China Considers Banning ‘Western’ Thoughts and Textbooks

February 1, 2015 Updated: February 3, 2015

A series of recent remarks by China’s education minister, Yuan Guiren, have got many freethinking individuals in China concerned: according to Yuan, textbooks and thoughts from the “West” should be banished from Chinese schools.

“Greater management should be put in place for using original Western teaching materials,” Yuan said, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

“Materials touting Western values are forbidden inside our classrooms.” Yuan was meeting representatives from universities across China in Beijing.

Among his comments was this barb: “Verbal attack or slander of Party leaders, or discussion that vilifies socialism, should never be heard in classrooms.”

Do you really have a clue? What do you expect your subordinates to do?
— Sun Liping, sociology professor

Whether the policy is actually going to be implemented is unclear. It could present a formidable challenge, given how widely Western texts are used already at Chinese universities.

For example, Peking University, one of the most prestigious in China, lists on its website several Western books that come recommended for students before taking the entrance exam for the international relations program.

And even Yuan Guiren has endorsed troublesome “Western” texts, as recently as 2011, when he said: “To bring momentum to reform, we must open up, allowing Chinese education to feel the pressure from overseas education.”

He was speaking at an education meeting during the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on March 3. In response to any concerns that dangerous Western thoughts would overrun China, Yuan said: “There isn’t any risk because it is happening in our own land, where there is the Chinese Communist Party.”

What’s ‘Western,’ Anyway?

An irony associated with Yuan’s remarks did not go unnoticed, and unmocked, by Chinese internet users and political commentators—given that the Chinese Communist Party itself is founded on the principles of Marxism-Leninism, distinctively Western philosophies.

Professor Shen Kui, a law professor at Peking University, riffed off this to demand in a post online that Yuan clarify the line between “Western values” and “Chinese values”—given that the PRC’s own constitution stipulates that the masses must be educated based on Marxism, internationalism and communism—all ideologies that originated in the West.

A lawyer on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform, who used the pseudonym “Aotu,” said: “The several things that Minister Yuan said should be banned would force ‘Marxism’ out of China and back to Europe.”

Others on the Internet admonished Yuan for focusing on irrelevant ideological concerns when there are much more pressing issues related to public welfare and education in China—like unaccountability for sexual abuse in schools, and levels of poverty that don’t even allow some to attend school.

“He didn’t speak out when teachers raped students. He remained silent when officials raped students. He remained mum when children couldn’t afford to go to school,” wrote an employee from Bangde College in Shanghai on his Weibo account. “Now he’s talking. He wants to ban Western values from becoming part of the classroom.”

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer