- China in the World: A History since 1644by The Curriculum Specialists at Primary Source, Inc., editors
While few educators deny that understanding China is important for today’s students, until now most materials on Chinese history and society have primarily for the postsecondary classroom.
China and the World: A History since 1644seeks to fill this gap and for the most part does an admirable job. Twenty chapters divided into five units cover the period from the Manchu conquest in 1644 down to the present day. The narrative and pacing of the curriculum are neat and efficient. Each unit and chapter is well structured with separate headings for chapter contents, an organizing idea, key questions, and a list of terms. While written for secondary students, the compilers and chapter authors have done a commendable job in not dumbing down important concepts.
Most international China scholars will be satisfied with the tone and content of the narrative. I qualify “international” China scholars because while the text [End Page 502]does a fine job of incorporating recent historiography and scholarship on China, there is little mention about how the narrative presented here departs substantially from how the same topics are taught in China or are understood by many Chinese. It is important to learn China’s history, but it is equally necessary to understand how Chinese see their own past and how it relates to their present and the future.
This is not to say that a textbook written for English-speaking secondary school students ought pass muster with the PRC Ministry education, but a note or sidebar explaining alternative interpretations would be useful. For example, most foreign accounts of the Boxer movement mention that the anti-foreign Boxers also killed thousands of their own countrymen and women, a decidedly more complicated tale than that taught in PRC schools where it is taught the Boxers were heroic Chinese patriots protecting their country from foreign imperialists. It is not always necessary to “teach the controversy,” but considering this interpretation of the Boxers, as well as other events during China’s “Century of Humiliation,” is necessary to understanding Chinese nationalism in the present day. A set of related discussion questions asks students to think about how this event could be used by the government to promote nationalism. Without some background about how the Boxers as narrative is constructed and deployed in Chinese schools, students not from China may not be able to fully appreciate the extent to which events like the Boxers inform the way many Chinese view the world today.
A later chapter includes excerpts from a speech given in 1952 by Mao Zedong on the “liberation” of the Tibetans that does give some insight into the internal logic of the CCP regarding the status of Tibet. But this is presented as an artifact of history. Given the ability to include video via the supplementary CD-ROM, the authors might have considered the inclusion of more recent government statements on the Dalai Lama or clips from the 2008 patriotic viral video “China Stand Up!” This video serves as a chilling reminder that Tibet is not just a matter of history or international politics but remains an emotionally charged issue for many young Chinese.
The accompanying CD-ROM and the structure of each chapter and section make this an excellent teaching tool for secondary teachers. Each chapter comes with an array of activities, all of which develop core analytical skills while utilizing a wide variety of primary sources including texts, maps, photographs, posters, and video. The lesson plans are thoughtful and engaging and foster a high level of student interaction with the sources. Introductory essays provide a contextual framework for students’ exploration of the primary materials. Suggested activities include mapping exercises, mock negotiations, creative writing assignments, debates, discussions, and role-playing. All of the activities seem designed to help students read and appreciate primary sources and to gently wean secondary students away...