School textbooks reveal story of a changing China

More than 1,000 textbooks on show at Shanxi Library reflect a changing China over the past century.

Jia Dajin, 67, who is from north China’s Shanxi Province, has been obsessed with collecting textbooks since the 1980s and now has more than 2,000, some dating back more than 100 years.

“Luckily, Shanxi people like hoarding old things at home,” said Jia, a former barrel maker from Taiyuan, Shanxi’s capital and home to the library.

“Each textbook represents the characteristics of its time,” he said.

A faded textbook issued during the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908), represents the transition from the old to the new, he said.

He said the book contained some feudal ideas with a portrait of Emperor Guangxu and words praising him.

After more than 2,000 years of feudal rule ended, education in the 1920s and 1930s focused more on practical subjects.

Jia has several textbooks from a Shanxi school established in 1919 on weaving techniques and military science. “The knowledge was very practical,” he said.

During the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-1945), content became more patriotic.

In a book found in Yan’an, center of the Communist revolution from 1935 to 1948, a story tells of a primary school pupil in northeast China.

The student was sent in secret to Beijing after he wrote “defeat the Japanese invaders” on a textbook of the puppet Manchurian regime.

“Conquering the invaders was one of the themes of patriotic education at that time,” Jia said.

The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949 when the country entered a new era.

An article in a textbook from the 1950s reads: “Last year, there were only bare hills; now, big plants were built on the hills. Let’s sing in praise of our beautiful hometown and free motherland.”

Jia said: “Many collectors do not realize the value of these old textbooks, which are treasures of their time.”

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