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Cultural Revolution and Education in China during 1960s-1970s Research Paper


The role of education in the social development is significant because the changes in the education sphere can influence not only the aspects of the people’s everyday life and social status but also their occupation and economic status. The Cultural Revolution in China of 1966-1977can be discussed as the catalyst and process which changed the history of the Chinese society significantly.

All the economic and social spheres of the community’s development were reformed with references to changing the traditional visions of the Chinese people. The Communist ideals promoted by Mao Zedong became to play the key role in determining the principles of the Chinese people’s life in relation to their education and labor.

Different ideological techniques used by the Communists were chosen as the means of the Cultural Revolution in order to affect the society. That is why, there is a range of ideas on the impact of the Cultural Revolution on education and its role within the society. The strategies of the Cultural Revolution affected the development of the Chinese society notably, and it is important to learn what impact the Cultural Revolution had on the sphere of education in China during the period of the 1960s-1970s.

Although researchers propose different views to answer the question, the general impact of the Cultural Revolution on the education in China during the 1960s-1970s can be discussed as negative because of the strong connection of education and agricultural growth instead of improving education independently, the focus on economic benefits of reforms, and because of provoking the interrupted education.

The discussion of this argument is important to analyze the effects of the Cultural Revolution directly on education, without references to the economic sphere.

The perspectives from which it is possible to discuss the role of the Cultural Revolution in the progress of the education sphere in China are various that is why researchers are inclined to evaluate the consequences of the Cultural Revolution for education regarding different outcomes and priorities.

From this point, many researchers focus on the positive features and outcomes of the Cultural Revolution for reforming the sphere of education in China according to the Communist standards. The other scholars choose not to conclude about the consequences directly, and their positions can be considered as uncertain. To see the complete picture of the process depending on different viewpoints in order to evaluate the outcomes, it is necessary to concentrate on various discussions of the question.

Thus, according to Han, the Cultural Revolution had the positive effect on education because of increasing the number of schools and improving the school curricula in relation to the local needs of the rural territories (Han 60). The improvements and revisions in the curriculum led to the rapid educational expansion and to providing more educational opportunities for the Chinese people (Han 70). This opinion is based on discussing the positive effects of education reforms associated with the general educational expansion.

However, this approach cannot be discussed as relevant because Han predominantly operates the evidences on the positive changes in the agricultural sphere. Han focuses on the role of reforms during the Cultural Revolution era for developing people’s farming and industrial skills necessary for the progress of the rural territories (Han 80). Nevertheless, the aspect of the education quality for the Chinese people is not discussed independently, without references to the agricultural sphere.

Such researchers as Wang avoid providing the evaluation of the consequences of the Cultural Revolution for the progress of the Chinese society, including the sphere of education because of the lack of credible evidences which can be used to support definite ideas (Wang 199-203).

In his work, Wang states that the discussion of the process’s effects on the social sphere is impossible without references to the views of liberal and radical political forces that is why there are always several positions regarding the impact of the Cultural Revolution on the economic and social development of China, including the analysis of reforms in the sphere of education (Wang 215-217).

However, the uncertainness in relation to answering the problematic question about the impact of the Cultural Revolution in China cannot be discussed as the appropriate evaluation of the observed effects.

Moreover, Wang’s position is irrelevant because today it is possible to refer to a lot of evidences and resources to state certain ideas and evaluate the role of the Cultural Revolution for education during the post-revolution period. The discussed views are supported by different scholars, but more concrete answers are necessary to respond to the problematic question clearly.

From this perspective, it is possible to state that in spite of the focus on reformation, the Cultural Revolution influenced education in China during the period of the 1960s-1970s negatively because the aspect of education quality was not taken into consideration without linking to the effects on the economic development of the rural territories in China.

Thus, the progress of rural territories was the priority for politicians to implement the reforms in education along with intensifying the labor force possibilities in the agricultural sector. During the Cultural Revolution, the improvements in education were not discussed as independent reforms because they were oriented to influencing the economic sphere of the rural territories positively.

As a result, the general effect of such reforms was negative because of ignoring the quality aspect. In their work, Zhou and Hou state that the connection of education development and agricultural growth was direct because politicians chose to use the send-down policy and to force former students to live and work at the rural territories in order to contribute to the progress of the agricultural sector (Zhou and Hou 15).

Thus, “in a 12-year period, over 17 million urban ‘educated youth’ (mostly graduates from only junior and senior high school) were forced to live and work in rural areas”, and many schools in the urban territories were closed (Zhou and Hou 13). Following the ideological and political principles of Communism, those authorities who realized the Cultural Revolution in the sphere of education contributed to the educational decline, but stimulated the progress in farming and agriculture.

Nevertheless, the focus on economic benefits of the reforms in the sphere of education can also be discussed more generally. Thus, changes in the approaches to education in the rural territories could guarantee the satisfaction of the local economic needs (Zhou and Hou 12-14).

