Joseph Mintz

Is China Democratic?

Is Chinese revolutionary culture something for us to celebrate in the West? Xiamong Tian, an Assistant Professor at Xi’an University in Shaanxi Province, has written in the European Journal of Education, published by Wiley, a reputable international publisher, about how the Chinese Communist Party has been implementing its Guidance on Upholding and Observing the Core Socialist Values through their incorporation in to various curriculum standards. This reflects the CCP’s commitment to its twelve core socialist values, expressed as ‘prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity and friendship’. This policy drive was reflected in the publication in 2018 of a curriculum plan and associated curricular standards for twenty high school subjects. One of these, the Curriculum Standard for Thought and Politics, aims to cultivate core socialist values and aiming to help students ‘build up ideological and political correctness, develop the core subject competencies and enhance their social participation by deepening their understanding of Chinese society’. This resonates with the plan which states that ‘the entire curriculum reforms are guided by the core socialist values’ so they ‘become qualified builders and successors of the country’s great socialist cause’.

The article in question presents a perfectly reasonable academic theoretical analysis of the curriculum developments, concluding that these policy developments can be associated with wider international trends whereby ‘large-scale curriculum reforms and policymaking serve as vehicles to legitimize…valid curriculum knowledge for civic and democratic citizenship education, a process achieved through changes in curriculum content and associated teaching practices’.

Well yes. That’s probably true. Governments do that. However, I can’t but help think that it’s a bit different when liberal democracies do it, as compared to authoritarian regimes. Regimes for example that express their commitment to democracy, civility, equality and justice (and the rule of law) by oppressing Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang. To quote from the UK Foreign Office analysis, ‘Evidence grew of widespread and serious violations in Xinjiang against the Uyghur Muslims. The authorities continued to place extensive restrictions on media freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. China’s detention and poor treatment of human rights defenders persisted, as did restrictions preventing civil society from operating freely.’ The US State Department similarly noted that ‘the government had engaged in arbitrary or unlawful killings and detentions, forced disappearances and torture. It also pointed to the lack of an independent judiciary, arbitrary interference with privacy, including what it described as pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; serious restrictions on internet freedom, free expression and the media, including reports of physical attacks on and criminal prosecutions of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents and others, and their family members. The report also covered allegations of forced sterilization and coerced abortions, people trafficking and forced labour, and violence against national, racial and ethnic minority groups.’ The UK Foreign Office further identified that ‘by imposing a national security law on Hong Kong, China was violating Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and threatening directly the rights protected in the joint declaration. The report identified China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators as another breach of the joint declaration.’ – that is the international agreements that China was committed to.

This is all somewhat understated diplomatic language. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is less restrained and notes that approximately one million Uyghurs are arbitrarily imprisoned in detention centers, sometimes just for practicing their religion. There have been reports of torture, sexual violence, forced labour and forced sterilization in these centers. ‘Children whose parents are detained are placed in government-run adoption centers, sometimes far from their homes and families.’ Take a minute to read that last line again and let it sink in. Most detentions occur without any charges being brought and inmates and their families, particularly if abroad, are left in a Kafkaesque limbo.

The Holocaust Museum also notes the sophisticated surveillance technology used to monitor people throughout China, which is linked to its deeply Orwellian social credit system. In Xinjiang, for Uyghurs this is extended as follows:  ‘[In the] Unite as One Family program, the Chinese government has stationed an estimated one million Han Chinese citizens in Uyghur households for mandatory homestays to monitor and report on their activities and ensure that they are conforming to Han Chinese rather than Uyghur cultural practices.’ Again, take a minute to read again and let it sink in.

This is equality. This is justice. This is democracy. This is the rule of law. This is harmony. These are socialist values. This the great socialist cause. In the China of the CCP.

Should the European Journal of Education have thought to make even a brief passing reference to what the values being promoted by the CCP in their curriculum reforms might actually refer to? I leave it to the reader to take a view.

What is clear is that here is a wider trend in left circles, in academia, and in the media, where it is the values of the US and the West that are so often set up as suspect, so that no one can tell the difference between what is right and what is wrong. A trend whereby the West becomes unable to both comprehend the importance of its own values or to stand up for them. It is the same logic that brings people out on the streets to cheer for Hamas, who become, irony of irony, bedfellows with the CCP. Orwell forewarned that given enough leeway the Government would make us believe that 2+2=5. The West seems content to let the CCP make progress in convincing people that  the CCP’s perversion of democracy equals the democracy of Jefferson, Lincoln and Churchill.

About the Author
Joseph Mintz is Associate Professor in Education at UCL Institute of Education. He engages in research on inclusion, special educational needs, teacher education for inclusion and has led research projects funded by government and national agencies. He has written for the Jewish Chronicle, the Algemeiner and Times Higher Education. He regularly presents on issues of inclusion and special education in a range of national and international forums. Follow him @jmintzuclacuk His views are his own and do not reflect those of his employers.
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