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Liz Carter senior contributor

China’s Propaganda Department Rolls out Recommended Reading List, Parents Reject ‘Brainwashing’ Books

(via Flickr/randomix)
(via Flickr/randomix)

China’s Central Propaganda Department, Ministry of Education, and Central Communist Youth League made waves yesterday when they released a jointly developed a list of 100 books and a list of 100 movies, documentaries, and television shows that they plan to promote heavily among China’s youth. They expounded on the purpose of the list:

To deeply and thoroughly realize the spirit of the Party’s 18th National Congress, to strongly promote the national spirit and the spirit of the age among the youth, and to encourage all youth to fight to realize the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation为深入贯彻落实党的十八大精神,在青少年中大力弘扬民族精神和时代精神,激励广大青少年为实现中华民族伟大复兴中国梦而奋斗.

The first three books listed were Stories of Marx, China Has a Mao Zedong, and Zhou Enlai: the Early Years. Much like the language of the announcement itself, the list is heavy with Communist ideology and nationalism.

A magazine that covers literature in China, iRead, posted the lists on Sina Weibo, an enormously popular microblogging platform. The post was shared over 22,000 times, and drew over 6,000 comments, most calling the lists an attempt to brainwash China’s children.

Kai-fu Lee, the former head of Google in China and a Weibo celebrity with over 49 million followers, tweeted:

I recommended the following children’s books, but they were politely rejected by a certain department: Cinderella, Charlotte’s Web, The Princess Diaries, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Now that I’ve seen this list, I understand why我曾经推荐过下列给孩子看的书单,但是都被某单位婉拒:《灰姑娘》、《夏洛的网》、《公主日记》、《海底两万里》、《基督山恩仇记》。看了下面的书单,我懂了。.

Parents came out strongly against the list. Wrote @寂寞e孤烟, “I most certainly won’t let my child read this stuff. More than 100 of these works and not more than 10 of them are acceptable绝对不要我的孩子看这些东西,一百多部能看的不超过10部. .” Another microblogger stated, “When I have children, I guess I’ll buy books and read to them myself. This brainwashing is too intense以后的小孩还是自己买书给他们看看吧,这个洗脑太厉害了..” Wrote one, “Another round of brainwashing新一轮洗脑.”

Others reacted with humor. “A list of What Not to Read拒读书单,” quipped @水丁当. “I’ll bookmark it收藏起来.” One microblogger posed a query: “When are you sending over the books? Make sure the paper is very soft please!书啥时候送来,纸张要软一点的哦~

The list is a throwback to Mao Zedong’s famous 1942 speech, “Talks at Yan’an,” in which he stated that art and literature should serve the revolutionary cause, to unite and encourage the people to have correct political ideas. In the seventy years since this speech however, Chinese authorities have backed away from these extremes, while Chinese society has replaced revolutionary operas with soap operas, bedtime stories about Communist martyrs with television shows like, “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf.”

Yet even as China has developed, opened up, and shed many of its former trappings, some hardline institutions remain entrenched. With few mechanisms allowing for straightforward feedback, these ideological dinosaurs trudge along, either oblivious to or uncaring of their ever-increasing irrelevancy.

As Weibo user @0marsprince0 surmised, “One look at these comments and you know how the public feels. What a bunch of idiots with their heads in the sand看看评论就知道民心了。一群sb掩耳盗铃。.”

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Liz Carter

Liz Carter is a DC-based China-watcher and the author and translator of a number of Chinese-English textbooks available on amazon.cn. She and her cat Desmond relocated to DC from Beijing, where she studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University, after learning that HBO was planning to adapt Game of Thrones for television. She writes at abigenoughforest.com and tweets from @withoutdoing.
  • AndyLC

    Here’s my recommended list:

    -Doraemon
    -Ghibli movies
    -Saint Seiya
    -Dragon Ball
    -One Piece
    -Naruto

    It will instill in the child strong Confucian values and love of their Asian culture.

    • D800GUY

      and love for japan!