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Fake story about Thomas Edison removed from Chinese textbook

Grade two students in China were taught Edison, as a seven-year-old in 1854, helped save his mother’s life during an appendectomy. But surgical treatment for appendicitis didn’t become commonplace until the 1880s.

world Updated: Mar 24, 2017 19:34 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Thomas Edison

The controversy about the story worried parents and became a hot topic on Weibo.(AFP File)

Thomas Alva Edison has been described as America’s greatest inventor, but perhaps he was not behind every bright innovation attributed to him. At least that’s what Chinese educators appear to have realised, after they removed a popular story about him from textbooks.

For the past 30 years, grade two students in Chinese schools were taught Edison, as a precocious seven-year-old, helped save his mother’s life during an appendectomy by using mirrors to reflect light from candles, thereby giving doctors enough light to perform the operation.

As it turns out, the story about the mirrors, though a great lesson in innovation, wasn’t correct.

“Though the story has been taught for almost 30 years, many educators and scholars have challenged its authenticity, worrying that students could see it as license to lie if it is perceived as false,” People’s Daily online reported.

Epiphany, it seemed, came to China’s educators but took its time.

“According to a scientific article published on Colombia University’s official website, titled History of Medicine: The Mysterious Appendix, surgical treatment for appendicitis didn’t become commonplace until the 1880s. However, Edison would have been seven much earlier, in 1854,” the state media reported.

As some teachers researched the truth behind the story and found out it was dodgy, they put it up to the publisher of the textbook, People’s Education Press.

The report said People’s Education Press responded to the controversy by announcing on March 21 that “the story will not be included its new textbook for the coming autumn semester”.

The controversy about the story worried parents and became a hot topic on Weibo, China’s Twitter. It was talked about and shared more than 600,000 times.

To many parents, it brought back memories of studying “stories” which later in life they found to be untrue.

Most agreed that untrue stories should be removed from textbooks because students should not be encouraged to lie.

Edison did invent the light bulb later in life but whether he was inspired to do so after witnessing an operation in the dark is another story.