China’s war on Western culture : Xi’s book-cleansing ‘has echoes of Chairman Mao’ – expert

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Professor Steve Tsang, Director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), was speaking after details emerged of the ongoing crackdown, whereby books deemed political incorrect are removed from the shelves of shops and libraries in mainland China – with some even being burned. Prof Tsang told it was reasonable to believe the former British colony would be similarly targeted, especially after the controversial introduction of new security laws.

Books by Hong Kong’s dissidents or are deemed ‘subversive’ under the new Security Law have already been removed from HK’s public libraries

Professor Steve Tsang

“Books by Hong Kong’s dissidents or are deemed ‘subversive’ under the new Security Law have already been removed from HK’s public libraries.

“I do not know if schools have also removed them already but would be surprised if they will not be removed, if they should be in school libraries.”

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.

The news was not particularly surprising, Prof Tsang said, explaining: “Xi Jinping banned Western concepts like constitutionalism, civil society, universal values and such like back in 2013.

“Just Google ‘Document 9’ or ‘Document 9 of 2013’ and you will find the full list of concepts being banned in China.”

The Cultural Revolution is the term for a movement led by Mao Zedong, chairman of the Communist Party of China and the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, in the 1960s and 1970s.

The stated aim was to purge Chinese Communism of capitalism, while imposing Maoism as the dominant ideology.

Prof Tsang acknowledged the parallels with the present day – although he also stressed such tendencies stretched considerably further back.

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He explained: “There are echoes of 1960s – but also of the the First Emperor of China, who was infamous for burning books and burying alive Confucian scholars.”

Wu Qiang, a political analyst based in Beijing and former political science lecturer at Tsinghua University, also saw similarities, saying: “This is the first movement targeted at libraries since the Cultural Revolution.”

The ministry directive did not list titles, but said illegal books were those “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”.

Inappropriate books are “not in line with the socialist core values; that have deviant world views, life views and values” or are books “promoting religious doctrines and canons; promoting narrow nationalism and racism”.

Xi, who came to power in 2012, has spearheaded a campaign to strengthen the Communist Party and reaffirm its ideology.

In 2013, the Party issued a directive known as Document No. 9 – referred to by Prof Tsang – naming seven ideological perils from the West which were endangering Chinese society, including terms such as “universal values”, “constitutionalism”, “civil society”, and “democratic politics”.

The western province of Gansu was among the first to remove offending material.

In December, a picture of two women burning books in front of a library in Zhenyuan, a small Gansu county, went viral online.

The book-burning attracted public criticism on Weibo, China’s most popular social media channel.

Concerns about a Hong Kong book crackdown are understandable given a report in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, describing its education system as “poisoned”.

State media has run numerous editorials in recent months attacking the city’s tradition of civic education.

Sun Peidong, a professor with Shanghai’s Fudan University, said the Party blamed the protests on “the lack of patriotic education in Hong Kong”.

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