井底之蛙

2/26/2009

Chinese Goldilocks

Filed under: — gina @ 11:43 pm

Recently, I’ve been looking at Maoist period elementary Chinese textbooks (or perhaps a better translation would be Language Arts textbooks), which are compilations of stories and essays with “reading questions” at the end. Most of the collections I have found were from the late 1950s, very early 1960s, and early 1970s. Also, many of them have been quite monotonous; especially the later textbooks are story after story about military victory either during the 1930s, the war of liberation, or for later textbooks, the Vietnam war (I particularly enjoy reading about the mischief of the 美国鬼子).

However, I came across a particular set that stuck out to me because, if it had been in English, its content would have been nearly indistuinguishable from an American textbook at the time. This set was published in 1955 was meant for the last 4 years of elementary school. And instead of openining with revolutionary songs and ending with stories of Mao’s great kindnesses or the heros of the revolution, the story was almost nothing but fairy tales and tales about young children. I particularly enjoyed the Chinese translation of Goldilocks and the 3 bears (although in this story, she was just called 小女儿, since, being Chinese and all, she did not have gold locks).

I guess what this points to is a large variety in the content of textbooks, since other language textbooks from the same period are full of stories of the communist-war-hero variety. But not all education was for the sole purpose of teaching children to be good communists, as many of the stories, such as a story about “Mother Winter” which explains how the seasons change, have no moral message at all.

I’ve been wondering as to why these textbooks, which were largely used in Shanghai into the early 1960s, differed so much from how we think of Communist period early education. My guess would be that there was a very high priority on children learning how to read. A man I work with at the archives used this set of textbooks when he was a young child, and he still remembers all of the stories. Children are much more likely to want to read if the stories are about talking foxes and mountains of gold with flying phoenixes than if they are simply propaganda. Perhaps this demonstrates a weighing of the importance of literacy over the importance of “correct thought.” However, as the Maoist period progressed, the latter clearly trumped the former. But to me, this is another reason why the 1950s, a period of plurality and exploration, is such an important period to study (another comment on my own blog about this topic expressed a similar trend). It shows us that we can’t generalize about human rights (as an earlier post suggested) or education throughout the Maoist period.

One response to “Chinese Goldilocks”

  1. Alan says:

    Gina,

    Sounds like you are finding some interesting stuff. Have you found any policy documents on textbooks yet? I’m sort of wondering what is happening here is that that process of Communeizing education is going slower than had been planned or if the content of communist education does not become entirely ‘red’ until the CR

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