The importance of education realized through the Cultural Revolution

Formal education was something frowned upon during the Cultural Revolution, but it may have caused people to realize its importance



Donning a dark blue sweater over a white shirt, 62-year-old Chen Riqiang carries himself with an aura of poise and composure. Combined with the pair of frameless spectacles he wears, he looks like a professor that just walked out of a lecture.


Judging by his looks, one’s perception of Chen would rarely deviate from “a very knowledgeable man”, that is until he asks them to read the words on products at supermarkets, or when he has the attendant fill in an application form for him.


Chen isn’t blind, he just cannot read or write as a result of the disrupted education system during the Cultural Revolution.


“There were no schools open and I had no time to catch up,” he said.


On May 1966, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution through a conference by implying that the enemies of the party were within the party itself. And in August that year, he shut down schools across the nation and mobilized red guards in order to destroy the “four olds”- old customs, culture, habits and ideas.




Red guards were formed by students who would execute Mao’s ideals.


Only 13 years old when he lost the opportunity to go to school, Chen’s knowledge was extremely limited. On top of that, like many other students he was sent to work in the countryside so that he could be “re-educated” and learn about the importance of the working class in Mao’s political agenda.


As a result, the only words that Chen can write with much effort are his name. His illiteracy may come across as a shock to the younger generation, but in the 70s, only 53% of the Chinese population was considered as literate according to statistics from World Bank World Development Indicators and Unesco Statistics of Educational Attainment and Literacy.


During the Cultural Revolution, basic education was emphasized and intellectuals were heavily frowned upon, turning many away from pursuing knowledge. Moreover, students were encouraged to rise up against authority, causing many to denounce their teachers.


On August 5 1966, Bian Zhongyun, a deputy principal at the Experimental High School Attached to Beijing National University became the first victim of the cultural revolution when she was beaten to death with wooden sticks by her students. Subsequently, over 142,000 in the education circle was killed throughout the course of the Cultural Revolution.


For several years, China’s education system basically halted. Colleges and universities were closed until 1970 and most of them did not reopen until 1972, stripping many of the opportunity to learn. To make matters even worse, 17 million of China’s youth were sent to rural areas like Chen and in the countryside, where there were no opportunities for higher education.


To flee from China’s dire situation, Chen came to Hong Kong in 1980 hoping for a better future. But then his illiteracy became a problem because the only jobs he could get were hard labour and it wasn’t paying very well.


The jobs that paid better required a much higher level of education than Chen had and though he wanted to pursue education because of this, he was living on a very tight budget without the funds to pay for school. And with work taking up all of his time, he could never


The party may have constantly reinforced the belief that education as undesirable, but Chen’s tough time in Hong Kong as an illiterate person has made him realize the importance of education.


“I cannot do anything to help myself now, but I can help my son.”


Chen’s son, Chen Yau-wah graduated from the University of Hong Kong several years ago with a degree in Social Sciences. He recalls his father being very concerned about his academic performance all the time and as a child, he was constantly pushed to perform better.


“My dad had very high expectations for me and was always very strict,” the younger Chen said.


Yau-wah says that he was required to study for at least two hours every day, and placing below the top five of his grade was considered as unacceptable.


Chen explains that his insistence for his son to be well-educated derives from his own regret over having only an education that is useless in an evolving society.


Under Mao’s regime, students were not taught anything similar to modern education. The education system during the Cultural Revolution was geared towards teaching students practical skills that could help in various forms of production with the ultimate goal of benefitting the economy.



Mao’s Quotations, the “red book” that Mao’s supporters lived by during his rule


Although formal education was despised during the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s intent to spread basic education brought seemingly positive influences to China.


Prior to the revolution, less than half of China’s children had completed primary education; After the revolution, almost all completed it.


Prior to the revolution, only 15% had completed junior middle school; After the revolution over two-third had completed it.


On the surface it may seem that more people are being educated, but that came at the cost of a falling education standard and reduced schooling years.


Chinese history teacher Judy Wong says the upward trend of educated individuals could not make up for the decline in quality. She explained that during the revolution, actual academics, scientists and educators were persecuted and forced away from their professions. During which, selected students were chosen as “teachers” to educate the youth, the elimination of qualified teachers ensured that the education was nothing but inadequate.


In addition, she said that after the Cultural Revolution, many scholars fled, leaving  China’s education in even worse conditions.


Qin Haoling, who was born into a farmer’s family in the countryside before the Cultural Revolution was given the opportunity to learn because of Mao’s focus on the lower working class.


