No revolution, no reform
By Phoebe Chau | April 21, 2016
From Cultural Revolution to education reform
The ten-year revolution has interrupted schooling and destroyed human capital accumulation, which led to loss of social trust. What about now?
“Use blood and lives to protect president Mao!”A political slogan written by the Red Guards, and placed at the entrance of the university. (credits: Wikimedia common)
HONG KONG — When the bell rang, numerous groups of children swarmed out of the school with delightful faces. Mothers or parents were gazing at the school gate, trying to look for their children except for her, Chu Xi-ling. She sat calmly on a bench under the tree, and was reading an English textbook. While waiting for her 9-year-old son to come out, Chu made use of the time to learn English. “can I have…a cup… of… coffee…,” Chu was trying her best to practice English word by word, and she was so concentrated that she did not realize her son has already come out from school. Chu was so eager to learn.
“I did not have the opportunity to learn when I was young, so I learn now,” expressed Chu. Chu was born in Shanghai, a crowded and popular city now in the People’s Republic of China. However, she was moved to Guizhou province in Southwest China when she was three. “My entire family moved to Guizhou because of the Cultural Revolution, we have no choice…I mean, I have no choice. I never have a choice,” said Chu. Chu’s parents were divorced after moving to Guizhou, and she was raised by her grandpa.
Now, Chu is married with two sons. The older one is 23 years old, who is studying overseas now for a postgraduate degree; the younger one is only 9 years old, and is studying at an international school. Chu never interfere with her sons’ decisions; she respects whatever they want in their lives. “I would provide my next generation the best education, so they can become what they want to be,” said Chu. Chu is a housewife now with no occupation. “I am just an extremely ordinary housewife. I wished I could have education backed then; I may become professionals, who knows,” Chu laughed for what she said, but there was sorrow in her voice.
Millions of young children were forced to join as the Red Guards.
(Credits: Wikimedia common)
The Cultural Revolution was a sociopolitical upheaval in the history of the People’s Republic of China. With the interrupted ten years of schooling, huge human capital accumulation had been destroyed. People born before, during or after the revolution had lost the opportunity for education. They would either join the political movement as the “Red Guard” or educated by people who are not professors with abnormal curriculum.
During the period from 1966-1976, education was regarded as “evil”, the intellectuals or educated people were either sent to farms and labor camps; or were prosecuted. President Mao even sent the intellectuals to the countryside, and had them re-educated by peasants. Hence, there were a lot of children at that time being left alone, since they were not allowed to accompany their parents to the countryside. The echoes of the Cultural Revolution are invisible wounds which influence social trust among people nowadays.
People who were suspected as the leftists were prosecuted in front of the public.
(Credits: Wikimedia common)
Education was not encouraged by President Mao at that time. Instead, Mao urged students of different ages to form the Red Guards; in order to be revolutionary instead of academically. Teachers were struggled by their radical behaviors; education were attacked and destroyed. Backed in the days, students were the big bosses at school rather than teachers. In fact, teachers were not teaching at all; they just mentioned Russian bombs and shared their own stories due to the fact that they were afraid of being suspected for badmouthing President Mao. It is known that education would generate social capital, and the ten-year send down movement has massively interrupted China’s educational development. And the biggest question is: Has China recovered from the loss of human capital?
“The situation was hopeless backed then; we as the educated people were not valued by the society,” said Li Feng, an intellectual during the Cultural Revolution, and were sent to farms to do labor work in mid 60s. More than 100 universities were closed for reconstruction at that time, and teachers were sent away for re-education. Most importantly, national examinations for admission to universities were discontinued, as well as a lot of vocational-technical schools were shut down.
It could be seen that there were not much opportunities to receive education, and the education policy was unfair to students. Later on, after the death of President Mao and the denounced of “the Gang of Four”, the national examinations were resumed; each student could obtain a fair opportunity to enter university. Education system from the late 70s were reconstructed. In mid 80s, knowledge started to become more important; as Deng Xiao-ping said, “education must face modernization, face the world, and face the future”.
(Sources: World Bank – The Human Development Index, HDI)
According to the China’s Education Index from the World Bank, it could be seen that the trend is increasing at a steady pace from the year of 1966 to the year of 2013. Backed in the year of 1966, the index was only 1.34 out of 10. It is not hard to imagine how rare it was to receive formal education. Compared with China today, with the nine-year compulsory education and better living conditions; it is believed that youths now have higher education levels than 50 years ago.
“I felt sorry for my daughter; she did not receive a good education,” said Hong Fu-Xing, a member of the Communist Party now. There were no qualified teachers for a period of time after the denounced of the “Gang of Four”, since those experienced teachers were neither prosecuted nor sent away; and their next generations might not have received education. In other words, there were no qualified teachers since ten-year of schooling was interrupted. “Cultural Revolution lasted for ten years, and the ten-year time frame had destroyed the education system,” Hong added. China might need more than ten years to recover the education system.
Apart from the closure of schools, the nature of education changed as well. Admission to schools no longer based on the academic performances, but on social class. Children of peasants, soldiers or workers would have priority to be admitted, even with poor academic results. Thus, the standards of education had faced a downturn.
The cover page of a textbook of the elementary school was the Red Guard.
(Credits: Wikimedia common)
“Without the revolution, I guess China would be much more civilized; and the average education level would be higher,” said Lee Qing, a former professor at a communist university in China. China in fact had lost a huge number of human capital because of the movement. “Education supports the society; when less people receive education, the society will not sustain,” Lee added.
“My daughter could not enter university because of me,” said Hong Fu-Xing, with tears in his eyes. Her daughter was playing games everyday with her friends; it is common at that time for youths to fool around instead of studying. “The reason they (the university) rejected my daughter was extremely ridiculous, I was furious; but I could not do anything,” Hong exclaimed.
The unfair treatment and rough experience caused profound effect on the victims. “I will never forget how sorrow I was when I knew that I was not admitted to university,” said Chu Xi-Ling. People began to lose social trust towards the society and people around them. Not only the victims that were born at that period of time would be affected, but also their next generations. Nowadays, people would not greet or help strangers; this is an obvious example of losing social trust. “I told my children about the Cultural Revolution, and I believe I am not the only one who do so; the revolution gave a negative impression,” Chu said. Intergeneration transmission would make the younger generations not able to slough off the history.
It is impossible to wipe off the history, and people in China have to be tough enough to overcome the echoes of the Cultural Revolution. After 50 years of living in the shadow of the bloody movement, it could be seen that the education development in China is growing.
According to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), China invests about 4% on education now; and according to a report from the Ministry of Education, it shows that approximately 99.7% of total population in China have completed nine-year education. In other words, China puts more resources on education nowadays undoubtedly, and the human capital accumulation is recovering gradually.
The government in China has introduced a number of new education policies since the Cultural Revolution. For instance, China had a school curriculum reform to adjust and improve the quality of education, a teacher development system to ensure the quality of the teachers, open door policy for foreign students to study in China, etc.
A timeline of key events of the education development in China from 1966 to now.
Without revolution, there would not be reforms. The cultural Revolution is unforgettable, but it someway changes China. “At least I am not fear of anything now, because freedom of speech protects me to voice out my opinion,” said Chu Xi-Ling. Chu Xi-Ling arranges a number of extra-curricular activities for her younger son apart from school, like basketball, swimming, Taekwondo, piano, jogging, etc. “I want to give the best to him. I am satisfied now, because he can learn; and he can choose what he wants,” Chu added. So do her, Chu now can learn English anytime and anywhere.
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