Mao Zedong proclaimed the idea that the economy of China could progress as a result of the Cultural Revolution with the help of re-education processes when millions of students were forced to leave their studies because of the necessities to reform the agricultural sector and educate the youth in relation to the development of farming and industrial skills (Zhou and Hou 12-13).

The effects of the re-education policies and tendencies and the focus on developing school and university curricula in detail led to the catastrophic results for the quality of education because of the lack of possibilities for students to continue their education during the Cultural Revolution era (Zhou and Hou 14-15).

Many educational institutions ceased their activities for a certain period of time, and the send-down policy resulted in the progress of economy along with the obvious educational decline. Instead of providing students with the necessary knowledge on different academic disciplines, the authors of the policies and reforms concentrated on improving the economy with the help of re-education and re-distribution of labor force at the territories of the country.

One of the most dramatic effects of the reforms typical for the period of the Cultural Revolution on education was the emphasis on interrupted education. The Cultural Revolution can be discussed as the prolonged process during which the approaches to education were re-examined from the social and economic perspectives.

To respond to the local needs of the rural territories, the majority of schools in towns were closed to provide the country regions with educated farmers and professionals in agriculture. According to Meng and Gregory, “the 11 years of the Cultural Revolution, 1966-77, affected the formal education of a whole generation of young people” (Meng and Gregory 935).

Thus, schools were closed, and the quality of people’s knowledge decreased because of impossibility to get the access to education. New students were not recruited in universities, and those ones who studied there when the reforms started had to cease their academic activities (Meng and Gregory 936). As a result, there were no real positive improvements in the education sphere until 1977-1978 when the new curricula were implemented in schools and universities.

The interrupted education became the sign of the period in relation to the education question, and this process resulted in decreasing of the general quality of education and knowledge because students experienced significant difficulties while continuing their education after the period of reformation.

From this perspective, interrupted education as well as the focus on the economic benefits can be discussed as the negative effects which are connected with the period of reforming and improving the education sphere in the context of the Cultural Revolution.

Although the representatives of the new political force stated that the all the spheres of the economic and social life could benefit from realizing the reforms associated with the Cultural Revolution, the real situation differed significantly from the authorities’ proclamation (Han; Meng and Gregory).

Education can be discussed as the aspect of the Chinese people’s social life which was most negatively affected by the proclaimed reforms and improvements. The evidences provided by Han and Wang on the role of the Cultural Revolution for education in China during the period of the 1960s-1970s cannot be discussed as relevant to state that these reforms had the positive impact on the sphere of education because the proper analysis of the topic supports the view that reforms responded to the economic needs but not to educational issues.

That is why, it is rather problematic to focus on the minor positive effects of the process instead of analyzing the general and complete picture according to which the Cultural Revolution did not contribute to the progress of educational sphere.

Thus, the impact of the Cultural Revolution on education in China during the period of the 1960s-1970s can be discussed as negative and even catastrophic because the real needs of the sphere of education were ignored and changed with the other economic and social goals which were not directly connected with the quality of education.

The process was not advantageous for students because they had to leave schools and universities in order to live and work in the rural territories. As a result, the economic state of the territories was improved, and the agricultural sector started the development according to the new directions. On the contrary, the sphere of education was in decline because the needs of this sphere were not responded and satisfied adequately according to the proclaimed goals and ideals.

The statement of the idea that the reforms of the Cultural Revolution were not effective for education during the period of the 1960s-1970s is significant because it allows the critical evaluation of the era’s results for the quality of education which can be discussed as the main criterion to speak about education as the social value.

The increase in number of schools in the rural territories, and the focus on providing the educational opportunities for people in the country were previously discussed as positive moments associated with the Cultural Revolution. However, the analysis of the evidences supports the idea that these advantages cannot be considered as positive without references to the economic aspect. The advantages for people in relation to the quality of education were not taken into consideration, and they were not discussed the policies’ priorities.

Works Cited

Han, Dongping. “Impact of the Cultural Revolution on Rural Education and Economic Development: The Case of Jimo County”. Modern China 27.1 (2001): 59-90. Print.

Meng, Xin, and Robert Gregory. “The Impact of Interrupted Education on Subsequent Educational Attainment: A Cost of the Chinese Cultural Revolution”. Economic Development and Cultural Change 50.4 (2002): 935-959. Print.

Wang, Shaoguang. “’New Trends of Thought’ on the Cultural Revolution”. Journal of Contemporary China 8.21 (1999): 197-217. Print.

Zhou, Xueguang, and Liren Hou. “Children of the Cultural Revolution: The State and the Life Course in the People’s Republic of China”. American Sociological Review 64.1 (1999): 12-36. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019, January 29). Cultural Revolution and Education in China during 1960s-1970s. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/cultural-revolution-and-education-in-china-during-1960s-1970s/

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IvyPanda. "Cultural Revolution and Education in China during 1960s-1970s." January 29, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cultural-revolution-and-education-in-china-during-1960s-1970s/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Cultural Revolution and Education in China during 1960s-1970s." January 29, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cultural-revolution-and-education-in-china-during-1960s-1970s/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Cultural Revolution and Education in China during 1960s-1970s'. 29 January.

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