“Education was not a top priority in our family,” Qin said.


Before the cultural revolution, Qin was born into a farmer’s family where education was not a top priority. During the Cultural Revolution, the fortunate were bullied and stripped of any opportunities to study but peasants like Qin, were given the basic education Mao emphasized.

At the end of the Cultural Revolution, Qin thought she was ready for a bright future because she was “educated”, despite having very limited knowledge. In fact she never thought her inadequate education would become a problem until she left with her husband to the city in the 90s.


Because she no longer could farm and the couple was financially struggling, Qin decided to look for a job only to find herself in the same position as Chen.


The lack of education limited her options and her options did not pay well, but to be educated Qin would have to pay for school. Like Chen, Qin ended up in a hole that she could not dig herself out from.


Unlike Chen, Qin does not push her son as hard. But she too believes that the next generation need proper education.


“ I do not want him to be stuck in my situation, so I always encourage him not to give up studying,” said Qin.


The Cultural Revolution may have disrupted the education system and caused the inadequately educated youth of that generation to suffer, but it certainly has made them learn the importance of education to prevent their next generation from the same fate.


Formal education may have been seen as a negative during the Cultural Revolution, but even the party acknowledged its importance when Deng Xiaoping began introducing educational reforms.


Deng reintroduced entrance exams for universities in 1977, and began to improve academic standards at all levels of educational institutes. Consequently, the literacy rate reached 66% and today it stands at 87%.


The Cultural Revolution has certainly alerted people to the importance of education, but with one whole generation of people inadequately educated, China has a long way to go to make up for this loss.




Timeline of the Cultural Revolution



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It’s time Greece stopped leeching off the EU

Since the first ever debt crisis in 2009, Greece has done nothing but present itself to the European Union (EU) how big of a liability it is by seeking bailout three times. Combined with the Greek public’s negative impression towards the EU, Greece should just exit the Eurozone for good.

According to statistics from Eurostat, Greece’s government debt in 2014 was 177% of its GDP. Core members such as Germany, only owe the EU a debt equaling 74.7% of their GDP. The difference shows Greece should never have been in the EU In the first place, as it would only survive at the mercy of richer countries.

Indeed, Greece has only been able to stay in the currency bloc because they received two bailout programmes totaling €240 billion.

CNBC correspondent Mr Geoff Cutmore, who was at Brussels in July this year where meetings were held for Greece’s third bailout programme said Greece “lied” to get into the EU.

“With the help of Goldman Sachs and some rather shifty bankers, the Greeks were allowed to join the monetary union because they understated the amount of real debt in their economy.”

Though Greece eventually settled on the terms for their third bailout and continues to remain in the Eurozone, the people of Greece are probably all but happy. A survey conducted by Pew Research Centre in 2014 show that an overwhelming majority of Greeks are frustrated with the European Union, with 85% saying that the EU does not understand the needs of its citizens.


Not only are the Greeks against the EU, little support its principal institutions. For example, only 17% bear a positive view of the European Central Bank, the institution responsible for maintaining price stability for the Eurozone.

It is evident that Greece does not like the EU and is a huge burden to them, but out of fear that the currency will collapse they have been dragged along time after time, though reluctantly.

Mr Cutmore said core members of the union such as Germany, France and Italy were reluctant to help at first, but ultimately for the sake of keeping the single currency together, they gave in hoping that the Greeks would honor their debts and commitments, which Greece did not.

“If one country leaves, then you start to get fractures just like you do when an earthquake begins to happen, it starts with the tremors but slowly it turns into a bigger event,” he said.

Ultimately, Greece should just quit the EU because the damage they will continue to inflict is surely going to be worse than the fractures they would leave behind if they left.


Women in the Film Industry: Underemployed

“I have experienced sexism in that I have been directed by male directors 17 times and only twice by women,” said Emma Watson in an interview with The Guardian in September.

According to a research conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television in Film, 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2014 were women, the same percentage as it was in 1998 .

The percentage of women employed in key behind-the-scene roles has not fluctuated much. On average, only 1 woman is hired for every 4 men.


In 2014, women only accounted for 7% of directors in the top 250 films, a 1% increase from 2013. However, it decreased by 2% from 9% in 1998.

The study shows that women have had a better time getting a job as a producer, as 23% of women managed to be employed for that role in 2014. But only 5% were able to be hired as a cinematographer.

