Republican curricula in the US and China

Gina Russo at Frog In A Well has an interesting post drawing a tentative parallel between US conservative groups that advocate “the teaching of Western culture and a triumphal interpretation of American history” (in the Times‘ summation) and Republican era Chinese textbooks that included instruction on how to be a “good citizen” (好公民).

My sense is both phenomena are interesting, but as Gina points out they may not have much to do with each other. On the US side, I’m more concerned with a “triumphal interpretation” of US history (whose triumph is it?) than I am with the teaching of Greek philosophers and European political theorists. That’s mostly because you can teach these thinkers alongside more recent theorists without damaging anyone. However, if in the example of the history of the North American west courses had to preclude Patricia Limerick’s Legacy of Conquest in favor of Frederick Jackson Turner (in pursuit of triumphalism), then students would miss out.

Since I’m presently studying in various ways both the question of “civil society” in China and the formation of a sense of nation in early 20th century China, these textbooks are equally interesting. The behavioral aspects, such as lessons on proper posture and how to stand quietly in line, are especially interesting given the preponderance of civility-promoting (usually 文明 or “civilization” was the watchword) advertising campaigns in Beijing during the year leading up to the Olympics. While I heard little about the “no spitting” regulations that received so much attention in the US press, subway passages frequently featured signs encouraging people to stand, civilized, in line.

A key difference between these two examples might be this: US conservatives seem dissatisfied with changes in their country as articulated by changes in ideology among some academics, whereas some aspects of the Chinese campaigns seem directed against the state of affairs in China in favor of a perceived civilized other. I am not in a position to make that argument regarding the Republican era, but in the contemporary example at least part of the impetus for these campaigns was clearly the desire to make a good impression during the Olympics.

1 thought on “Republican curricula in the US and China

  1. Gina R

    I like your ending thought, as the connection of the “ideal citizen” is a somewhat thin one. As for the Republican era, I believe it is a similar concept. A lot of the teaching manuals explain to teachers that they must teach children this “civilized” behavior as a way to be modern citizens, and one of these textbooks included a photo of a ranked map of the world, the US was number 5 and China was not yet ranked. Also, the connection between hygiene and world status, in a Social Darwinism sense, was pretty clearly made; the term Social Darwinism was never explicitly stated, but implied through “strong countries” and “weak countries” and their 地位(status).
    The current platform, by the way, is not exclusive to Beijing; perhaps because of the expo, the “please get on the subway in a civilized 文明 way” signs line the Shanghai subway as well.

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