Using the Past to Legitimise the Present: The Portrayal of Good Governance in Chinese History Textbooks

Robert Weatherley, Coirle Magee


This article examines how Chinese middle-school history textbooks are written as a means of legitimising the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), by carefully utilising China’s past. The authors identify (or perhaps “construct”) a sinified model of good governance in the textbooks that derives from the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, and the subsequent practises of certain revered Chinese emperors. This model is then applied to CCP leaders in the modern-era textbooks in order to cast them as diligently upholding a time-honoured Chinese tradition of legitimate rule. In a broader context, our analysis fits within the ongoing discussions about the continuing legacy of Confucianism in contemporary China and the CCP’s efforts to locate itself within this as a way of for-tifying its own legitimacy. We also note how some of the themes of good governance contained in the textbooks are closely linked to contemporary government policies and priorities, such as anti-corruption schemes and constitutionalism. The objective in so doing is to propagate the importance of these themes to a young audience.

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