Old values strained by the boom

2nd December 1994 at 00:00
Yojana Sharma reports on efforts to prevent the moral degeneration of the "get rich" generation.

China's leaders, seriously worried about the corrupting effects of the country's economic boom on the nation's youth, have ordered "moral education" to be stepped up in schools.

This would once have meant political education sessions which stressed Marxism-Leninism and Maoist thought. However, these basic tenets have all but been rendered obsolete by the new drive towards a capitalistic market economy and Chinese leader Deng Xiao-Ping's exhortation that "to get rich is glorious".

Now the country's education authorities are scrambling to find suitable messages to stem what is widely regarded as rapid moral decline among the nation's youth.

The provincial government of Guangdong, China's richest province bordering Hong Kong, for example, is concentrating its moral education drive on instilling nationalism and patriotism. And even Confucius has been rehabilitated.

In an unusual and tacit acknowledgement that old-style communist propaganda is having little effect on schoolchildren, Ye Xiaosha, head of the Guangdong Political Education Bureau, said: "It is relatively difficult (for young people) to understand the meaning of patriotism. So-called patriotic education drives come and go with the political winds in China. The main difference now is that this is the first time we are going to organise a patriotic education in a systematic way."

According to official reports, some 100 "moral education" bases up and down the province are being opened to promote patriotism in a "lively and practical way". These include museums, historic buildings and monuments, although Mr Ye admitted there are problems in persuading these venues to give students free entry. The province would also select some 100 patriotic films to be shown in schools and cinemas together with follow-up discussions.

Schools already hoist the national flag but now the authorities need to carry out frequent inspections to make sure it is done regularly, he said.

Guangdong, the vanguard of the country's economic reforms, has come under attack from Beijing for setting a bad example to the nation with its individualistic and materialist ways. In the past, the government has always seen these as diseases of the West.

A meeting of social scientists in Beijing this month warned that young people in China were becoming "apathetic, impulsive and irrational". They frequently turn to violence when they cannot get what they want, leading to a rise in juvenile delinquency.

"This is the result of their loss of a dominant value system and the consequent moral emphasis on self," the official China News Service quoted the experts as saying.

Anthropologists say the latest generation of pupils are mainly the offspring of the Red Guards who destroyed the old value system during the cultural revolution in the 1960s. Today's children do not share their parents' unquestioning belief in Maoism, leaving a vacuum. The government is so worried by this that it has been trying to promote Confucianism with a barrage of programmes, extolling its virtues, in newspapers and on television.

The fifth century BC scholar was rehabilitated in the 1980s after being vilified during the cultural revolution as a remnant of the feudalistic past. Confucianism emphasises obedience, loyalty and devotion to family, friends and teachers; China has extended this to include the government.

* A special teachers' village of 10,000 apartments is to be built in Shanghai to provide adequate housing for teaching and ancillary staff by the year 2000, writes Vera Rich.

China's teachers have faced difficulties in getting housing - a legacy, in part, of anti-intellectual policies of the cultural revolution. In the early 1980s, teachers and their families in Jianxi province, for example, had an average living space of 2.7 square metres per person. Zhang Xiaowen, the state's deputy education minister, said one in five primary teachers had inadequate housing. And thousands cannot marry because they have nowhere to live.

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