The CCP’s Renewed Focus on Ideological Indoctrination, Part 1: The 2019 Guidelines for “Patriotic Education”

Image: Students from a primary school in Huaying City (Sichuan Province) engage in a “patriotic education” activity, climbing a local hill to reenact the Red Army’s “Long March” of 1934-1935 (undated photo). (Source: Xinhua)

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part briefing series that will address new directives issued in November 2019 by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the field of ideological “education.” This first part examines a new set of directives for intensified “patriotic education,” which is intended to indoctrinate Chinese youth—as well as Chinese society as a whole—with loyalty to the ruling Party. The second part, to appear in our next issue, will examine a new five-year plan recently unveiled by the CCP for ideological training among its own cadres.

Introduction: The Hong Kong Crisis and Beijing’s Renewed Calls for “Patriotic Education”

Per the official narratives of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the unrest that has roiled the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) throughout 2019 has resulted from a range of causes: these include economic factors such as income inequality and the lack of affordable housing (China Daily, September 9), as well as the alleged sinister influence of foreign forces (China Brief, September 6). However, one of the strongest and most consistent themes promoted by CCP sources is that the youth of Hong Kong lack a proper political consciousness and sense of identity (SCMP, March 4). As stated in an early November op-ed in the state-run China Daily, “The wish for Western-style liberal democracy is a malignant virus that infects places with weakened ideological immune systems… Without addressing this weakness, Hong Kong will face similar, perhaps even worse, problems in the future.” As a result of this, the “most important responsibility” of the city administration is “raising the moral standards of its citizens”—and therefore, “Hong Kong should find a way to improve the patriotic education of its residents” (China Daily, November 6).

Such narratives are nothing new: in 2012 efforts to implement pro-Beijing curricula were a source of controversy and protests in Hong Kong (BBC, September 8, 2012), and in 2017 the central government revived its calls for stricter education controls in Hong Kong in the wake of youth unrest (VOA, July 2, 2017). However, this narrative has grown stronger throughout the second half of 2019, as both People’s Republic of China (PRC) officials and state-controlled media have criticized the “liberal studies” curriculum of Hong Kong schools, as well as a mindset allegedly corrupted by the legacies of British colonial rule (China Daily, September 2; China Daily, September 3). Official statements emerging from the CCP Central Committee fourth plenary session in October indicated that Beijing’s leaders had determined that the nearer-term solutions to Hong Kong’s problems lay in tighter central government control, and implementation of a new national security law; and that the longer-term solutions would be found in closer economic integration of Hong Kong with the mainland, and a more “patriotic” curriculum in the school system (SCMP, November 1).

Image: Police and student protesters confront one another across improvised barricades on the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, November 12. (Source: Hong Kong Free Press) PRC authorities have blamed such unrest in part on the lack of “patriotic education” for Hong Kong youth.

Programs for the Ideological Conditioning of Chinese Youth

The Hong Kong crisis and Beijing’s response have raised anew the issue of pro-Communist ideological indoctrination for youth, but the contemporary origins of “patriotic education” (爱国主义教育, aiguo zhuyi jiaoyu) in the PRC date back more than a quarter century. In regions of China subject to the full authority of the CCP, programs for patriotic education—also referred to as programs for “building socialist spiritual civilization” (社会主义精神文明建设, shehuizhuyi jingshen wenming jianshe)—were implemented in the 1990s, as the CCP sought to rebuild its tattered post-Tiananmen legacy and control the narratives surrounding its role as China’s sole source of political authority. [1] The first major policy initiative was issued in 1994, when the CCP Central Committee issued national guidelines for patriotic education—to include content such as the party’s official interpretations of Chinese history, “the achievements of the country’s socialist modernization,” and the principles of “socialist democracy” (China Daily, October 2, 2017).

