceful transition, is part of the pioneering work of China's socialist transformation." (Chinese History, 8th grade, Vol. 2, pg. 25)

In 1956, the CCP completed the so-called "Three Major Socialist Transformations" of agriculture, handicrafts, and industry and commerce across the country under such terror. That is to say, in just a few years, the CCP completed the nationalization of private property (now it is actually owned by the CCP, since the party and the state are one), and fully controlled the people's means of livelihood.

Moreover, by eliminating all non-governmental organizations and confiscating almost all of family properties, the CCP has completely destroyed China's already underdeveloped civil society. Whether in cities or villages, apart from the CCP, Chinese society lost any autonomy, with no mechanism for self-reliance, let alone the ability to resist.

Then in 1957, the CCP launched the Anti-Rightist Movement. After a series of manipulations, more than 550,000 supposed "rightists" and millions of right-deviationists were identified among intellectuals and members of "democratic parties." These people were either killed, sent to "labor camps," or sentenced to prison. This was a political purge by the CCP of those both inside and outside the party who still retained some political naivete.

The CCP's history textbooks spare a section to describe the disastrous ten years of the Cultural Revolution. The text reads: "The 'Cultural Revolution' caused the most serious setbacks to the Party, the country, and the people of all ethnic groups since the founding of New China. Its launch had complex social and historical reasons. The history of socialist countries was very short up until this point, and our party did not fully understand what socialism is and how to build socialism, so it took a detour in its explorations. There is no smooth sailing endeavor in this world, and world history is always moving forward in a series of ups and downs." (Ibid, pg. 30)

Next, the Chinese history textbook enters the third unit, "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics." The instructional goal given in the teacher's guide book is to make students "agree that the Chinese Communist Party is fully capable of leading the Chinese people to achieve success in the cause of building socialism..." (Chinese History, Teachers' Guide Book, 8th grade, Vol. 2, pg. 93). Students must realize that "the Chinese Communist Party has been a political party which wholeheartedly leads the Chinese people to strive and pursue strengthening the country and enriching the people..." (Ibid, pg. 133-134), and recognize that "under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the Communist Party of China has led the great fight, the great project, the great cause, and the great dream all at once, which has brought historic changes to the cause of the Party and the country and has made great achievements. " (Ibid, pg. 151)

What the CCP is most proud of, and what can most confuse people in democratic countries the most, is its economic development. Many people believe that although the CCP-controlled government has all the shortcomings of a dictatorship, it is indeed impressive in terms of its economic development and accumulation of wealth. The CCP itself has made full use of its propaganda machine on this point, mobilizing all media to vigorously promote that its total economic GDP exceeds both Germany and Japan and ranks second in the world. This is an important basis for them to indoctrinate the people to love the party and the state and to continue implementing totalitarian rule.

How did China under CCP rule create an "economic miracle" that surprised the world? The textbook calls the period from 1978-2016 "The Road to Socialism with Chinese Characteristics," and contains a unit with 5 lessons. It states in the unit introduction: "The Communist Party of China has opened up the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and created the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics." (Chinese History, 8th grade, Vol. 2, p. 33)

The preface of Lesson 7, "The Great Historical Turn," reads: "Reform and opening up, together with the Revolution of 1911, the founding of the People's Republic of China, and the establishment of the socialist system are known as the three major historical changes in China in the 20th century." (Ibid, p. 34)

From a factual point of view, China from 1949 to 1978 experienced a series of disastrous land reforms, the three- and five-antis, the formation of the cooperative communes, the Great Leap Forward, and the 10-year Cultural Revolution. In the end, the economy was almost paralyzed, the living standards of the people were low, and hundreds of millions of people were struggling with hunger and poverty.

One point of comparison is the economic situation of Japan at the end of World War II. Japan's condition was basically the same as that of China in 1949, but by 1978, according to United Nations data estimates, Japan's per capita GDP was $8,800 USD, with the country fast becoming developed and wealthy. But China during the same period had a per capita GDP of $227 USD, making it one of the poorest countries in the world.

The history textbook tells a story of how Chinese peasants struggled to break out of their shackles: "Xiaogang Village in Fengyang County, Anhui Province is a poor village. In 1978, 18 peasants in the Xiaogang Village production team signed an agreement to contract their fields to each household: "After working hard for a year, they repaid their loans and their lives improved. This is the first time since the establishment of the cooperatives that they paid taxes in grain to the state.... In the fall of the first year, grain production increased more than six times over the previous year. This practice of establishing a production accountability system was affirmed by the central government. With the support and advocacy of the central government, the household contract responsibility system with joint output has been gradually rolled out across the country. " (Ibid, pg.38)

These passages tell the basic truth that the first reforms which took place in rural China were the result of the semi-privatization of Xiaogang Village, which had a major impact on the lives of those villagers. The leaders of the Communist Party of China, such as Deng Xiaoping, did not force the peasants to insist on collectivization like Mao Zedong did. Rather, they recognized that farmers have the right to arrange their own labor and allowed them to take a few steps back to pre-1949 rural private production methods.

