Deng declared that the “biggest mistake” the Chinese Communist Party had made was “primarily in ideological and political education.” In subsequent circulars, the Chinese Communist Party described China as under siege by enemies out to indoctrinate China’s youth and snuff out Chinese values, culture and faith. The party launched what it called a Patriotic Education Campaign that over the past three decades has imbued its people with a resentful form of nationalism.
In the 1950s, Mao Zedong had stressed that China was a victor in the war against imperialism. But the Patriotic Education Campaign reinterpreted China’s history to portray China as a victim. The whole nation, the party’s Central Committee and the State Council noted in a document from August 1994, must study China’s humiliating history from the Opium War on to grasp the evil intent of what came to be known as “hostile Western forces.” As the Ambassador James Lilley said just after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, “The Chinese need a single boogeyman.” And that boogeyman was the West.
It’s pretty clear who is going to be Trump’s bogeyman as he and his minions set about formulating their very own “Patriotic Education Campaign.” Liberals, to be sure, and, of course, the amorphous antifa. Anyway, the parallels between Trump’s vow to remake how Americans learn their history and China’s campaign to brainwash its citizens to embrace the wisdom of the Chinese Communist Party are depressing.
The parallels don’t stop there.
Trump told a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Saturday that he planned to bankroll America’s Patriotic Education Campaign with a $5 billion donation from Walmart and Oracle, the two U.S. corporations that are in the process of structuring a deal with ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok. So now we have the president roping in U.S. corporations to feed American citizens homegrown propaganda. Sounds more like China everyday.
And there’s more.
Under the deal, TikTok would have to transfer its valuable algorithm to a new company dominated by U.S. investors for TikTok to allay “national security” concerns in the United States. The Trump administration claims that Americans such as my daughters, who make silly videos on the TikTok app, are a gold mine for Chinese espionage. But isn’t this ploy exactly what American companies in China have been whining about for decades: forced technology transfer with national security as an excuse? No wonder Chinese observers, such as Hu Xijin, the editor of the ultranationalist Global Times, predicted Monday that Beijing would scuttle the deal.
Then there’s the attempted ban on WeChat, China’s all-purpose messaging app. I get that WeChat might present some limited national security issues to those who use it. I understand that WeChat’s censorship of news in the United States constitutes the export of Communist Chinese values onto U.S. shores. But is banning WeChat the solution? Again, the move seems to have more to do with punishing China for blocking WeChat’s American equivalents, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, than anything else. So instead of a more creative American workaround, it appears that Trump has taken a page from the Chinese playbook: “You go low, we’ll go lower.” In other words, as my 11-year-old asked the other day, “Does Trump want to make America more like China?”
Trump might want to think twice about embracing China’s tactics. In my view, China’s Patriotic Education Campaign wasn’t particularly successful. Children went through the motions at school more or less, as did their teachers. A major boon to Chinese patriotism has been something else: Donald Trump. The more he has acted like a Chinese leader in embracing Communist Party tactics of ginning up hatred and isolating foes, the more China’s people have embraced the Chinese Communist Party.
Trump’s woeful handling of the coronavirus in the United States has also boosted the popularity of the Chinese government. China’s news media is full of facts these days. And they’re simple ones. Covid-19 cases keep climbing by the tens of thousands in the United States; in China they remain very low.
No need for patriotic education here.