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Viral Video Triggers Debate Over Patriotic Education in China, Again

Lui Hulan (1932-1947) is a Chinese communist heroine widely used in school textbooks.

A video showing a schoolboy crying while reciting the biography of communist heroine Lui Hulan went viral online last week in China.

The boy was reading the textbook in a “crying tone”, a recital skill widely taught in schools, and ended up bursting into tears while his classmates burst into laughter. Below is a copy of the clip, via YouTube:

Reactions to the video were divided. Some were touched by the child's patriotic spirit, while others accused China's system of brainwashing.

Born in 1932, Lui Hulan participated in the Chinese Communist revolution when she was a 10-year-old and joined the party in 1946. She assisted the CCP in the assassination of her village chief in Yunzhouxi, Shanxi province and was beheaded by the Kuomintang soldiers in January 1947, when she was just 15.

Similar to Lei Feng, Liu is a prominent figure in modern-day Chinese patriotic education.

The viral video was shared by a number of users on Weibo, and the following two reactions sum up the differing views of the incident:

洗脑教育,不好笑,很悲哀。怂恿一个孩子去送死不被唾弃反被歌颂,所以人性在这社会荡然无存

Brain-washing education. Nothing laughable. Very sad. Encourage a kid to die and praise it. That’s why our society is so inhuman.

有人说刘胡兰的事迹是怂恿未成年人去送死,是洗脑。像你们这种蝇营狗苟的市井之徒怎么能明白先烈的献身精神,她才15岁就懂得保护战友,而你们都已经成年人了,却只知道喷,在你们眼中,出卖战友保全自己大概就是所谓的人性吧,一副汉奸嘴脸,中华民族崛起靠的从来不是你们这帮垃圾

Some said the story about Lui Hulan is encouraging teenagers to die and brainwashing. Vulgar people who live like bugs and dogs cannot understand the spirit of heroes who sacrificed themselves. She knew how to protect her fellows when she was just a 15-year-old. You are all grown up and all you can do is split people up. In your view, betraying your fellows is human nature, [you are] a bunch of traitors. The Chinese nation will rise without such a bunch of craps.

Skipping the antagonistic traitor-patriot discourse, Weibo user @byelove1212 argued that school pedagogy should stress positive role models:

刘胡兰10岁参加革命,14岁参与刺杀村长,1947年15岁被杀,她杀的与杀她的都是中国人,都是自己的同胞。即使在革命的年代,这种精神也不值得提倡,没有任何理由可以让一个本该天真浪漫的花季少女为所谓的“革命”献身。在高度文明的现代,更不该提倡,15岁的她该读书、唱歌、吃零食、无忧无虑、被这世界温柔对待。
所以我的孩子不需要学习杀同胞的所谓“英雄”,而应学习排队、爱护环境、垃圾分类、文明礼让、尊重他人、自信快乐、勇敢善良、伸出援手这些最基本的东西,这些做好了,才是真正的正能量!

Lui Hulan joined the revolution when she was 10 and participated in the assassination of village chief when she was 14. She was killed in 1947 when she was 15. Those she killed and those killed were all Chinese, all are fellows. Even during the revolution era, such a spirit should not be advocated. There is no justifiable reason to let an innocent teenage girl sacrifice herself for the so-called “revolution”. In civilized modern times, [such behavior] should not be encouraged. A 15-year-old girl should be reading, singing, eating snacks, carefree and treated gently by the whole world. My kids do not need to follow the so-called “heroes” who killed their fellow countrymen. They should learn how to line up, love the environment, recycle used items, act in a civilized manner, respect others, be confident and happy, be brave and kind, helpful to others and etc… all the basic behaviours. This would be genuine positive energy.

Another weibo user “Head of Entertainment” said:

对于刘胡兰,我的观点是让刘胡兰成为历史,不要歌颂,不要倡导,不要让历史重演!

