Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lessons from the past

This topic is more complex and layered than most. It probably deserves research and discussion.

Everyone learns from the past. Some of the learning is very personal. Other learning is political and cultural. School curricula are shaped by authorities so people learn specific political and cultural lessons.

China may be the most obvious example, but it happens everywhere. (Heard of "sundown towns" in the USA? (See the works of James Lowen for more examples from the USA.)

In China, some bits of the past are officially revived (see Confucius Institutes and Lei Feng).

Here's another example from contemporary China that suggests what problems can arise.

Remember what Orwell said. "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Does that work well?

Graduates’ Red Guard Photos Cast Doubt on What They Learned
During the Cultural Revolution, no one would have smiled.
The photographs show a young man, held down in a bowing position by what appear to be five Red Guards, the youthful fanatics who terrorized China in the name of Chairman Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution. A conical hat sits on his head, a leather belt chokes his throat, and a sign denouncing him as a traitor hangs from his neck with a nylon cord. But the young man is barely suppressing a grin, and the tableau was staged as part of a university graduation celebration.

The photos, taken last week at Northeast Agricultural University in the northeastern city of Harbin, have gone viral on Chinese websites and drawn considerable comment — about the decade-long political convulsions of the Cultural Revolution, about the ruling Communist Party’s suppression of public discussion of the less savory episodes in its history, and about the consequences for a younger generation that has grown up with little knowledge of its elders’ sufferings…

The historian Zhang Lifan said in an interview: “This is a result of covering up the history of the Cultural Revolution, which has left the public unable to tell right from wrong.”…

Another Weibo commenter, a lawyer named Yang Genfei, said: “Maybe these college kids think it’s funny, but these photos expose so many serious issues. Could German students pose for graduation photos in Nazi uniforms? The Japanese should apologize” to the Chinese people for war crimes, “but what about ourselves?”

Although the Communist Party officially repudiated the Cultural Revolution in 1981, and agreed that Mao Zedong made some mistakes, the party rarely discusses that period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when millions were imprisoned, tortured or sent to their deaths.

In the absence of a thorough examination of that decade’s excesses, a certain nostalgia has emerged for a more socialist era of plain ways and supposedly greater equality. The purged politician Bo Xilai had tapped into this in campaigns in the southwestern city Chongqing that included singing songs in praise of Mao Zedong and sending cadres to work in rural villages.

Though Mr. Bo was sentenced to life in prison in October 2013 for corruption and abuse of power, others have continued to speak up for Maoist principles…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.

What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools, the original version and v2.0 are available to help curriculum planning.

Just The Facts! is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.

What You Need to Know SIXTH edition is COMING SOON.

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