In rural China, teacher upholds Mao Thought to save the world

Mon Dec 16, 2013 2:46am EST
 
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By Carlos Barria

SITONG, China (Reuters) - In a remote part of China, the day starts at the Democracy Elementary and Middle School with a pre-dawn jog, some revolutionary songs and then an activity long-since forgotten at other schools: reciting quotations from Mao Zedong's "Little Red Book".

While the ruling Communist Party that Mao led holds him in esteem as the leader of the Communist Revolution, his radical policies and teachings have been largely shelved since his death in 1976 in favor of a pro-market approach that has turned China from a backwater into the world's second biggest economy.

But for Xia Zuhai, a farmer-turned-educator with thick-rimmed glasses and a toothy, broad smile, there are no teachings more important than those that Mao gave the world.

"Education isn't just for learning practical skills, but it is more importantly for character building, to create good people," said Xia, who founded the school in 1996.

"From the basic level, Mao Zedong Thought is for uprightness, kindness, and greatness ... Mao Zedong Thought is, in reality, about taking people and liberating them from material desires so they can be free and natural people. This was Chairman Mao's greatest educational point."

Lofty though it may be, the message is being ignored by most in China today and that needs to change, he says, echoing a small but vocal contingent of leftists who regularly invoke Mao to criticize the materialism and inequality that have grown since market reforms started in the late 1970s.

The school has about 20 students. Many are poor and their parents placed them in Xia's boarding school for lack of better options. In 2005, it boasted about 600 students, but Xia says it has fallen out of favor in the thrusting China of today.

To be sure, students take classes in maths, English, Chinese and other core subjects at the school in the rural central province of Henan. But Xia puts special emphasis on Mao Thought. The school is largely funded by the government.   Continued...

 
Students put plastic flowers next to a portrait of China's late chairman Mao Zedong at the Democracy Elementary and Middle School in Sitong town, Henan province December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Barria