Patriotic Education for Chinese High Schools

by Jessie Jin

Image Source: The Conversation

Bravery lies equidistant of cowardness and recklessness. Truthfulness lies equidistant of self-depreciation and boastfulness. People strive to reach a balancing point between these characteristics; it’s with the delicate point of balance that ultimate productivity can be achieved. Like everything else, there is a fine line between educating youth to be patriotic and brainwashing nationalistic zeal. A predominant problem of the Chinese educational system is the over intensification of patriotic education in academia, specifically students in secondary school. It is implemented in a way too strenuous for students to be able to have a fair perspective of the world. 

China enforces patriotism from their educational system, which is shaped and implemented into curriculums in students’ mandatory courses during their high school years. Curriculums like ideological-political (sixiang zhengzhi) education, moral (daode) education, and most importantly patriotic (aiguozhuyi) education. Three fundamental purposes for the delivery of this curriculum is providing a sense of national pride and integration, transmitting “appropriate” attitude towards foreign relations, and maintaining a socialist system. In other words, it is what Western democratic countries call a “brainwash” of opinions towards how Chinese citizens view their country and the rest of the world. It is so problematic as students are forced to learn the “right answers” in these courses in preparation of the standardized Chinese university test, also known as the gaokao. The gaokao is extremely important to students in China as their whole university application depends on this testing; there are no report cards to represent daily marks for these universities, leadership and extracurricular involvements are of little importance. The entirety of a Chinese student’s high school year is about preparing for this exam, and obtaining an ideal score for this exam. As a result, students have no options but to study everything taught in this curriculum — the marks are crucial to their overall performance in the exam. 

In an interview with 21 administrators, class teachers and subject teachers, three questions were addressed: Why do schools carry out patriotic education? How is it carried out? How is it evaluated? The interview subjects included key figures responsible for patriotic education, such as the head of teaching affairs office, and head of the moral education section. These figures provided insight and are expected to contribute to national goals and instill perceived good morals in society. The qualities teachers ideally expect from students of the course are students with strong, innovative ideas to improve the country’s well being and overall infrastructure. Students are evaluated with specific standards of raising specific ideas/values about their country, their citizens, and how both domestic and foreign policies ought to be. 

Not only are the citizens showered with the ideas of misrepresentative patriotism in their formal education, but this sense of fervor-ish patriotism is also integrated into society. It appears in different media forms of countless TV shows portraying China’s dominating power in fighting the Sino Japanese war, or official social service systems (e.g. regional fire departments) posting on main social media platforms about appreciation to reside in a country that has quick emergency relief after showing a clip of coronavirus death rate in Italy. The idea of blind patriotism, of praising China and condemning the Western countries and Japan regardless of their actions, is instilled through the citizens. Facts that only support one side of truth in history class, television’s stereotypical portrayal of different nationalities, and biased social media posts from government officials are all instances of shaping the nation into a blind, patriotic zeal. 

We must remember and honour history. After all, history is what makes up a national identity. Most people love their country, more or less. It’s almost a biological instinct, as we consider it as a part of our identity. The problem isn’t nationalism itself – it’s the way it gets delivered. Perhaps the biggest challenge now is how to make patriotism a matter of education and self motivation, not indoctrination. This is not only a problem China faces, rather an occurrence that should be addressed by all educational systems in countries. 

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