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A campaign to make children as young as 10 study President Xi Jinping’s political philosophy has been labelled by some parents as “disgusting” and evoked memories of Mao Zedong’s personality cult.
More than a dozen parents across the country told the Financial Times they were uncomfortable with the rollout next month of classes on “Xi Jinping Thought”. The eponymous philosophy, which features a mixture of patriotic education and praise for the Chinese Communist party’s general secretary, will become part of the national curriculum from primary school to university next month.
“I really hate the idea of forcing children to study ideology,” said a mother of a 10-year old in eastern Jiangsu province who did not want to be identified. “But I can’t voice my concern in front of my son.”
“This is disgusting,” said a father of a school-aged daughter in central Henan province who also did not want to be identified by name. He hoped his daughter would “forget about everything after she is done with the exam”.
The backlash highlighted the difficulty the party faced in making Xi’s philosophy the nation’s ruling ideology for generations to come.
While the party has enforced teaching Communist ideology in schools for decades, the latest curriculum will be imposed on an unusually young audience. It is also more narrowly focused on the adoration of a single leader, stirring memories of Mao’s decade-long Cultural Revolution, which led to the deaths of millions of people.
Over the past 30 years, Communist doctrine did not feature in Chinese school courses until middle school, with textbooks featuring a wider cast of China’s past leaders.
“China is embracing a cult of personality when diversity and inclusion are gaining ground in other parts of the world,” said Ming Xia, a political science professor at the City University of New York.
Starting from the third grade, students will take one class a week about Xi’s ideas, with the same textbooks used in every province. The course will last a semester and will also apply to high school, college and graduate school students.
According to a circular issued this week by China’s National Textbook Committee Office of the education ministry, primary school students must be aware that “General Secretary Xi guides the whole party and the Chinese people”, while graduate school students should be able to “publicise, interpret and study” his thoughts.
The committee has filled textbooks with pictures of Xi and quotes from his speeches. Wu Yujun, a professor at Beijing Normal University and one of the authors of the third-grade textbook, said students should get to know the president “from a short distance”.
The third-grade textbook tells a story about how Xi’s love for China was fired by a lecture his mother gave him at an early age about a patriotic Song dynasty general.
The fifth-grade textbook portrays Xi, who briefly served as an aide to the defence minister but does not have any military experience, as an “old soldier” who often wore military uniforms as a young man and had a “deep feeling” for the army.
Some teachers have even instructed students to thank Xi for being able to enjoy their favourite hobbies. In a test class on Xi’s philosophy this year, a teacher at a Hangzhou-based school known for its strong football programme told student players that they had benefited from the leader’s “caring”.
Zhang Jiajia, the teacher, said in a televised speech: “I made students aware that Grandpa Xi always accompanies and encourages us.”
Additional reporting by Emma Zhou in Beijing