As the novel coronavirus outbreak originating in Wuhan, China appears to be under control within the nation, Chinese schools are opening their doors to students once more.
This time, President Xi Jinping seems to believe, is the perfect opportunity for the communist nation’s schools to instill “patriotism and ideological purity in the education system,” Reuters reports, with a nationwide “book-cleansing” drive to purge politically incorrect reading material from school shelves.
A directive from the Ministry of Education last October called on elementary and middle schools to clear out books from their libraries including “illegal” and “inappropriate” works. Now teachers have removed books from schools in at least 30 of mainland China’s 33 provinces and municipalities, according to a Reuters review of social media posts, publicly available school and local government documents, and interviews with teachers.
From western Gansu province to Shanghai, the review of publicly announced measures pointed to books being cleared by the hundreds of thousands.
Censorship in China has been intensifying under Xi, but analysts say this is the first national campaign aimed at libraries in decades. It comes as government employees in Hong Kong last week removed books by pro-democracy activists from public libraries to see whether they violate a new national security law.
“This is the first movement targeted at libraries since the Cultural Revolution,” Wu Qiang, a political analyst based in Beijing and former political science lecturer at Tsinghua University, told the outlet. Qiang refers to teenage Maoist zealots of the 1960s who targeted libraries and burned innumerable books as part of Mao Zedong’s anti-tradition Cultural Revolution.
Xi’s campaign, however, is more selective and directed from the top, Reuters goes on, with groups of teachers put in charge of interpreting the order and removing the books.
Although the ministry directive did not list offending titles specifically to be targeted, it called for the removal of any books “that damage the unity of the country, sovereignty or its territory; books that upset society’s order and damage societal stability; books that violate the Party’s guidelines and policies, smear or defame the Party, the country’s leaders and heroes.”
Offending books are “not in line with the socialist core values; that have deviant world views, life views and values,” as well as books “promoting religious doctrines and canons; promoting narrow nationalism and racism.”
One middle-school teacher in a rural area told Reuters that their school had removed traditional comic-like picture books called lianhuanhua, or “linked images,” popular in China until the 1990s. They also removed books about Christianity and Buddhism, as well as copies of “Animal Farm” and “1984,” George Orwell’s anti-authoritarian classics which Reuters says have been available in China for decades.
The teacher, who requested to remain anonymous, said a small group of school staff was led by their librarian in an “after-hours operation” to inspect and remove the books back in April.
Each night in sessions of up to five or six hours over seven days, they flicked through thousands of titles, selected about 100 that met guidelines issued by the local government and removed them, filling in a form to report their actions.
“Of course, these books, the students don’t really look at them anyway,” the teacher said. “So if we had to get rid of some, we would start with this.”
Some schools and counties have taken to Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social platform that is subject to CCP censorship, to showcase the book-cleansing program.
“Book inspection and clean-up is meticulous but tedious work, shouldering the heavy responsibility of watering the flowers of the motherland,” reads a Weibo post in May by Xianlai school in Jiangxi province, above a picture of a woman in a floral dress sorting books on a shelf, Reuters goes on. “Our school has taken concrete action to cultivate a virtuous youth, and has raised the quality of our library books one step further.”
While the fate of the banned books is unsure, the teachers told Reuters that, for now, they have been sealed up and put into local storage.
They are being replaced, Reuters concludes, with new books from a 422-page list published in the directive by the Ministry of Education, including works such as “The Communist Manifesto and The New Era,” the poems of Mao Zedong, and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
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