Between 1966 and 1976 China went through systematic, officially promoted violence that left hundreds of thousands dead and vast swathes of artefacts and heritage destroyed. Thousands of people were tortured, in many cases to death, and in some areas cannibalism was employed as a symbol of political reform.
This was the infamous Cultural Revolution.
Skip forwards a few decades, and UK Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove writes in The Telegraph:
I’d like us to implement a cultural revolution just like the one they’ve had in China.
Yes. That is what he put his name to in a national newspaper. Check the link yourself. He didn’t just specify some particular element of China’s cultural revolution - the fervour and zeal, perhaps. He comes right out says “just like the one they’ve had in China”.
China’s cultural revolution was a major event in 20th Century global history. It is well known as a period of brutality and senseless political action. People were transported all over the country; students humiliated and killed their teachers; public officials were made to attend regular public shaming sessions where citizens were encouraged to shout abuse at them; universities were taken over by uneducated zealots and intellectuals banished or tortured. Many people fled the country.
And apparently Michael Gove wants something similar in the UK. It’s not like China’s cultural revolution is a hotly debated topic - there is unanimous agreement that it was a terrible episode in the PRC’s history. The current government line on the events includes “…the grave ‘Left’ error of the ‘Cultural Revolution,’ an error comprehensive in magnitude and protracted in duration…”
Michael Gove also reports in The Telegraph that he was “in the Far East” recently, where he was inspired to promote a cultural revolution of our own in the UK. The Far East, yes, that strange, far off place defined only by its distance from us. I don’t think that term has been appropriate for several decades, at the least. Even ‘East Asia’ is a bit dubious on the political correctness front, but if nothing else it does give the region its own location independent of its positioning to Western countries.
Perhaps Gove was referring to the more recent, progressive reforms of the PRC in general that have seen its economy boom and living standards rise. China does indeed demand and achieve very high results for a lot of its students, and it is good to see a politician looking abroad to inform their view on the situation in the UK. But we could really do without the tasteless, ignorant historical references.
I’m not even going near Gove’s last paragraph - “Like Chairman Mao, we’ve embarked on a Long March to reform our education system.” I think coverage of the Long March is available on the GCSE History syllabus in the UK. Perhaps Michael Gove should take the course before he commits more historical atrocities.