Half way into the first semester of the new academic year that began in September, millions of public school teachers in China are not clear what is their immediate priority – whether to implement the harsh anti-Covid protocol to ensure no student tests positive or to see that no student fails to gain intense knowledge about the latest subject introduced this year: Grandpa Xi Jinping.
The primary, secondary and high school curriculum expanded this year to include the Xi new subject: Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era Xi. The students are expected to know, understand and practice the Xi philosophy of life by the time they are ready to exit school.
New textbooks were introduced in the Chinese school system that essentially teach the same thing, that President is, as a western media report sarcastically explained, “to be seen as the undisputed authority on everything”. China’s national textbook committee has tailored the school-to-university curriculum to “comprehensively introduce Xi’s views on economics, politics, the rule of law, science and technology, culture, education, ethnic policies, religion, national defence, ecological civilisation, party-building and diplomacy”.
The first day of the new academic year was a déjà vu for the grandparents and parents of the students. The older generation had undergone a similar educational experience, forced to learn everything about Mao Zedong. The personality cult carried to the next generation with the textbooks glorifying the era of Grandpa Deng (Xiaoping) and Grandpa Wen (Jiabao).
The current generation of students were given Grandpa Xi textbooks. They are specially tailored for each age-group, down to children as young as six. “The use of stand-alone schoolbooks devoted to a serving leader marks a break with decades of caution. The last time that hundreds of millions of youngsters clutched books devoted to the wisdom of one man was under Mao Zedong, the object (and instigator) of a disastrous personality cult.”
The National Textbook Committee designed the curriculum in a way that the “textbooks reflect the will of the Communist Party of China and the nation and directly impact the direction and quality of talent cultivation”. The Committee said on record: “Primary schools should foster love and right understanding for the Party, country and socialism in students.”
The textbooks begin by highlighting three “core socialist values” — prosperity, patriotism and friendship. By the end of the academic year, the students must fully understand these values if they are to be described as good citizens and “qualified builders and successors of socialism”. Being “qualified” implies the students must live up to the expectations of Grandpa Xi. They are gently told that the qualification is a reasonable expectation because Grandpa Xi “cares for them”.
The textbooks for pre-primary students use “illustrations with speech bubbles to make the ideological content more interesting”. Some show Grandpa Xi telling students sitting around a table how to cultivate a “good moral character” or become “diligent and thrifty”. There are photos of Xi meeting students at school and planting trees.
The curriculum attains a different level for the primary school students. Ideology is introduced through sentences such as this: “Grandpa Xi Jinping is very busy with work, but no matter how busy he is, he still joins our activities and cares about our growth.” The statement is accompanied by text telling students how Xi became emotional when he joined the Young Pioneers of China (the Chinese Communist Party’s youth organisation) in 1960. The textbook then returns to the present, with Xi inviting students “to describe their own feelings about becoming a part of the Young Pioneers, thus encouraging young people to join”.
Senior students learn a more sophisticated lesson. It is about “Grandpa Xi’s expectations of us”. It reads: “As paramount leader of the party and state, Grandpa Xi Jinping has always cared for us, and wishes for us to strive to grow into worthy builders and inheritors of socialism.”
China watchers see the pattern of a growing personality cult in the country. Earlier, the textbooks focused only on the Party and its ideals. However, the current version centres around only President Xi. “In this way they reflect the growing personality cult of Xi Jinping, eerily reminiscent of the days of China’s founding father Mao Zedong. Targeted at children, the moniker of “Grandpa Xi” is part of the ongoing strategy towards creating a personality cult in China.”:
Many western publications have quoted political scientist Pao-min Chang defining the personality cult as “the artificial elevation of the status and authority of one man […] through the deliberate creation, projection and propagation of a godlike image”.
The Economist, which closely studied the new textbooks, reports that “they are more focused on defining citizenship as a relationship with the party and its leader”. As a result, “the new textbooks will use ‘golden’ maxims from Xi, as well as vivid stories and emotional experiences to ‘plant the seeds of love for the party, love for the nation and love for socialism in their little hearts’.”
There may be end-of-semester and end-of-year exercises conducted in all schools to evaluate the quality of teaching and absorption of knowledge. One can only speculate the reaction of the party if either the teachers or the students are found wanting.