Over the past week, Chinese elementary school math textbooks suddenly became a hot topic on China’s internet. Chinese netizens have been criticizing the illustrations in the textbooks as inappropriate, disturbing, repulsive, ugly, anti-China, etc. However, the textbooks were approved by China’s Ministry of Education almost 10 years ago and have been in use since 2014.
Current affairs commentator Wei Yu, host of the Youtube channel “Wei Yu Sees the World,” says that Beijing is manipulating public opinion to once again cast blame on so-called infiltration from the West, particularly the United States.
The Controversial Illustrations
Pictures of the controversial illustrations have been circulating on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.
One picture of a playground scene shows a boy pulling a girl’s skirt, and another boy grabbing a girl with his hands on her chest. Another picture shows a girl’s underwear while she is jumping rope. Multiple pictures show bulges protruding from boys’ pants.
There are pictures of children wearing clothes with stars and stripes resembling patterns of the American flag. Other pictures show dialogues among children praising someone’s “blue eyes” and “blond hair.” Some Chinese netizens say that they are pro-America.
Furthermore, almost all children in the illustrations have small, drooping, and wide-set eyes, which are considered condescending to the Chinese people. Some pictures have the children sticking their tongues out, making them “very ugly.”
The public outrage was so overwhelming that the state-run publisher, People’s Education Press, apologized on a May 28 Weibo post, and vowed to replace the illustrations and review the other publications.
On the same day, the Ministry of Education ordered a review of all middle school and elementary school textbooks. Two days later, on May 30, the Ministry announced a sweeping investigation of all textbooks from elementary school to college. The Ministry of Education also promised to identify and hold the people involved responsible.
The Textbooks Were Approved Almost a Decade Ago
However, these textbooks are not new. They were approved in 2013 by the Ministry of Education and have been in use since 2014, according to Chinese reports.
In fact, back in 2014 there were already complaints about the illustrations, but no government agencies paid attention to the complaints.
Current affairs commentator Wei Yu said that the illustrations becoming a hot topic is not simply because everyone happens to talk about it, especially in the closely monitored and controlled online space in China. “The internet traffic flow is controlled from the backend, if [the CCP wants] the public to pay attention to something, there is always a way for them to achieve that,” she said.
Textbooks have always been tightly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who uses the textbooks as a tool to indoctrinate young children. The fact that the textbooks have been in use for almost a decade indicates that the CCP needs to use them to stir up public outrage now, according to Wei Yu’s analysis; “the public opinions [in China] are manipulated by a small number of people.”
Blaming It on Western Infiltration
The Weibo account #ThoughtTorch posted this comment on May 28: “[We] must look at the issue from its core. This is the result of the West’s long-term ideological infiltration, and attempts to peacefully change [China]. It is inevitable because our cultural and educational domains have long been westernized and acting like a slave [to the West]. It is a reflection of failed ideological work!”
#ThoughtTorch is the official Weibo account of the Research Center for National Cultural Security and Ideological Formation, which is part of the Academy of Marxism at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Wei Yu said #ThoughtTorch reflects the will of the CCP.
“The Party state needs to manipulate and steer public opinions. This time, its goal is to flame the anti-America sentiment by blaming the issues on the infiltration from the West.”
“Beijing’s zero-COVID policy and harsh lockdowns have created a lot of humanitarian disasters, even Shanghai couldn’t escape. Many people have realized the problems with the CCP and more people want to leave China.”
“But the CCP does not allow that many people to leave. It needs to make the people stay by limiting their access to the West and inciting hatred against the West. The idea that America has infiltrated China’s educational system and is poisoning China’s younger generation fits the bill.”
Wei Yu pointed out that the traditions in China, as well as in America, are being destroyed. Communist ideology has infiltrated both Chinese society and the West. America is also experiencing the decline of morality and diminishing traditions. The illustrations are a reflection of communist infiltration of traditional values.
The CCP, in recent years, has been removing Western influences on young people. The CCP started a “boycott Christmas” movement, not allowing Christmas to be celebrated in China.
The Bitter Winter magazine reported cases of textbooks being altered to remove content related to Christianity. For example, in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” the original text reads “When a star falls, a soul goes to God.” It has been changed to “When a star falls, a person leaves” in Chinese textbooks.
In Chinese textbooks, content about the Bible and prayer book were removed from Daniel Defoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe.”
In addition, the CCP has been adding more pro-Communist Party content in the textbooks.
First-generation CCP head Mao Zedong’s speech from 1944 has been included in elementary school Chinese textbooks for years. The students are required to memorize the speech.
During World War II, China’s then-ruling Kuomintang led the war against the Japanese invasion for eight years. However, the CCP-created textbooks say it was the CCP who fought and defeated the Japanese.
The official publication for the high school curriculum called New Curriculum Review published an article on April 15, 2022. The author tells a story of his grandfather, who was a member of the CCP. Before the CCP took power in 1949, the grandfather worked on raising funds for the CCP army. But one day, the author’s grandmother wanted to take the money. As she was running away, the grandfather shot and killed her. After that, the grandfather never remarried.
The editor commented on the story, “I can’t help but [feel] moved by his lofty character and love for the country.”
One netizen commented, “I felt chills through my bones.”