Changing the past to build the future : history education in post-Mao China
This study is concerned principally with the ways in which the school subject of History has developed over the past quarter century in the People's Republic of China. One of the key objectives of this research has been simply to redress previous neglect of a subject that seems, if public opinion is indicative of a topic's importance, to have some bearing on the ways in which states and societies try to shape young minds, values and identities, and thereby steer the course of future political, social and economic development. It accordingly traces the evolution of the History subject both through time and, more importantly, through the process of production, transmission and consumption, from central government organs, such as the Ministry of Education, down to the individual school History classroom. Specifically, it analyses various factors that have influenced thinking about the purposes and practice of history education, and how these have been reflected in the main vehicles for transmitting narratives of the past: national and local curricula, History textbooks and school lessons. Particular attention is paid throughout to the impact of the reform and opening policy on history education, highlighting tensions arising from often conflicting political and pedagogical objectives and evaluating the extent to which theoretical goals are attained in practice. The study argues that History is not simply an instrument of ideological control wielded by a totalitarian government seeking to sustain its own hegemony, but is a process in which many stakeholders participate, and in which learning outcomes cannot be guaranteed to correspond precisely to teaching objectives. Securing the future through controlling the past - even in an authoritarian society - is thus, the study concludes, considerably more complex and challenging than it might superficially appear.