Regarding Liu Hulan, my view is to let Liu Hulan becomes history, don’t glorify her, don’t advocate, don’t let history repeat itself.

Similar debates happened two years back in the form of letters exchanged between a father and a school teacher. The Chinese Communist Youth League republished the two letters on Weibo to facilitate the discussion.

The father’s letter was believed to be written by a liberal opinion leader and published anonymously back in April 2014. Below is a partial translation of the letter:

这些人让一个十三、四岁的孩子去参加你死我活的政治斗争,当同龄人还在草地上天真烂漫地追逐嬉戏的时候,她却和一群大人杀了她们的村长。而后不久又被对方捉到同样残忍地把她的头铡了下来。从这里面我看不到有任何值得称赞的品质和任何值得坚守的理想。相反包括后来那些心智和谋略非凡的大人物对她的嘉奖和称赞都将是耻辱的记忆。我也同样是在这种斗争、仇恨教育中长大,所幸我最终挣脱。…到我的孩子被教导去学刘胡兰,我心如刀绞。出于一个父亲的责任,我本能的想为孩子去抵挡可能对她心灵带来的戕害。望老师理解,以后这个活动请允许我们放弃。

These people let a 13-14 year-old kid get involved in a life and death political struggle. While people of her age were chasing around in the grasslands, she joined a group of adults to help murder her village head. Later she was beheaded in the same brutal manner. I can not see any praiseworthy quality or ideal here. On the contrary, those strategists who praise her are shameful. I grew up in such a kind of struggle-and-hate education. Fortunately, I disentangled myself from that… now that my kids are being taught to follow Liu Hulan, my heart aches as if it were stabbed by a dagger. As a responsible father, my instinct is to protect my kids from such spiritual harm. I hope the teachers can understand and allow us to abstain from such activities.

The response from a ‘teacher’ is widely believed to have been written by a party ideologue. The letter argued that the younger generation should be prepared for the worst. The response featured an image of Japanese soldiers toying with the corpse of a Chinese baby with bayonets during the Second World War.

Below is a partial translation of the letter:

我们的孩子虽然生活在和平年代,但是谁也无法保证他们永远生活在和平年代。大家都想远离是非,远离暴力,远离政治,但这是不可能的,我们离不开政治,也无法让战争之类的伤痛绝迹。…
你孩子这个年纪,不止需要童话,还需要英雄。她早已到了可以有偶像,会去欣赏、仰慕一些人的时候了。你觉得刘胡兰不该是她学习的英雄,不知道该会是谁家英雄,在填充着她的精神世界。这些英雄,真的都不关政治,不带血腥?是屠恶龙的王子,还是蜘蛛侠呢?

Although our kids are living in a peaceful era, no one can guarantee that they can enjoy peace forever. We want to stay away from violence and politics, but this is impossible, we can’t stay away from politics and we can’t stop wars and other painful incidents…Your kids not only need children’s tales but also heroes. She can have idols and know how to appreciate others. You think she should not follow Liu Hulan, but other heroes have occupied her world. Are these other heroes not political, not violent? How about the prince of slayer or the spider man?

In the end, the letter criticized the father’s attitude as shameful:

有这样的思维,大概跟最近“污化英雄”的社会环境有关。
让孩子去认识自己民族的英雄,并没有什么过错。…刘胡兰无疑是个英雄,让这么小的英雄牺牲了,是那个时代的悲剧,但我们不能因此否定英雄,甚至要让孩子“远离”。…
最后说一句,你这样的教育孩子的方式,不但会毁了自己的孩子,而且错误的观念和态度,还将影响许多人。让孩子远离自己民族的英雄,这是可耻的!

Such thoughts are likely related to the recent cultural phenomenon of “stigmatizing heroes”. There is nothing wrong with letting our kids learn about their national heroes… Lui Hulan is a genuine heroine, she sacrificed herself at a young age. It was a tragedy of her time but we can’t simply denounce her and ask our kids to “stay away”…

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