However, the textbook does not mention that 18 peasants in Xiaogang Village also secretly signed a "life and death contract" for their land. The agreement stated: "If the practice is allowed in the future, each household will ensure that they pay the annual tax in grain to the state, and will no longer ask for support from the government. If it is not allowed, we cadres will be willing to go to jail, even to receive a death sentence, and others will promise to feed our children until they reach 18 years old."

People who did not experience that era may find it difficult to grasp how bloody it was for themselves. The public ownership system that China implemented from 1949 to 1978 was extremely cruel and harsh. Those who challenged the CCP's power, even if they just arranged their own labor on the land, had to risk imprisonment and execution.

In 1987, Chinese farmers still had to pay agricultural taxes, agricultural special product taxes, and animal slaughter taxes. These three tax burdens were conservatively estimated to account for about 8.6-13.6% of the farmers' total income.

Chinese farmers were also responsible for the cost of administering the county and the town and for the party organization's expenditures, a total of eight additional items. Chinese people are used to calling these the "three withdrawals and five collections": "three withdrawals" referring to the three types of retention fees farmers paid to the village level administrative unit, including the village reserve fund, the village welfare fund, and administrative fees; and "five unified collections" referring to the five collective fees that farmers handed over to the township level government, including education surcharges, family planning fees, militia training fees, rural road construction costs, and support for veterans with disabilities.

Peasants also had to bear various temporary apportionments, fees, fines, etc. from the county, township, and village-level governments. For a long time, they were also forced to fulfill the quota for meat and eggs for urban residents almost free of charge.

Chinese academic circles could not accurately calculate how large of a percentage these non-tax burdens took from farmers' income, because the differences between regions were too great. There is now a consensus that these various fees were a far greater financial burden than taxes. The "three withdrawals and five unified collections," which the Chinese themselves called evil, were not abolished together with the agricultural tax until 2006.

Of course, textbooks will not allow these histories to occupy the limited attention of students. What they want the students to remember is: "Subsequently, comprehensive urban reforms were carried out, mainly to develop the original publicly-owned economy into a multi-ownership economy with the public sector as the main body; to separate government administration from state-owned enterprises while gradually expanding the enterprises themselves; to increase the economic autonomy of Chinese enterprises; and to implement a system in which distributing income to each according to his or her contribution is the mainstay, but multiple other methods of distribution coexist." (Ibid, p. 40) But even under this nondescript privatization system, the motivation of the Chinese people to improve their lives, which were mired in poverty for 30 years, has been allowed to flourish to a certain extent.

The history book continues: "In 1987, China's industrial and agricultural production, gross national product, national fiscal revenue, and urban and rural residents' income all doubled from 1978 figures." (Ibid, p. 40)

In the history book's ninth lesson, "Opening up to the Outside World" is described as a great new contribution to the Chinese people from the CCP. It seems that everyone in the world has forgotten that China before 1949 was also an open country.

Lesson 10 enters the period "Building Socialism with Chinese Characteristics," in which the textbook takes Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Xi Jinping as the primary agents of history, and summarizes their leadership and wisdom as being like that of gods. Across the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th congresses of the Chinese Communist Party, their essences are summed up in a few key words: Deng Xiaoping Theory, Jiang Zemin's important "Three Represents," Hu Jintao's "Scientific Development View," and Xi Jinping's "Great Rejuvenation" and "China Dream." There are only five illustrations in this lesson, and all five are of these men giving speeches at various party congresses. (Ibid, p. 46-51)

The reason why we point out that the books tirelessly tally up the Leaders' speeches on the CCP's meetings is because this pageantry is emphasized at the expense of exploring the dark side of China's exhaustive economic development: the harsh environmental disasters, the hardship endured by the hundreds of millions of migrant workers who have been discriminated against in their daily lives and exploited, at least 60 million left-behind children who live in broken families in rural areas, the despair and struggle of the young people at the bottom of society, the Tiananmen student movement that shocked China and foreign countries, and the June Fourth crackdown on that movement in 1989. In particular, the CCP's notorious family planning policy, which was implemented for more than 30 years, has affected every Chinese family. The dire consequences of this policy are still unfolding today, despite the Chinese government's sudden realization about China's demographic problems and that they should no longer pursue this policy. None of these incidents are documented in textbooks.

Although modern Chinese history has long been a part of world history, the CCP's textbooks, especially regarding the part of the history after the founding of the CCP, hardly talk about the impact of the outside world on China, except for mentioning that Marxist-Leninist ideology came from Soviet Russia and how the Chinese were bullied by imperialist powers and resisted under the leadership of the CCP. Take Sino-Soviet relations as an example.

