Civics lessons, Xinjiang style


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Students at an elementary school in Urumchi, Xinjiang, have been given the task of memorizing the names of local and national officials.

In mid-March, a netizen using the name “Hao Ge” posted a short opinion piece, “What’s the point of having elementary students memorize leaders’ names?” to TianshanNet, a portal run by the Autonomous Region’s Publicity Department. The piece sparked a debate online over whether students really needed to learn the names of local party leadership, and where the school’s real motives may lie.

Hao Ge led off his article with the entreaty: “Don’t turn our kids into tools for kissing ass!”

I refuse to believe that the city’s party secretary issued the order for students to memorize the names of the party committee members. This is a classic example of a particular government agency’s creative attempt to flatter its leaders.

But they’ve got diplomas in that agency, so they ought to be able to flatter with a little bit more class. This crude, they’ll end up smearing the leadership’s reputation rather than achieving their ass-kissing aims.

China Youth Daily picked up the story in an April 2 article titled “Should students have to memorize leaders’ names?” that reported some of the different reactions students and their parents have had:

On March 27, this reporter spoke to several second grade students outside the gate of #12 Elementary School. They said that in order to get them to remember some of the leaders’ names, their teachers had given them a sheet of paper covered in names to recite. But this was usually done between classes or during the lunch break.

One girl said that the leaders’ names weren’t as interesting as the lesson material, making them difficult to remember. Two sixth-grade students volunteered this information: “We were memorizing leaders’ names just last week. And not just the name of the Urumchi party secretary, either. The teacher also had us learn the names of the president, the premier, the mayor of Urumchi, the city’s party leadership, the school principal, the dean of faculty, and the homeroom teachers.”

Reaction was divided among parents waiting outside the school gates. Some of them disapproved of the school’s methods: Our children are at school to learn, and remembering leaders’ names is not really all that useful. Most of us don’t even know the names of some of them. It’s just for show, and it’s yet another burden on the kids. Even if they are able to remember the names, what good is it?

A parent surnamed Wang said that the school’s motives were probably pragmatic: it wanted to look good and use the children’s memorization improve its relationship with the leadership.

Other parents were more tolerant and understanding: “So you memorize some names. It’s not a bad thing. Knowing the names of the leaders is better than not knowing them.”

“In today’s world, if you rule out having students learn the names of their leaders, how will they begin to understand politics?” asked a parent surnamed Li. It’s indefensible for students to grow up without even learning the names of national leaders, or the name of the mayor of the city in which they live.

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