PARIS — There's a nice trompe l'oeil mural on rue Nicolas Appert here in the 11th arrondissement. I once stood in front of it for a little while on my lunch break, trying to make sense of the artist's visual tricks.
Today, making sense of what happened on that street feels impossible: Twelve people, among them some of France's best cartoonists, with plenty of visual and rhetorical tricks of their own, were gunned down at the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Just a three-minute walk from where I myself work with words and images to try to make our own, different kind of sense of the world.
I should confess from the start that I've never been a regular reader of Charlie Hebdo — hell, I don't even think I've ever bought it. All the same. Cabu, Charb, Tignous, Wolinski: Familiar names and faces, drawing styles that a bande dessinée lover like myself could instantly recognize and appreciate. And though I sometimes have found that Charlie Hebdo provokes just for provocation's sake, never has it been clearer that their right to do so is sacrosanct.
In their own idiosyncratic and immediate way, cartoonists can be considered the front line of free expression in France, le pays des Lumières. Today we see just how much was at stake, and at risk, from where they stood.
— Ruben L. Oppenheimer (@RLOppenheimer) January 7, 2015
The more straightforward media I work for, Worldcrunch — though produced in English — is based in Paris not just by chance. The French capital's cultural, ethnic and political melange, and its distance from the traditional Anglo-American viewpoints, makes it the perfect place to cover the world.
So this attack hits home. Not only because of its geographic proximity to our offices, but because it crosses a new line in the way that people are increasingly targeted for their ideas and for their work delivering information. When American war correspondent James Foley was killed and decapitated in Syria in August, it was horrible of course, yet somehow remote to those of us working in supposedly safer parts of the news business.
We don't know yet who carried out this morning's shooting. Regardless, it is scary to think that the ramifications of intolerance are such that they can wreak havoc in a quiet, nondescript Parisian street, and that people can be killed for making drawings on paper.
— David Pope (@davpope) January 7, 2015
I worry about the devastating effect on some people's opinion on Islam, tainted by a few extremists, and what it will mean for that singular way we've always managed to live together in Paris, whether you come from East Asia, East Africa ... or like me, a small town in eastern France.
I will go to the demonstration in Place de la République tonight. Not because caricaturing Muhammad makes me laugh. It doesn't. But I want to stand alongside people who also think that others have the right to do so. Also, I have always found it strangely comforting the way demonstrations can pack thousands of strangers close together in peace — and right now I could use just that kind of comfort.
'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.
BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.
The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.
Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."
Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!
Communist curriculum replaces global subjects
This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.
Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.
But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?
The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.
Targeting pop culture
The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.
What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.
A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.
Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.
Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.
"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."
Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.
Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.
From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."
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