A textbook lack of a case

As a student in Level 5 Chinese, I was startled to read Yifu Dong’s ’17 column “A Textbook Case” (Sept. 2, 2016), alleging that the textbook I am reading for my Chinese class, “Discussing Everything Chinese” is “uncritical, inaccurate, propagandistic,” and, essentially, a tool of the Chinese government. After reading the article, I am forced to conclude that the real case at hand is one of irresponsible reporting.

Dong’s argument is based on two pieces of evidence. The first is a passage about Lei Feng, a mythologized Communist hero who donated his life savings to the party. In his column, Dong contends that students “miss the nuance” of the word “dang” (party) instead of “gong chan dang” (Communist Party), a word choice that “suggests that the passage is in line with the rhetoric of the Chinese Communist Party.” Such an argument goes straight for the most scandalous explanation, ignoring three much more plausible ones: that “dang” is simply a shorthand, that the text is taking on the perspective of its protagonist Lei Feng and that, since China currently has a one-party system, the words “party” and “government” are used interchangeably.

Dong’s second (and last) piece of evidence that the textbook is propagandistic comes from a chapter about women in China. He takes issue with the chapter’s first dialogue in which the Communist Party is thanked for the end of foot-binding practices and the increased status of women. In an egregious case of cherry-picking, Dong ignores the structure of the textbook: The first dialogue of each chapter sets up a claim and the second dialogue debunks it. If Dong had bothered to turn the page, he would have found himself reading a passage about the selective abortion of female babies as a result of the one-child policy, and questioning whether true equality had really been achieved.

I am surprised to see the News publish what ironically amounts to propaganda against the Chinese Department.

Anna Blech is a sophomore in Calhoun College. Contact her at anna.blech@yale.edu .