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Shadow of Xi Jinping’s ‘Four Histories’ Narrative Darkens First U.S.-China Bilateral Talks

This CCP marginalized and subjugated China’s ethnic minorities by rewriting history, providing the basis for curbing fundamental religious and cultural freedoms, and economic rights and opportunities.

Dr. Monika Chansoria

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FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the National Day reception on the eve of the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in Beijing, China September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

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The Sino-U.S. strategic dialogue in Anchorage, Alaska became a rare undiplomatically verbal sparring match, to say the least. China, represented by its senior foreign policy official and Politburo member, Yang Jiechi, and foreign minister Wang Yi, spared little when they sermonically served a prolonged monologue on “history” to their American counterparts. 

While Yang emphasized that “… history will prove that it is oneself who suffers in the end if a hard-headed strategy is used with China,” Wang Yi chose to counsel that “… there is no way to strangle China… Our history will show that one can only cause damages to himself if he wants to strangle or suppress the Chinese people.”

Yang and Wang’s references implicitly bring to light the CCP’s enduring legacy, which continues vending distortion of facts, in its attempt to rewrite a history that favors the CCP’s narrative. This article seeks to shed light on the CCP’s focus of “creating” a Han-exclusive vision, using history as a tool as it moves from the current centennial year of the Party to the second centenary goal of 2035, when “China will surely achieve basic modernization,” according to Yang.

With the Communist Party in its centenary year (1921-2021), China is pushing for the implementation of the “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” with all strenuousness. “Sinification” of policies and programs especially in the realm of education in China are all-pervasive. The same sinification is being extended by means of revising the regulations at primary-level Party organizations in higher education institutions, with a pronounced emphasis on strengthening and improving “Party-building” in colleges and universities. 

China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea were rejected by a tribunal in The Hague, just one example of its revisionist expansionism.

Xi Jinping’s Four Histories

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has been known to push for enhancing ideological and political work in these institutions. Most prominent among this ‘education campaign’ is education pertaining to the Party’s history.

While the world was grappling with the COVID–19 induced pandemic that originated and spread globally from Wuhan in China, the CCP was launching its new ideological campaign in July 2020, requiring Party members and students of China’s colleges and schools to study the Four Histories. Those are the history of the CCP, of new China, of reform and opening up, and of socialist development. 

The Four Histories Campaign was highlighted in the August 2020 edition of the China Education Daily with Lu Yanqin, Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee of Zhejiang, Jiaxing University, describing the “red gene” as the “life code of the Chinese Communists”.

The sheer numbers of ideological education campaigns launched across China supplemented by an official state-controlled media onslaught is a demonstration of the contemporary version of Modified Communism in China, one in which, Xi Jinping declares through his 16-character dictum, “The Government, the Military, Society and Schools, North, South, East and West — the Party leads them all.”

FILE PHOTO: A Chinese police officer takes his position by the road near what is officially called a vocational education centre in Yining in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

Long Roots of Revision Found in China’s Textbooks

The traces of the historical connection between the Communist Party of China and education go back to when the communists assumed power in China in 1949. The foundational educational tasks were those of training personnel needed to carry on the work of the political organization. This went on to become a defining benchmark for all future reference in that thereafter – Communist China made no substantial distinction between education, propaganda and/or indoctrination. 

As part of their educational program, millions of CCP cadres were intensively trained in characteristic communist education – a system in which the role and position of workers and peasants was endorsed, and intellectuals chastised, given that they were considered products of the bourgeois ideology.

One notable feature was the discourse of ethnicity in China’s history textbooks for senior high schools, published particularly between 1951 and 1956. These textbooks outlandishly exhibited a Han-exclusive vision of Chinese history. In the immediate period following recognition of Communist China in 1949, the representation of non-Han people in Chinese textbooks on pre-modern Chinese history is noticeably absent.

The history textbook published in 1951 by the People’s Education Press (Renmin Jiaoyu chubanshe) in Beijing was symbolic of China’s mainstream history writing and among the most extensively read and quoted historical texts. During the early 1950s, recorded Chinese history of the Han people referred to non-Han people (non-Chinese) as foreigners (yizu or waizu). As a result, the text managed to create a clear dichotomy between the Han population (known earlier as Hua) and other ethnic groups in China – with the latter depicted in an exceptionally damaging and negative light.

Non-Han populations were called ‘backward nomads’ who led a morally inferior and retrograde life. Han people (Hanren) or Chinese people (Zhongguoren) were fungible terms that could be used interchangeably. 

This primarily implied that China (Zhongguo) and its history and culture were exclusive for the Han, creating an obvious dissimilarity between “us and them”. The 1951 history textbook further suggested that China became a unified nation-state of the Han people by the time of the Qin dynasty, which was credited with the establishment of a “mono-ethnic” nation-state (minzu guojia).

Tibetan flags mark the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising in Lhasa, during a protest march in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

CCP Defines non-Han as non-Chinese

The subsequent history textbook of 1956 was the first to be completely published under the new Communist regime. This textbook continued to label the non-Han people as non-Chinese. Another remaining constant was that the most prominent ethnic groups, namely, the Tibetans and the Uyghurs, among others, were continued to be treated as “outsiders” in 1956, as they were in 1951. 

This CCP treatment of non-Han placed the marginalization and subjugation of China’s ethnic minorities in the contemporary perspective. Today it is extended to the curbing of basic and fundamental religious and cultural freedom and practices, and economic rights and opportunities.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the initiative to discuss his country’s deep concerns over actions by China in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, his effort fell on deaf ears. It is well established that historiographical writing in China has been dominated by ethnic Han-exclusive narratives, and these have fundamentally shaped the suppression, despair and relegation of non-Han Tibetans, Uyghurs and other minorities inside China.

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Author: Dr. Monika Chansoria

Dr. Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of The Japan Institute of International Affairs or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweets @MonikaChansoria.  Find other articles by Dr. Chansoria here on JAPAN Forward.

Dr. Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. Previously, she has held appointments at the Sandia National Laboratories (U.S.), Hokkaido University (Sapporo, Japan) and as Associate Director of Studies at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (Paris). She specializes in contemporary Asian security and weapons’ proliferation issues, nuclear strategy, and, Great Power politics and strategy in the Indo-Pacific. Dr. Chansoria has authored five books on Asia’s security affairs, including “China, Japan and Senkaku Islands: Conflict in the East China Sea Amid an American Shadow” (Routledge © 2018) and “Nuclear China: A Veiled Secret” (2014) among others. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of The Japan Institute of International Affairs or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweets @MonikaChansoria