Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Textbooks for Chinese language should put that first

By Zhang Zhouxiang (China Daily) Updated: 2016-05-28 09:12

Textbooks for Chinese language should put that first

Pupils at Luocheng Mulao autonomous county in South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region read on April 22, a day before the World Book Day. [Photo/IC]

The Language & Culture Press, which is in charge of publishing the official Chinese language textbooks for middle and secondary schools nationwide, has recently aroused hot debate by announcing its plan to change 40 percent of the articles in the textbooks.

Among the changes, the most controversial is deleting an excerpt from a Chinese classic that describes a hero beating up a gang leader, and replacing it with one that describes how bandits stole an official's bribes. The Language & Culture Press explained the change by saying "violence is not in accordance with the values promoted in our society". To which the response has been: "So why do you promote robbery?"

Actually, this is not the first time Chinese language textbooks have aroused controversy. Since the late 2000s, every time the publisher has tried to change anything there has been a debate. When it tried to delete Lu Xun's articles about China in the 1920s, there was a public outcry that "they still apply today". The attempt to decrease the number of classics also met fierce opposition because "that's our cultural roots".

Among all domestic textbooks, changes to Chinese language textbooks get 99 percent of the public's attention. There has never been any widespread public discussion about changes to any other textbooks.

The reason for this is: People expect more of Chinese language textbooks. Some expect the books to promote traditional culture, some want them to enhance patriotism, while many officials hope they will inform children of the "glorious achievements of the State in the modern era".

Each of these requirements comes with public pressure and the publisher has no choice but to meet them. However, the textbooks that result are compromises, as they try in some way to please all the different demands. They consider the needs of all, except those of the users, the pupils.

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