This week, a new set of learning material arrived at China’s Academy of Governance, the Communist Party’s top institution for civil servants. A volume of 11 textbooks that focus on China’s culture and history will become the national standard and reference for members of the government to know and understand in a bid to standardize Communist Party thinking.
According to the state-run Beijing News, the new textbooks come after a call from senior officials insisting all government employees, especially newer ones, understand “guoxue” or national studies. This includes everything from methods of governance that can be learned from China’s history as well as how to be a person of integrity and how to be at peace with nature. According to financial magazine Caixin, citing Zhang Jian, the books’ deputy editor, all civil servant educational institutions around the country will be required to use the new set of textbooks starting this fall. According to Xu Hongwu, the book's’ chief editor, the effort to instill guoxue in everyone started from the top. Xi reportedly has said that party cadres should use China’s history as a moral compass to help them be more efficient and improve themselves as leaders and representatives of the government.
However, some academics are wary of using Chinese history as a way of paving the way for the future. Qi Fanhua, a professor of public administration at Renmin University in Beijing told Caixin that many of China’s biggest historical leaders teach lessons of attaining power at any cost.
“Power plays are more about the distribution of existing resources, and they put more focus on control and less on development,” Qi said of one of the texts called History as a Mirror. “This is a feature of classic Chinese traditions that conflicts with the ideas of modern state governance.
Qi says some of the lessons from history are impractical to try and apply in modern-day China.
“You cannot use methods from old prosperous dynasties to rule modern society. It does not work that way.”
China has made a concerted effort toward traditional nationalism under Xi Jinping as the central government continues to believe Chinese society is under siege by Western ideals. China’s military newspaper, the People’s Liberation Army Daily, published a report last month claiming that China was engaged in a “hidden war” with the West, calling the Internet an “ideological battlefield” where China was battling “Western hostile forces.”
The introduction of the Internet, even though limited by the massive censorship mechanism of the Great Firewall, has made it possible for the Chinese to open their minds to trends, cultures and ways of thinking that previously wouldn’t have been possible. In response to this, the Chinese military and public security bureau feel the need to expand defense forces from on the ground to online as well, using “seed planters and propaganda teams” to promote Chinese ideals.