Braudel in Shanghai

There has been a good deal of comment on Chinese history textbook revisions of late. Mao is gone! For foreigners who can only name one Chinese historical figure this must be troubling. The project is supported by Zhu Xueqin, and according to one of the authors of the new textbook they are trying to take a more Braudelian approach, emphasizing social change over politics. According to Zhou Chunsheng,

“History does not belong to emperors or generals,” Mr. Zhou said in an interview. “It belongs to the people. It may take some time for others to accept this, naturally, but a similar process has long been under way in Europe and the United States.” via NYTimes

I have not seen the textbooks, but at least for the pre-modern period it seems like a good change. Memorizing a list of dynasties and events without making any attempt to explain why they matter is bad history teaching, and it seems to be common in China. Dropping the whole revolution is bad, but perhaps better than doing the old revolutionary catechism. Needless to say there has been some controversy. Danwei has a nice summary.

The thing I found most interesting is that almost all the Western commentary claims that it is Chinese textbooks that are being revised. Actually it is just in Shanghai so far. The old narrative of Chinese history stressed class struggle, that the ordinary people of China were being oppressed, mostly by foreigners, but also by fellow Chinese. I like most of Zhu Xueqin’s ideas, but I also suspect that Shanghai authorities like his ideas in part because if anyone is oppressing people in Anhui today it is likely to be people from Shanghai. Emphasizing harmony and unity over the revolutionary power of the exploited masses is probably a good idea, and also fits in well with the interests of the Shanghai elite.


  1. Hope they don’t just drop the Hongwu and Yongle emperors of the Ming dynasty as well.

    They both exerted quite an influence all the way to Yunnan’s border with Burma…mediated by Braudelian forces of geography nonetheless, yet they still exerted a quite personal influence.

    I’ve been writing a paper on this influence and the Ming inter-regnum of 1398-1402 is a very noticeable breaking point in Chinese history. (By the way the index bar on the right of the blog is blocking comments.

    In fact comments are freezing up, acting very strange indeed.

  2. Actually, I sort of do hope they leave out Hongwu and Yongle. Or at least that there a lot fewer emperors in there. I have not done anything like a systematic survey of Chinese textbooks, but those I have seen are usually the old list of disconnected emperors and events to be memorized. There is no –story- in the history, no analysis. Well, in the 19th and 20th centuries you get the imperialism and revolution stories, but that is not much help, at least the way it is done. Not that I envy them their job or think I could do it better, but I think their approach seems to be 1.) toss out the old crap 2.)Publish 3.) Figure out new narrative. I might put 3 before 2, but time pressure and all that.

    Comments are fine for me. You still having trouble?

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