This nationwide program has been maintained ever since, and CCP efforts at public indoctrination have been still further reinforced within the Neo-Maoist ideological revival promoted since Xi Jinping’s ascension to power (Journal of Democracy, July 2016; China Brief, March 5, 2018). This is particularly true in regards to programs aimed at young people, as observed earlier this year in the tight state control over activities commemorating the 100th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement (China Brief, June 4); and the announcement of an ambitious plan by the Communist Youth League to recruit up to one million urban youths for terms of service in rural areas (China Brief, April 24). Teachers have also been targeted for an ideological crackdown this year, as seen in directives issued by the Beijing City Education Committee to root out “violations of virtuous behavior” among high school teachers, to include “words or deeds harmful to the authority of the Party central authorities [or] the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, [or which] go against the policies of the Party line.” [2]

Following a September 24 Politburo meeting convened to discuss a new draft document on patriotic education, PRC state media signaled intent for such initiatives to be further reinforced. Per these accounts, the Politburo concurred that “[we must] persist in the guidance of Xi Jinping’s thought… [and] persist in the party’s theoretical education and party spirit education as the main subjects,” and that patriotic education was necessary to “arouse all the people to love the party, love the country, and love socialism with great enthusiasm” (CCP Central Party School, September 24).

The 2019 Guidelines for “Patriotic Education”

The official document was released on November 12, when the CCP Central Committee and the PRC State Council jointly issued the “Implementation Guidelines for Patriotic Education in the New Era” (新时代爱国主义教育实施纲要, Xin Shidai Aiguo Zhuyi Jiaoyu Shishi Gangyao) (hereafter “Guidelines”). [3] The 2019 plan contains little that is new in terms of thematic content, but it is striking in two respects: the extent to which it doubles down on hardline Communist ideology, and the scope of its ambitions to intensify ideological indoctrination throughout Chinese society.

The expanded program is to operate under national guidance, but with decentralized planning and implementation to be managed by regional CCP committees and propaganda departments (宣传部, xuanchuan bu). Per the Guidelines, the program will operate under “the unified leadership of party committees, with party and state exercising joint management; propaganda departments will plan and coordinate; relevant departments will each be responsible for their work patterns, establishing patriotic education joint conference systems [for] work guidance and communication coordination” (Guidelines, art. 32). Additionally, subordinate bodies of the CCP United Front Work Department (统一战线部, Tongyi Zhanxian Bu) are expected to play a prominent role in mass implementation (see further below).

Loyalty to the Party as the Core Element of Patriotism

The document contains limited text about encouraging respect among young people for China’s traditional history and culture (Guidelines, art. 12). However, such mentions are dwarfed by the plan’s heavy-handed and repeated insistence on the need to build loyalty to the ruling Communist Party as “the most steadfast advocate and practitioner of patriotic spirit” (Guidelines, preamble). The plan’s first listed “general requirement” is fidelity to Marxist-Leninist ideology, and the succession of official CCP ideological theories from Mao Zedong to the present (Guidelines, art. 1). The plan also declares that “the intrinsic nature of patriotism is to persist in the thorough integration of ‘loving the party, loving the country, loving socialism'”—and that patriotic education must make clear that “the destiny of the motherland and the destiny of the party… cannot be separated” (Guidelines, art. 3). The plan also reiterates the need to “resolutely struggle against historical nihilism” (历史虚无主义, lishi xuwu zhuyi)—a coded term for any criticism of the CCP’s own history or its tenure in power since 1949 (Guidelines, art. 11 and 12).

The plan also unabashedly promotes the personality cult around CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping, and repeatedly invokes official theories attributed to Xi. Of these, the most prominent is “’Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想, Xi Jinping Xin Shidai Zhongguo Tese Shehui Zhuyi Sixiang) (Guidelines, preamble, art. 1, art. 7). Per the plan, Chairman Xi’s ideology must be made “to enter enterprises, enter villages, enter institutions, enter campuses, enter communities, enter barracks, [and] enter the internet” (Guidelines, art. 7).

