So, on Friday, May 27, the People’s Education Edition of forth grade textbooks set the internet ablaze. Seriously, despite everything else that was going on in the country–bank failures and Covid-crazy, rumors of upper level infighting and a tanking economy–the entire country was united in outrage over textbook illustrations. And frankly, the disgust is understandable. It’s as if some cynical artist whose work deconstructs authoritarian childhood was asked to draw the illustrations for books aimed at ten-year olds. There’s a whole level of critique going on that may not be accessible to children, even as their parents moan about aesthetic standards. “Ugly, ugly, ugly,” the crowd screams. And from where I sit that seems to be the point of the images. Just not the place? Or audience?
Anyway, between the sexualization of school children, leg tats, and a misplaced love of the stars and stripes (and yes the kid wearing the US American flag is cuter than the young pioneer above), its clear more than education was at stake in publication, begging the question: are these illustrations an accurate representation of education in accordance with Xi Jinping Thought? And perhaps more to the point of the inevitable blame game: how could images which could probably not be shown in a museum exhibition get green-lit for elementary school textbooks?
And if you’re wondering what the alternative is, it’s socialist realism–wholesome and shiny.