“Yesterday I met a Japanese who has lived in China for 13 years, almost a China Hand [i.e. one possessing a deep understanding of China]. He built ten elementary schools in poor mountainous areas in China, but when he visited the kids, some picked up little rocks and threw at him, yelling ‘Get out of China you Japs.’” Posted on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter on April 10, this tweet went viral and has attracted more than 20,000 comments and almost 50,000 reposts in just two days.
While the majority of comments advocated for rationality and expressed sorrow about the misleading education these students have apparently received, some still applauded the students’ actions. Though it is not hard to understand Chinese society’s long-standing anger towards Japan in light of the latter’s atrocities during the Sino-Japanese war, the hatred generated in young children moved beyond the usual talking points, and stirred discussion of the “brain-washing” in contemporary Chinese education.
User @注文书: wrote that the oft-cited phrase “Never Forget National Humiliation” (勿忘国耻) is “to realize our weakness and work harder, rather than indulging in hatred and failing to move forward. But maybe only a few teachers have taught this.” @西小瓜咳咳 commented: “Very sad, but please don’t lose patience and don’t give up hope. To rebuild an idea — especially when it goes against another idea that was created by the most powerful organization in the world and has been disseminated for 60 years — it’s a huge disparity comparing to an individual’s 13-year efforts. Good words should be repeated every day, continuously, non-stop … [one day they] will surely be effective.”
The troubling anecdote of the Japanese man’s treatment is not an isolated case. In fact, in a search of Sina Weibo, posts showing that Chinese children still regard Japan as an enemy popped up frequently. For example, in a grammar correction practice asking the student to spot an incorrect sentence structure, one student erroneously thought the mistaken phrase was “warmly welcome the Japanese visitors,” and wrote in what the student evidently felt was the correct answer: “beat them hard.”
Commingling education with hatred training has been a frequently-used strategy throughout history. It can be temporarily useful as a tool to create patriotism and national unity by positioning foreign countries as the enemy. But that same training can also make quick victims of China’s own citizens, as happened en masse during China’s brutally internecine Cultural Revolution. Qian Liqun, a professor of Chinese contemporary culture, has been quoted as saying:
The Cultural Revolution’s poison is mainly through its creation of hatred between individuals, inciting within human beings the animal inclination to kill. On one hand there was ideological education, which trained all young people to become Quixotic extremists; on the other hand, education in class-based hatred transformed the youth into fanatical soldiers of “class struggle.”
More broadly, without independent media and free expression to combat it, the orientation of Chinese education remains a slave to certain ideologies, and “hatred education” (仇恨教育) is only one of them. Even positive themes like new President Xi Jinping’s oft-repeated “China Dream” can assume a sickly hue when associated with enforced education. On the same day as the troubling post about the Japanese school-builder appeared, another post by Liu Yunshan, the former Director of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, read:
“The ‘China Dream’ should get into students’ heads; [I ask] that the education in the propaganda of the China Dream should be integrated into education of all kinds and at all levels.” That post also drew netizens’ attention. As one user commented: “The ‘China Dream’ is that education should be guidance, not brain-washing.”