Research Notes: Textbooks of the early Communist period

I was fortunate enough to come across some changshi (everyday knowledge) textbooks from the late 1950s at the Shanghai Lexicographical Publishing House. I thus far found two sets of textbooks: one was published in Shanghai and the other in Hong Kong. The one published in Hong Kong was meant for huaqiao in Southeast Asia, and was published by the Commercial Press (still located in Hong Kong), which had to flee to Hong Kong after the civil war. This particular textbook was based off of the new curriculum changshi textbooks from the 1930s (one of the sets I have used in my other postings) though clearly has been edited for content. The changshi textbook that was published in Shanghai by the People's Education publishing house (from what I can fathom from the back cover). In this textbook, much of the old curriculum has been completely overturned, although the themes remain quite similar. A comparison of this two is quite interesting, but unfortunately, incomplete; most textbooks come with either 4 or 8 volumes, and while the huaqiao changshi textbook is complete, I was only able to find one of the four volumes of the Shanghai one. But I will do my best to show some interesting phenomenon seen in these two books.

In the huaqiao changshi textbook, many of the chapters remained the same as the similar version from the 1930s. The importance of waking up early, studying, being respectful to teachers, and staying clean and hygienic remain. There are still chapters on the various systems of the body, on the importance of vaccinations, and the history and geography of China.

The differences, however, reveal much about the kind of identity these textbooks wanted to create. The new curriculum textbooks of the 1930s were meant to give the huaqiao in Southeast Asia the impression that they are also part of China. Thus, there were many chapters on the flags of the GMD, Sun Yat Sen's biography and contribution to the building of a new China, the dangers of imperialism, and the importance of making China strong (one of my favorite chapters in the old textbook included a hierarchy of the world's strongest countries, simply to show what China had to strive for, seen on the right. I was disappointed that America was number 5). In the new textbook, all of these chapters are absent. In the history section, there is mention of Sun Yat Sen, but it is brief. The chapters about the various races of China remained, although edited with Communist information (instead of 5 races, there are now 56, seen below). However, the modern battle for China is largely ignored, and instead is replaced with ancient Chinese history, Chinese geography, chapters on Southeast Asia, and more and more chapters on bugs.

What I think we can take from this is that these textbooks wanted these huaqiao to feel Chinese, but perhaps Chinese in a Hong Kong sense. At this point, Hong Kong had no loyalties to either government, and instead prided itself on being an international section of greater China, committed to the greatness and richness of Chinese culture that developed over 3000 years, but entirely divorced from the battles of the present. This is also made evident through the pictures. One picture that immediately stuck out to me (probably because it seemed so American) was a picture in a chapter about children's day that showed 3 white children, 1 Chinese child, and a black child all holding hands and being happy (seen to the right). The only time in any other textbooks non Chinese people get photos is when there are chapters about the races of the world. This, however, showed a clear commitment to international harmony. Also, the clothes had changed drastically. The skirts were much shorter for women, and qipaos were rare (see morning exercise below). Instead, they almost looked like small American or British children. In a sense, the huaqiao's identity was now in the hands of Hong Kong; aware of China's vast geography and natural resources, aware of it's long history and Confucian culture, but not necessarily a nationalist or communist.

The Shanghai published textbook, however, took a very clear political stance; this shouldn't really surprise anyone since by 1961, when this textbook was published, everything was controlled and created by the Communist party. There are major themes we see in this volume of this textbook. The beginning few chapters are all history of China. The next few chapters are about basic science and elements, such as water, air, metal and steel. After that, the chapters are on physiology and health. Finally, the last few chapters are on astronomy and science, including the rotations of the earth, seasons, and the lunar calendar.

The history section was largely rewritten. The first man ever was actually found outside of Beijing. We then had the Shang dynasty which led to 10,000 years of feudalism, and apparently history was stagnant up until the 1840s when China had a threat from imperialist nations. The communist narrative for history shouldn't surprise us. But all of the information about science was equally politically revealing. There is a chart included in the book of Chinese steel production, seen on the lower right; since this textbook was published right around the time of the Great Leap Forward, steel was currently an important subject. However, there was also important historical ties that were created to steel; not only was it considered most important to our "socialist revolution" but bronze (which was the next chapter) was important culturally and historically in the bronze age. Although the textbook was important to point out that bronze was important for different things today (such as creating electrical wires), I believe this connection to the "bronze age" of Chinese history was meant to show the importance of these materials to Chinese people all throughout history. While the communists eschewed much of what came before them, they still took pride in the long history of their country. Similarly, all of the sections about astrology and science were crucial to a country trying to leap forward in modernity; before the Cultural Revolution, science was considered the most important of all subjects. Health was also important, because as Mao said: "a health body allows us to study and work well."

While it is possible that more ties to the Communist party and nationalism are made in other textbooks, or perhaps other volumes of this textbook, it seems that those ties have already been made quite clear. Instead, changshi has become "everyday knowledge we need to be productive members of the nation." The difference between cows and horses, and fun activities on children's day are no longer important. All of our knowledge comes back to making people working cogs of the communist nation.
These two textbooks create two very interesting discourses of what it means to be Chinese at this point. One is very clearly tied to the communist narrative, while one is very cultural and historical, but completely divorced from politics and more immersed in an international kind of environment. I believe, however, that as I find other textbooks, other narratives will begin to come forth.

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