There is a passage in Lesson 16, "Independent Peaceful Diplomacy," in the second volume of Chinese History, eighth grade: "On October 2, 1949, the Soviet Union was the first to declare its recognition of the People's Republic of China and establish diplomatic relations. ...In 1950, the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance was signed, and the Soviet government gave China a loan of US $300 million. This was significant towards promoting the recovery and development of China's economy and breaking the imperialist countries' policy of isolating and blocking China." (Ibid, p. 82)

Chinese History, 8th Grade, 2nd Volume; (Approved by the Ministry of Education in 2017; A Textbook for Compulsory Education; People's Education Press)

These 150 words barely cover the immense support the Soviet Union gave to the newly established CCP. From 1949 to 1953, the total investment the Chinese government had only amounted to 6.3 billion RMB, 14% of which were made up of low-interest loans from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union also provided aid to industrial projects in coal, steel, electricity, chemical, and military production that China desperately needed at that time.

During China's First Five Year Plan, from 1953 to 1957, the Soviet Union assisted China in completing 156 large-scale projects, laying the foundation for China's heavy industry. These projects cost 19.63-billion-yuan, accounting for 25.8% of China's national infrastructure investment in that period. In addition to these industrial projects, the Soviet Union also provided nuclear technology and nuclear industrial equipment to the CCP, and dispatched nearly a thousand experts to help the CCP build uranium mines, nuclear fuel rod production plants, the Jiuquan R&D base, and the Xinjiang nuclear testing site. During the Korean War, the Soviet Union provided a large amount of military equipment and training to the Chinese army, and this military assistance, whether given for free or loaned, helped the CCP modernize its military. All of this, and the huge assistance the Nationalist government and the CCP received from the Soviet Union during the Anti-Japanese War, has vanished without a trace from the CCP's middle school history textbooks.

No matter what selfish schemes Stalin and Soviet Russia had towards China, the support they gave to the CCP regime was enormous, but the CCP's textbooks failed to acknowledge it. Naturally, the textbooks are even more reluctant to dwell on the positive impact Western countries have had on China.

Obviously, the consistent purpose of these textbooks is to emphasize that the CCP has always been independent and self-reliant in its leading of the Chinese people to one victory after another. In the eyes of the compilers of Chinese history textbooks, any cultural influence from outside China, and any foreign aid the CCP has received, will not help strengthen the CCP's image of its own wisdom and greatness.

Generally speaking, any history textbook, especially a modern history textbook, will have its own political standards, its own tendencies, and its own narrative focus. Even deliberate ambiguity and flattery to those in power are not incomprehensible properties of such texts. No one can produce a historical textbook that is completely fair and upright and that will be recognized by everyone as the objective record of the truth. But the key issue we need to point out here is that the CCP's textbook is of a unique nature. It is not one of many different Chinese history textbooks available to choose from, nor is it a one that can be criticized and discussed when in use. The concern is that this kind of blatant indoctrination is the only choice for teachers and students in China, and that it must be fully accepted and regarded as the holy grail. Under the CCP's education system, teachers' incomes and job performances as well as students' assessment for further studies and future employment prospects all depend on whether they comply and agree with this brainwashing.

Conclusion: Final Words

The CCP uses history textbooks as it uses other tools, to mold students with a single-minded fanaticism towards the party. That is the obvious goal. Its efforts run through a child's entire education, covering elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and universities. It employs various methods to remarkable effect. From the large number of "Little Pink Patriots" in China to the ideology of certain "Chinese nationalists" who have entered the U.S. economic, political, technological, media, and academic fields, we can see the continuing influence of Chinese history textbooks.

The West needs to be particularly aware of the blatant ideological indoctrination of the CCP's textbooks under the existing authoritarian system. Not only are alternative textbooks not allowed, but any interpretation that does not fully obey the official line is strictly prohibited. The generations born after the 1980s are completely ignorant of the June 4 incident in 1989, let alone earlier controversial or inconvenient historical events that have been deliberately concealed or misinterpreted by the CCP.


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[2] 杨奎松:《历史研究有点像刑警破案》,《南方人物周刊》,2012年第15期。

[3] 尹曙生:《毛泽东与第三次全国公安会议》,《炎黄春秋》,2014年第5期;周鲸文:《风暴十年:中国红色政权的真面目》(上册、中册),香港:友联出版社1959年;J.K.Fairbank和Roderick Lemonde MacFarquhar编:费正清、麦克法夸尔编:《剑桥中华人民共和国史》(第十四卷),北京:中国社会科学出版社1990年,第88页;宋永毅编:《重审毛泽东的土地改革:中共建政初期的政治运动70周年的历史回顾》(上册),香港:田园书屋2019年。

[4] 《“三反”“五反”运动·江苏卷》,北京:中共中央党史出版社2003年,第96页。

[5] 新华社《内部参考》,1952年3月18日。

[6] 杨奎松:《建国前后中共对资产阶级政策的演变》,《近代史研究》,2006年第2期。

[7] 费正清、麦克法夸尔编:《剑桥中华人民共和国史》(第十四卷),北京:中国社会科学出版社1990年,第90页。

[8] 周鲸文:《风暴十年:中国红色政权的真面目》(中册),香港:友联出版社1959年,第225页。

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