It is not narcissism, they might say, it is about catching them young. Chinese students as young as seven are to read ‘Xi Thought’ even before they know their alphabet, the Chinese Communist Party appears to have decreed.
The CCP wants to nurture a fresh generation of patriots who would learn to put leader, party and nation, in that order, before themselves and their families. Is it patriotism or personality cult that is being promoted, sceptics, however, wonder.
The party has issued a brief to primary school teachers: Plant the seeds in young children of loving the party and looking up to the leadership of President Xi Jinping and what his idea of patriotism is.
The West sees this as Xi’s latest effort to “consolidate” the CCP’s role in different areas of society. The education ministry said in a statement that the new curriculum is aimed “to cultivate the builders and successors of socialism with an all-round moral, intellectual, physical and aesthetic grounding”.
“Xi Thought” is considered a modern Chinese political treatise assembled by Xi. It contains his ideas of patriotism, national duty, political ideology and leadership. The education ministry gave the go ahead for introducing it as a curriculum influencer for students from primary school to graduate courses from now on.
Millions of school and university books have been printed. They carry Xi’s smiling face all over and the text is interspersed with the President’s quotes. It is the duty of the teachers to tell the students how the quotes and the text are linked.
The opening chapters are about the role of the CCP in bringing China to where it is today, eradicating poverty from the country, achieving several milestones in the progress of the Chinese civilisation and even successfully handling the Covid-19 pandemic.
The lesson plans are now more about interpreting the statements and anecdotal stories of Xi rather than what the original lesson is about. Take for instance this unidentified lesson in a school textbook where the only meaningful portion, the government decrees, is this: “Xi Jinping is very busy with work, but no matter how busy he is, he still joins our activities and cares about our growth.” How does this explain a chapter in moral science or physics, no one knows.
“Xi Thought” is a 14-point policy the President has outlined to describe how he proposes to steer China and where during his tenure. It is basically about the party and his leadership. The primary point is “ensuring CCP leadership over all forms of work in China”. It is for the CCP to have “absolute leadership” over the PLA. Thirdly, it is about improving “discipline” in the CCP. The rest are about promoting scientific temperament, comprehensive reforms, practice socialist core values, and adopt the one country, two systems format for Hong Kong and Macau and One-China policy for Taiwan.
Most of the thought content is vague with no definitions of Xi’s ambitious plans and objectives. It has since been enshrined into the Constitution. It is now known as the “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era in the fundamental law”.
The “Thought” became part of the Constitution at the same time as the limits on Xi’s presidential terms were removed. While the role of the schools is only to introduce the concept of the “Thought”, universities have been asked to open special institutes dedicated to it. The 14 principles are now to be cited by authorities when dealing with any situation, whether related to politics, art, literature or the Coronavirus.
It is believed a section of the parents is not happy with the indoctrination. However, it is state policy so they cannot do much about it. The CCP has justified the new curriculum on the ground that it is part of Xi’s national campaign to fight corrupting influences on children and the youth, whether through video games or television, internet or foreign educational tools.
In the higher classes, the “Thought” is introduced in textbooks to explain the country’s resolve to specialise in the aerospace industry and create a path to becoming a “modern socialist great power”.
The global Times quoted education ministry officials as saying that “the ministry is also working on including themes such as party leadership and national defence education into the curriculum”.
Chinese academics anonymously contend that people are most likely to “simply not take it very seriously”.
The AFP reported: “While China has long given schoolchildren patriotism and political education, the new curriculum is ‘about promoting the cult of Xi as much as about instilling a greater sense of nationalism’, China researcher Adam Ni said.” In contrast, Xinhua, quoted the President’s “exhortation for young people to ‘strive to have pure hearts, sound personalities and integrity’ in an article this week marking the new school year”.
Patriotic education is not a new concept in China. It was made a compulsory part of education in 1994 following the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protest. Under Xi, the patriotic lessons are essentially about him and his ideas. Back when it was introduced in schools, students were initially taught to respect the flag and repeatedly told to see that the flag never falls on the ground.
There were stories about the heroism of Chinese soldiers and their martyrdom while trying to protect the independence and sovereignty of the country. The moral of the lessons was that the students should never forget the sacrifices of the soldiers that enabled the people to lead happy lives. There was a time, in the early years of patriotic education, when Chinese students were taught that the Chinese flag is red because it is “soaked by the blood of martyrs”.