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Chinese students taught the worst about U.S.
STANFORD -- The U.S. public has heard much in recent years about what American schoolchildren do or do not learn about the world.
But what does the world learn about us?
How about that the Jonestown massacre is a typical example of the "moral bankruptcy" of America? Or that, as a teacher's text states, "the monopolistic bourgeois, without precedence, strengthens its reactionary national apparatus so as to carry out openly its horrible, autocratic, fascist rule"?
Those are among the attitudes about the United States taught to Chinese high school students. Stanford University researcher Richard Gross, a professor of education, recently studied China's official history, geography and social science textbooks, from the earliest grades through high school.
His findings represent one of the very few systematic efforts to examine how America is portrayed in overseas schools. They are published as a working paper in the Hoover Institution's Hanna Collection on the Role of Education, titled What Chinese Children and Youth are Learning About the United States.
He found that texts for younger children were comparatively fair. In describing the Revolutionary War, a text for earlier years even "begins to sound like a nationalistic volume of United States history," he said.
But by high school, Gross wrote, the Chinese authorities apparently assume that students, "need to be prepared to accept Communist Party views." He chronicles high school texts' portrayals of the United States - many exaggerated, some absurd, some ill-informed and some disturbing.
In a text titled High School Political Economics, the first reference to the United States is about Virginia siblings who dig up their father's corpse to knock out his teeth, which supposedly were engraved with a secret bank account number. The text concludes, "Wasn't this news story a vivid, true picture of the materialistic interpersonal relationships which exist in U.S. capitalistic society?"
Gross found emphasis on the division between the "haves" and "have-nots," the profits of big business and racism.
"Many criticisms of the U.S. are in order," he said. "Some of the unfortunate things they cite - homeless people, crime - tend to be presented as much more universal than they are in the West. They are billed as typical."
For example, one text says: "Gambling is also prevalent in the capitalist world, causing many people to go broke and resulting in numerous broken families and broken hearts. Some losers even pawn their wives or commit suicide to end their lives."
According to Gross, "More important than the errors are the gaps - the things that aren't mentioned at all."
For example, the role of the United States during World War II in defeating Japan - the country that had invaded China - received "minimal treatment."
In perhaps the most blatant example of nationalism, High School Political Economics concludes: "The Western world is not a 'heaven,' neither is the United States a land of 'hope and opportunity.' In the final analysis, socialism is a better social system than capitalism, and the socialist new China is the most lovable place to live on the earth!"
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