Revolutionary Chinese Peasant Denunciations and the BATs

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During and immediately after Mao’s victory in the Chinese Civil War (1946-1949), agrarian land reform was initiated by the Communist Party. It was an ugly episode in Chinese history, and one to be repeated again and again until the reforms of Deng Xiaoping after the Great Leader’s death. This policy, however, was much more than a simple matter of taking land from the rich and distributing it among the poor. According to Chang and Halliday (2005):

[L]and resdistribution was not the main aspect of Mao’s land reform. The part that really mattered was a practice called dou dizhu, “struggle against the landlords,” which in reality meant violence against the relatively better-off….The violence typically took place at rallies, which all villagers had to attend. Those designated as targets were made to stand facing large crowds, and people were pysched up and organised to come forward and pour out their grievances against them. The crowds would be led to shout slogans while brandishing fists and far tools. Village militants and thugs would then inflict physical abuse, which could range from making the victims kneel on broken tiles on their bare knees, to hanging them up by their wrists or feet, or to beating them, sometimes to death, often with farm implements. And there was often torture of even more ghastly kinds (Mao: The Unknown Story, 315).

What Chang and Halliday don’t focus on in their damning biography of the founder of modern China is the pyscho-social conditions that made his atrocities possible. I read this book several years back, but I recall being bothered by the narrow focus of the work: the authors’ intent seemed simply to condemn Mao rather than engage in a deeper investigation of his influence on Chinese society. But I digress.

My point in this post is to identify anger, and how it works in the mind of an oppressed class. Without a doubt, American school teachers are such a class, albeit far, far less oppressed than the Chinese of sixty years ago. I do not mean to draw that correlation. Rather I mean to point out that even Mao couldn’t have gotten the peasants to brutalize their neighbors if there wasn’t a torrent of rage and powerlessness coursing through their lives.  Mao was a genius manipulator of social discontent, of a caliber that makes his contemporaries, Hitler and Stalin, appear amateurish. Latent anger was the fuel. Mao was the match.

Now we have the Badass Teachers Association, its emergence a remarkable phenomenon. Rather than a catalytic proto-movement, however, I am beginning to fear it will shape up to be little more than an outpouring of denunciations by the disenfranchised. Yes, teachers in this country are terribly abused by business and governmental figures who use the media as an instrument of that abuse. On the other hand, such power has always been pitted against teachers in one manner or another throughout time.  Again, and again I read posts and comments by BATs justifying their cacophony of ranting by claiming the need to express their frustration. This state of affairs is not the makings of a mass movement, but rather the makings of mass petulance.

The founders of the BATs can congratulate themselves on bringing thousands of teachers together, but now they must steer the major conversations, focusing them into practical actions that can be long lasting. Simply asking everyone to bombard perceived enemies with phone calls will, at best, bring only temporary recognition; Warhol’s famous fifteen minutes.

So what is the correlation between the BATs and Chinese anti-landlordism? Both rely on anger, which is a short term expedient at denounce1best. Where do the two differ? The Maoists were highly organized and the whole atrocity was carefully orchestrated from above. With the BATs, so far, it is really quite anarchistic. They would do well to consider the limits and ultimate destructiveness of anger, then turn to reasoned dialogue and the search for wisdom. The enemies of public education can be teachers’ greatest allies in empowering them to bring out their better selves. Instead, too many of are caving into their lesser selves, because it is easier, and it feels right for the moment. After all, if one’s enemies are going to engage in slander, would it not be better to rebut them from a position of great inner strength and resolve, rather than going after them with the same dark impulse that compels their assault?

3 Comments

Filed under education general, K-12 public schools, Lost Apple, teachers

3 responses to “Revolutionary Chinese Peasant Denunciations and the BATs

  1. I left the group because I CANNOT be engaged in situations where people say “vent” when what they are doing is indulging in striking out in anger. Also in not using an educated stance and then pretending to be educated. When a founder of the group says in effect-don’t look to me for appropriateness or for leadership that is responsible-then i know I’m not going on a path I need. I’m being diverted into something that is about the expression of ego.
    I know it when I find myself there.
    So I have to calm and think how can I be of best use.
    Meaness, or in displaying no self discipline-these things make me pause. Or in self harm which is what I call it when you take some in a group and attack them within. We harm then Ourselves.
    And I do agree with you that you can gain by hearing your enemy.

    I also left over seeing a founder announcing private personal behaviors as examples of badassness, inducing others to do the same, (here I thought it might be saying-“I stood up on a testing issue to ask for more time or a different method”)-instead a reference to acting out personally- seeing that in no short order that term ran it’s usefulness pulling you into a lowering. I needed to remember that.
    There aren’t days off, and I’ve never failed to get that lesson.
    No, you model for kids, you don’t get to forget why you have rules.

    I heard members call this camaraderie, and then disabuse taking oneself too seriously, but since it is a group propagating to be about children’s education-this is a serious issue. Not funny to me.
    A serious, thoughtful, change making, important issue.
    Head and heart engaged.
    And lastly the terms of the group stated unequivocally-in a sudden posted thing over which no discussion occurred and wasn’t there when I was put in the group- ahead of many things- the name of the group was “off the table” and so as a member I decided-well they formed this on a whim, and as they shake out who they are-perhaps what I first heard is different.
    Perhaps I don’t like Batman, maybe I don’t identify with telling people asking things that they can leave “and good riddance” or worse.
    I just heard ego, ego, ego.
    Maybe this is not where I am in my life now.
    I’ve been speaking out, writing, advocating since 2004 and I live the walk.
    I’d better pay attention.

    I think I wanted to comment here especially because reading about China-among other things- has been something I’ve done for years. I, too, found this something I thought about a lot. I read a book of pieces-China and Human Rights-it was very interesting. It spoke to me a bit about the issues you bring up. China has a lot to teach us. Understand what Mao wrought is really important.
    In LA there USED to be a wonderful bookstore in Santa Monica with a brilliant collection-there I’d find books. Closed. Now-nothing but stores on buying things you don’t need. I got this book there-they had the finest Asian studies collections.

    I often find few answers really written out, when someone asks-well if not testing what? I think because the question involves explaining a whole different world view- but it is worth explication. So, yes, what you are is very much illuminated by what you are not.

  2. Pingback: The Gaze of Educators |

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