The Murky Evolution of the Chinese Education System
When Lu Xun’s birthday came and went last Saturday, the 25th of September, his name understandably popped up in the media, although not in the form of eulogies or praise for the revered father of Modern Chinese Literature. Instead, writers from around China have been discussing Lu Xun’s expulsion from the nation’s textbooks and the Chinese education system, where he had held a comfortable position since the mid-1920s.
The literary and online communities are calling this “Lu Xun’s Great Retreat” and there are already theories floating about trying to explain why this is happening now. The official line has been to claim that different generations require different textbooks to reflect different conditions. In an interview with the chief editor of the Jiangsu Education Publishing Company, the removal of some of Lu Xun’s works are attributed to their length and complexity.
The Chinese blogosphere points to a more sinister motive: the government is nervous about what young children might think about this society if they read Lu Xun’s social and political commentaries, look around and see that history is busy repeating itself.
Today’s Lu Xun
So what is changing now and why are people in an uproar about it?
It turns out that not only are three well-known Lu Xun stories being axed from the school’s textbooks, but several other classic tales and contemporary stories are also being replaced. A list has circulated through the Internet and is stirring up even more controversy then the removal of Lu Xun’s stories because, according to the list, three foreign pieces are going to be added to the compulsory reading education classes in all grades. Below is the list in Chinese and English, provided by an Education-related forum (another, slightly different list can be read here at Xinhua.net):
To Be Added:
Michel de Montaigne “On Loving Life” 蒙田的《热爱生命》
Ernest Hemingway ”The Old Man and the Sea” 海明威的《老人与海》
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” 马丁路德·金的《我有一个梦想》
Cai Yuan Pei, Chancellor of Peking University 蔡元培的《就任北京大学校长之演说》
Yu Hua, “Leaving Home at Eighteen” 余华的《十八岁出门远行》
Du Fu “Poetic Thought on Ancient Sites” 杜甫的《咏怀古迹》
Liu Yong, “Watching the Tidal Bore” 柳永的《望海潮》
Su Shi (Su Dongpo)，”Calming the Waves” 苏轼的《定风波》
Xin Qi Ji, “Water Dragon Chant” 辛弃疾的《水龙吟》
Dai Wangshu, “A Lane in the Rain” 戴望舒的《雨巷》
Bian Zhi Lin, A Broken Stanza 卞之琳的《断章》
To Be Removed:
Cao Yu, “Thunderstorm” 曹禺《雷雨》
Zhu Zi Qing, “A view of father from the back” 朱自清《背影》
Southeast Fly the Peacocks 古詩《孔雀東南飛》
Su Shi (Su Dongpo), “Record of Stone Bell Mountain”
Su Xun, “About the Six Dynasties” 宋代蘇洵政論文《六國論》
Ouyang Xiu, Sequence to Biography of the Actors 宋代歐陽修散文《伶官傳序》
Gong Zi Zhen, The House of Sick Mei 清末龔自珍散文《病梅館記》
Lu Xun, “Medicine” & “Ah Q” & “Miss Liu He Zhen” 魯迅《藥》《阿 Q正傳》《紀念劉和珍君》
From this list it is hard to tell exactly what the education system might be doing, but for the Chinese netizens, there are many very clear reasons to raise a ruckus.
First and foremost, the loyal lovers of Lu Xun see any removal of any of his essays as a form of literary heresy because Lu Xun represents (among other things) the struggling, defiant Chinese spirit. Most of his essays excoriate the corrupt leaders of a weak and cowardly society while sympathizing with the downtrodden Old One Hundred names that make up the back bone of Chinese society. To toss out his articles is a political move and will engender a political response, especially the three listed above.
In this long and in depth analysis for the China Educational Daily, Wu Xiao Ou argues that Lu Xun’s works represent China and the Chinese character and therefore are free from the fetters of generational ideas and political realities. All Chinese should read Lu Xun because Lu Xun wrote about and for all Chinese.
Yet, if this is really a move by the censors to remove certain troublesome aspects of Lu Xun’s literature, then this would not be the first (or presumably the last) time. In 2007, there were discussions concerning the removal of Miss Liu Hezhen, which was supposedly replaced with Jin Yong’s Kung Fu inspired short stories. In fact, the Chinese education system has a long history of re-arranging its curriculum based on the winds of change and Lu Xun is just one of the more prominent victims.
If one takes the time to read and analyze all of the works above and then place them within the context modern Chinese society, there probably is a valid reason why the Story of Lin Xiangru is being replaced with MLK’s Speech. That is beyond the scope of this essay, because when this began it was under the assumption that Lu Xun alone was being removed and after further research the truth, whatever that might be, has become blurred by the competing, confused cries of Chinese Netdom.
No One Can Be Sure
Something is happening within the Chinese education system. It might be political revisionism, which has many a precedent in China (and in the US school system for that matter) or it might be a modernization of the system through the introduction of foreign writers (which also has precedent in China) or it could be a sinister plot to protect the filthy rich bastards that speed around in unlicensed black sedans by leaving out any social commentary texts that might help children see them for they are: filthy rich bastards. Many a precedent for that last one.
Or nothing is happening at all, which is the case according to this article published in China’s Education Daily, which quotes yet another Jiangsu Education Publishing Company editor as saying that, NO, there were no changes made whatsoever to any of the textbooks in any grade.
This could be a classic case of news leaking and then the officials responding by obfuscating any and all references to the news or it could be a phenomenon known as “fake news,” in which the Chinese gossip mill fueled by a million bulletin board groups and 370 Million users takes a snippet of something and turns it into a mountain.
We don’t really know. But we’ll follow this story to its murky end and keep you, the reader, informed of what muck we step in. If any of you can shed light upon the subject or have an opinion or thought to share, we welcome your comments below.