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China’s Communist Party is scrutinizing textbooks and regulating schooling to remove foreign references. 

China is mandating inspections of all textbooks used in elementary and middle schools across the country to remove foreign content, as education increasingly becomes a target of the Communist Party’s ideological controls.

The country’s Ministry of Education has asked its provincial offices to investigate teaching materials for first-grade to ninth-grade pupils before October 15, in many cases requesting that teachers turn over physical copies of their textbooks to local officials, according to staff at international schools in Shanghai and Beijing.

“Some publishing houses are altering teaching materials without authorization, and certain schools are using their own textbooks,” the ministry said in a notice published this week aimed at removing “foreign teaching materials that have replaced national curricula.”

While internal textbook review processes have become more common at public schools and universities in the past two years, private schools have historically had more leeway in the design of their curricula. However, the current inspections now apply to international schools as well, which enroll only students holding foreign passports.

The government is really clamping down on curricular content.

Jiang Xueqin, education consultant

Teachers must justify their use of textbooks that are found to be noncompliant, and those who provide untrue explanations or do not report to the Education Ministry at all will be “severely dealt with.”

“The government is really clamping down on curricular content,” says Jiang Xueqin, an education consultant. “Inspection of textbooks is really meant to target private schools that offer bicultural and bilingual curriculums. These schools are a fast-growing trend in China and are particularly popular among the urban educated elite.”

Since taking leadership of the Communist Party in 2012, President Xi Jinping has presided over a political tightening that has affected all levels of civil society, with a particular focus on weeding out foreign content from both the country’s airwaves and schools.

The country’s newly reorganized media watchdog for radio and television unveiled draft legislation this week that, if passed, would limit the amount of foreign programs that could be broadcast.

Last year, China declared home schooling illegal while a newly implemented private education law imposed stricter curriculum requirements on private schools and requires them to have Communist Party cells.

Joint-venture universities, created by foreign and Chinese education groups, have not been exempt from ideological oversight either. Last year, it was decided that such joint ventures must now appoint a party secretary who holds veto power on the board of directors, while all prospective joint-venture programs must include language allowing party committees in their charters.

Imports of textbooks have long been subject to Chinese customs controls, a process that often takes more than three months. Foreign professors and international teachers say that means books sometimes arrive well after the term has begun.

“It became clear that they were targeting foreign textbooks and anything that might remotely be considered political two to three years ago,” says Christopher Balding, an academic who says his teaching contract with Peking University’s HSBC Business School in Shenzhen was not renewed this spring due to his outspoken political views.

“When I first got [to China], during the first five years, I could have used comic books and no one would have said anything.”

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By Emily Feng

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