Daniel K. Gardner: China’s ‘Official’ History Still Being Worked Out

Roundup: Historians' Take

Daniel K. Gardner is a professor of history and the director of the program in East Asian studies at Smith College and the author of ChinaMusings.com. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

Mao Tse-tung, Confucius and Louis Vuitton have been mixing it up lately on China's most-renowned stage: Tiananmen Square.

For decades, Mao's portrait has hung over the Tiananmen Gate at the far north of the square, at the entrance to the Forbidden City, even as his embalmed body has lain in the mausoleum built immediately after his death in the center of the square. Chairman Mao, the Great Helmsman, founder of the People's Republic of China, looms mightily over the square, reminding the Chinese people of the Communist Party's achievement in raising the country out of its “feudal” and impoverished past and restoring it to prosperity and global influence.

On Jan. 13, Mao was joined in the square by a figure of at least equal repute in China: Confucius. Born in 551 BC, the sage, as he is known, left behind a set of teachings as influential as any the world has known. These teachings became the basis of state ideology by the second century BC, and remained so, with some ups and downs, for more than two millenniums. But with the opening decades of the 20th century, prominent intellectuals and political figures took aim at Confucian teachings, arguing that they were in large part responsible for China's backwardness and weakness relative to the West....

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