in progress edited by Daniel
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
In 1966, a
decade and a half after the Communist Party of China took power in China,
significant changes began to be implemented in field of education. The Cultural
Revolution, a major political movement that lasted an entire decade, would
constitute the most important educational reform experimented by Chinese people
during the twentieth century.
late 1965, Mao Zhedong, the chairman of the Communist Party of China, felt that
his party was creating a new and privileged elite, which was hindering the
socialist revolution. He was concerned that the socialist principles of the
revolution were threatened by people like Liu Shaoqi, the number one capitalist
roader, and Deng Xiaoping, Liu’s major supporter. Mao accused those sectors of
the party for having capitalist tendencies, bureaucratism, elitism,
inefficiency, and loss of revolutionary enthusiasm.
In 1966, he launched the Cultural Revolution by calling young people in
China to revive the revolutionary spirit.
Proletarian Cultural Revolution began with intense fervor.
Millions of teenagers, organized into brigades of Red Guards, took Mao at
his words: “ Bombard the headquarters!”. Then, Party officials and managers
of factories and communes were dragged from their offices and beaten up, and
revolutionary offices were set up to replace the old: “Destroy poisonous
weeds!”. Intellectuals and 'capitalist-roaders'
were bullied and humiliated publicly,
and sent to work in remote areas to learn from the people. “Sweep away the old
to bring forth the new!”, the Red Guards were told, and museums and libraries
were sacked, temples and historic sites vandalized (Major, 1989).
students, workers, commune members and
people from all walks of life were busy participating in the Cultural
Revolution, almost everything was shut down in the country.
Production declined drastically, and the country became stagnated.
Schools were closed (they would not reopen until 1970 ) so that teachers
and students could concentrate on “destroying the four olds”: old culture,
old ideology, old customs, and old habits.
All forms of the old- -- old textbooks, literature, music, movies, plays,
and Chinese paintings were banned in schools.
There was a revival of interest in Confucian ideas in the early 1960s to
an extent not seen in China since 1949. To
revolutionize the Chinese education system, Mao believed that people would have
to part with their Confucian past. He believed that at that time, education was
dominated by Confucian ideas and did not fit with the goal of building a
socialist country. Confucius was criticized for trying to use education to
restore a slave society that had declined in his times.
Education was believed to be oppressive and discriminatory to the
children of the working class. A key component of the state structure with
considerable impact on social and economic development, the educational sector
became a major target of attacks.
The main educational reforms that took place during the Cultural
Revolution can be summarized as follows:
Policy: The traditional entrance
examination was abolished at all levels of schooling. Students
were chosen for admissions to higher level schools by the revolutionary
committee of their factory, commune, or other place of work.
According to Mao Tse-Tung’s directive, China’s colleges and
universities should enroll students from among the workers, peasants, and
soldiers. This new enrollment policy opened accessibility of previously excluded
sectors, but at the same time it downgraded academic standards and to emphasize
political qualifications in the selection of college students.
of Education: Another reform consisted in shortening the time of schooling at
each level of education. Education
in both the primary schools and secondary schools was cut from six to five
years. In the colleges, the length was cut from four or five years to, in most
cases, three and a half. Mao
believed that students can learn more by work, and not only by reading texts and
attending classroom lectures.
of Education: The education
administered under the stewardship of Liu Shao-ch’i was attacked for having
divorced itself from proletarian politics, production, and practice. Mao’s
prescriptions were that teachers and students at each level should regard
practical activity as the prime focus in education, should orient classroom
study towards social, political, and production needs, and should concentrate
only on those parts of the textbook which have a practical value.
of Schools: The
administration of schools was moved from the hands of bourgeois intellectuals to
committees made up of local workers, soldiers, peasants, and to those students
and teachers who were active members or sympathizers of the Party.
Method and Curriculum: The
classroom ceased to be a stage from which teachers display their vast erudition
to a passive audience. The traditional cramming method was replaced. Instead,
analytical, critical and creative ability were stressed.
Examinations were used primarily to test the effectiveness of the
curriculum, and discussion and criticism were a regular part of the testing
process. New textbooks were written with faculty, students, and workers
participating in the curriculum committees. These were called “democratic
meetings for the discussion of teaching and studying”.
controversies over this radical reform and its impact on Chinese education and
society started in the late sixties and will probably continue throughout the
21rst century. No matter how people looks at it, and from which perspective they undertake their analysis,
there is a general agreement that few educational reforms during the 20th
century were as far-reaching and generated so many changes in such a short
period of time as the 1966-1976 Chinese Cultural Revolution.
H. Chang “The Cultural
Revolution and Chinese Higher Education: Change and Controversy” The Journal
of General Education V26,
Wan “ The Educational
Reforms in the Cultural Revolution in China: A Postmodern Critique” A
paper presented at AERA Annual Meeting held in San Diego, CA in April 13-17,
S. Tien “A
lesson from China: Percy Bysshe Shelley and the Cultural Revolution at Wuhan
Educational Review V45, N2,
Major, J.S. The Land and People of China New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers 1989
Prepared by Jiazhen Chen (OISE/University of Toronto)
Citation: Chen, Jiazhen (2001). 1966: Chinese cultural revolution brings about massive educational change. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available: http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~daniel_schugurensky/assignment1/1966chinarev.html (date accessed).
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