Patriotic Education Will Focus on Youth…

The Guidelines indicate that “Youth will be the top priority for patriotic education, with a patriotic spirit running through the entire course of school education, promoting patriotic education to enter the classroom, enter teaching materials, and enter minds” (Guidelines, art. 15). This will include ideology and political theory classes (Guidelines, art. 16), but the effort is to be much broader: “patriotic education content should merge into language, ethics and law, history, and other subject teaching materials,” so that the entire curriculum will be suffused with “patriotic” content (Guidelines, art. 15).

School curriculum content is to work in tandem with extra-curricular activities, to include: visits to museums and “martyrdom commemoration sites” (烈士纪念设施, lieshi jinian sheshi) where the CCP version of history is portrayed; military training; winter and summer camps for students; and “Study Lei Feng Volunteer Service” programs (学雷锋志愿服务, Xue Lei Feng Zhiyuan Fuwu) (Guidelines, art. 18). The ultimate aim of such programs is to produce future generations so thoroughly indoctrinated that they will “inherit red genes” (传承红色基因, chuancheng hongse jiyin) of loyalty to the CCP (Guidelines, art. 11).

Image: Middle school students from Nanning City (Guangxi Province) view a museum exhibit as part of a program of “patriotic revolutionary traditions education and ideals conviction education” (爱国主义革命传统教育和理想信念教育, aiguo zhuyi geming chuantong jiaoyu he lixiang xinnian jiaoyu), March 2019. (Source: Nanning Wenming Wang)

…But Must Be Spread Throughout All of Chinese Society

Although young people are its core focus, the Guidelines assert that “patriotic education is education for all the people,” and that these programs must be expanded throughout Chinese society. Among the primary mechanisms for this will be “people’s groups and mass organizations” (人民团体和群众组织, renmin tuanti he qunzhong zuzhi), many of which are controlled by the United Front Work Department. This will include labor unions, author associations, scientist associations, and overseas Chinese groups, as well as the Communist Youth League (Guidelines, art. 33).  Furthermore, the document calls for efforts to “merge the patriotic spirit into relevant laws, regulations, and policy systems” (Guidelines, art. 31)—an assertion that hints at still-further intensified control by CCP organs over PRC legal and regulatory institutions.

Conclusion

The Guidelines provide yet another example of the CCP’s ongoing Neo-Maoist revival, as well as further illustration of how the senior CCP leadership under Xi Jinping views correct ideology as central to the party’s future survival. These revised 2019 policies for patriotic education do not represent a change of direction for the CCP, as broad programs for public indoctrination through “patriotic education” have existed for many years. However, these policies do represent a dramatic intensification of these efforts, as well as revealing the CCP’s totalitarian ambitions to impose these programs ever more broadly throughout Chinese society.

The CCP’s internal focus on its own cadres—and its plans for more rigorous ideological indoctrination within its own ranks—will be examined in part two of this briefing series.

John Dotson is the editor of China Brief. Contact him at: [email protected].

Notes

[1] U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 2008 Annual Report to Congress (pp. 302-303). https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/annual_reports/2008-Report-to-Congress-_0.pdf.

[2] “Guiding Opinions from the Beijing City Education Committee Regarding Dealing with Lapses of Moral Behavior Among High School Teachers” [北京市教育委员会关于北京高校教师师德失范行为处理的指导意见], document dated June 17, 2019. Posted on the website of Wuhan Dongwu University [武汉东湖学院] at: http://www.wdu.edu.cn/gljg/gaoj/gjdt/201907/t4228764.shtml.

[3] “Implementation Guidelines for Patriotic Education in the New Era” (新时代爱国主义教育实施纲要, Xin Shidai Aiguo Zhuyi Jiaoyu Shishi Gangyao), document issued by the CCP Central Committee and PRC State Council, Nov. 13, 2019. http://politics.people.com.cn/n1/2019/1113/c1001-31451633.html. All translations are the responsibility of the author.