2016: CASS World History Institute Director Zhang Shunhong in Party Theoretical Journal Warns of Historical Nihilists in Pay of Capitalists Deny China’s Achievements, Belittling its Leaders

Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping has warned Chinese people about the nature of incorrect ideas spread by certain historians.  In 2013, the article  “Important Thinking of Comrade Xi Jinping on the Study of History and The Practical Guidance We Can Get From it Today” presented some of Secretary Xi’s teachings. (If Xi teaches important thinking does that promote him above the concept level of Hu to the zhongyao sixiang  (important thinking) level of Jiang Zemin? )

As Comrade Xi points out, if we don’t respect the guiding role of Marxism in the teaching of history, China could go down the wrong path again as it did in the 1980s. In the mid 80s there were even people who, taking advantage of the urgent desire of Chinese to modernize rejected all of China’s history and culture and proclaimed that China must moved from the old Chinese “yellow culture” towards the “blue culture” of the West. … After the turn of the century, some scholars reversed earlier verdicts of history, reflecting the influence of “farewell to the revolution” thought. A few years ago, some scholars criticized some of the first generation of China’s revolutionary leaders and sowed some very bad influences among the masses and the young people. [you tell ‘em, Comrade Xi!]

  1. 忽视马克思主义的指导地位,历史虚无主义思潮泛滥,严重影响了历史教育的成效。一些史学工作者在历史研究和教学工作中,由于忽视马克思主义的指导地位,放松了思想政治教育工作,在反思过去历史研究的教训和缺陷的过程中,走上了历史虚无主义的道路。上世纪80年代中期,适应中国人走向现代化的急切心理,有些人对于中国历史文化采取了全盘否定的态度,宣扬所谓的中华“黄色文明”必将走向西方的“蓝色文明”。新世纪初,有的电视剧、历史书籍对原来史学界否定的李鸿章、袁世凯等大肆颂扬,对孙中山为代表的革命者极力贬低,突出地反映了所谓“告别革命”思想的影响。前几年,个别历史学者对毛泽东和党的第一代领导集体大肆污蔑,对中国共产党人在中国革命和建设中的错误随意夸大和渲染,这些都在广大民众和青少年中造成了极其恶劣的影响。


In 2016, Zhang Shunhong of the World History Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was interviewed in the July issue of the Party theoretical journal Seeking Truth [Qiushi] warns right-thinking people against those scholars both inside and outside China who serve certain capitalist interest groups by propagating historical nihilist ideas which deny the achievements of socialist in the Soviet Union and China and belittle China’s leaders. Apparently gives a rationale for going after NGOs and Chinese scholars who work with foreigners. 

Summary of the interview 

Chinese Communist Party ideological journal Qiushi [Seeking Truth] website Interview with Zhang Shunhong [shunhong is an interesting name, might be translated as “obey the Red” — a good socialist name], chair of the World History Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Zhang, who earned his master’s and PhD in the UK, says that historical nihilism can be seen in western interactions with China although not in the political parties of western countries or how they assess their own history. Zhang in the interview said that the historical nihilists who deny the achievements in the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union and in China, especially of China’s opening and reform of the past three decades. This people focus on the dark side, belittling China’s leaders, and ignore China’s principles. We are for socialism and against capitalism. The great renaissance of the Chinese nation can only be achieved through socialism. If we abandon socialist and follow capitalism, China will break up.  Historical nihilism serves capitalist interest groups and includes the mistaken ideological trend of the “new liberalism” and “civil society” thinking aiming to divide the Chinese Communist Party and to replace it.

Zhang warns his readers to be careful, some scholars both within and outside China are being used by capitalist interest groups. Some of them are unwitting, some got some money from these groups and so speak up for them. Media needs to help people become more aware of this problem so that they won’t be used by these groups. 现在国内外的资本势力也在利用我们的一些学者,学者们有时候没有意识到,有时候为了点小钱,为了点稿费和出场费,就为这种势力说话,这一点现在特别明显。我觉得媒体要把这一点写出来,提醒一些人,让他们不要被资本势力、被利益集团所利用——你本人属于工薪阶层,拿了利益集团的一点好处,你就为其说话。这是值得注意、值得反思的。

 More on the Use and Abuse of History in China

John Pomfret’s August 23, 2017 Washington Post article “China’s odious manipulation of history is infecting the West”   discusses Glenn Tiffert’s article “Peering down the memory hole: history, censorship and the digital turn”  on how China is editing its history by purging academic databases and that Western students of China should bear this in mind so as to avoid being deceived.

Understanding history is hard enough without the government insisting on a particular version.  I remember reading James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and seen BBC documentary on a similar theme “British History’s Biggest Fibs” by Dr. Lucy Worsley.  In some of the cases they discussed, the distortion of history was imposed long ago and then carried down to our own day through inertia and a general popular reluctance to think badly of onetime heroes.

Today the Party and government in China insisting on a certain version of the past just as it insists on a certain version of the present through the controlled news media and educational system. There are many examples, some hilarious.

  • When I visited the Chinese Communist Party Central Committees Central Translation Bureau in 2011, a US expert with me pointed to translations of Lenin done in the early 1980s. “The translation from the Russian was changed so Lenin would support Deng Xiaoping Theory”.
  • While China was denying the existence of the H5N1 avian flu virus in China fifteen years ago, an academic article published a few years before discussed H5N1 in blood samples from Chinese peasants. When I looked for that article a few years later in the CNKI database, it was marked “removed for national security reasons”. Details on my blog posting “2005: Avian Flu Cover-up Chronicles”
  • Chinese writers Kong Linping  and Yin Shuping whom I knew in Chengdu both faced persecution for publishing their accounts of 20+ years of false imprisonment all for simply writing their memoirs. Their histories contradicted the official story. Yin had been a well regarded young writer even sent to a Moscow Youth Congress in a delegation that included Hu Yaobang. All the privileges ended and jail came for Yin when he dared stand publicly to defend his friend, the Chengdu poet Liu Shahe  流沙河 accused in 1957 of having anti-communist, rightist thoughts. 
  • One of my favorite China quotes I found in a 1957 translation by the US Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). An official of the State Statistical Bureau was quoted as saying “We must never forget the principle of partisanship in the statistical services!”
  • Chinese fake news and fake history are part of the same enforced narrative.
  • See He Qinglian’s book “Fog of Censorship: Media Control in China” a free PDF online.is a good guide to the control system. http://www.hrichina.org/…/Reports/HRIC-Fog-of-Censorship.pdf


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About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated,with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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