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Comparing the statistics of 2014 to 1998, the percentages of female executive producers and cinematographers have increased. On the other hand, the number of female directors, writers, producers and editors has declined.

Compared to 2013, 2014 has seen every role other than the producer increase in female employment.

But on the whole, the percentage of women hired for each of the key roles has not varied much.

While society has become more accepting of gender equality over the years, female employment in the behind-the-scenes production of mainstream films has remained more or less the same and the film industry remains male-dominant to this day.

Tough battle ahead for pan-democrats in November district council elections

Things are not looking good for the pan-democrats in the upcoming district council elections due to few candidates running and strong opposition from the pro-establishment camp.

In this year’s district council election, voters will choose a total of 431 representatives for the 18 districts.

Backing 94 candidates, the Democratic Party is fielding the most people out of all the pro-democracy groups said its chairperson Ms Emily Lau Wai-hing.

But their numbers have dropped compared to 132 in the 2011 district council election.

“At least half or more than half of the seats will not be contested by a candidate from the pro-democracy camp,” said Ms Lau.

She said it goes to show that like her party, other pro-democracy groups also have trouble finding suitable candidates that are prepared for the upcoming election.

In addition, Ms Lau said that quite a number of people fighting for the democracy camp will lose because the pro-establishment side has got a lot of resources and time invested into the election.

In 2011, only 27.9% of pro-democratic candidates managed to get a seat compared to the pro-establishment camp’s 68.6%.

Mr Eric Tam Wing-Fun, a Tai Po district council member from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), said if resources were a deciding factor then he would not have won.

Compared to other candidates who have their own business, he has little resources and the DAB does not give him any support in particular said Mr Tam.

He said that the only resources that he has to his advantage are his office and printers, both of which are available to the pan-democrats as long as they are members of the district council, thus candidates’ party do not matter at all.

“Everybody has 24 hours and it depends on what you do with it.”

Mr Tam said he has yet to miss a district council meeting in Tai Po over the course of four years and candidates cannot expect to win votes when they do not spend time on dealing with issues in their district.

“I honestly think that [Ms Lau] needs to rethink why the DAB has so many seats,” he said.

“I can tell you, if we lose too many [seats], I will quit as chair,” said Ms Lau.

She said people would expect of the head of a party to step down and take responsibility because it means that they have not done well.


Young Night Drifters

Young Night Drifters (YNDs) is a term used by the Hong Kong Government to refer to adolescents who hang around aimlessly on the streets at night. Generally, the public perceives YNDs as “bad” teens. Bad as in they are not well educated; they have no contribution to society and have no intention of proving themselves useful. Basically, they are seen as worthless individuals that have no contribution to society.

In this video story, we document a typical night in 20-year-old Siu Wai-man, Ray’s life. Ray often spends his nights hanging around basketball courts with his friends. Apart from playing basketball, Ray also plays poker games and drinks alcohol with them. He talks about why he enjoys living such a life and the reasons behind his decision to often be active at night.

At first glance, Ray is the embodiment of society’s perception of a YND; he is a burden and a waste of taxpayers’ contribution. He doesn’t spend his time productively working or studying, but wastes all his time for fun and entertainment.

However, no book should ever be judged by its cover.

In fact, Ray is a full-time student at Shue Yan University, majoring in Business Administration. The latter part of the video showcases Ray’s identity as a university student. Ray says contrary to popular belief, he, a YND is also like any other good student; he seldom skips class and revises in the library. The stark contrast in Ray’s two identities completely breaks the stereotype that YNDs are uneducated and unproductive.

Ray hopes that people can stop stereotyping all night drifters, as not all of them are bad people or gangsters. Even though they spend their time at night, they are just having fun and have no malicious intentions. Furthermore, they also have normal day lives, which is evident in his life as a university student.

Just because a person has a nocturnal lifestyle, his/her value in society should not automatically be degraded.


Happiness in Hard Times

Occupy Central is still going on after a month. Besides the movement not achieving any form of major success yet, many controversial moments such as the dispersal of tear gas and pepper spray and suspected triad involvement have worried many people in Hong Kong. Amidst all the commotion surrounding Occupy Central, is everybody still able to put his or her mind at ease and find happiness in daily life? This audio slideshow showcases 10 people sharing the happiest things that they have experienced recently. The basis of these answers range from schoolwork to their involvement in Occupy Central, which may seem somewhat predictable. However, some of their answers will surprise you.

The vox pops were recorded at the site of Occupy Central in Admiralty and in HKBU.