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Imaginaries of a better Chinese society enacted in the revival of Confucian education
An ethnography of living and learning in contemporary classics reading education dujing jiaoyu

dc.contributor.advisorAntweiler, Christoph
dc.contributor.authorGilgan, Sandra
dc.description.abstractStudying Confucian classics is commonly known as core activity in Chinese imperial education – at least for young men who sought a career as government official. When this learning technique reappeared in classrooms of privately-run so-called contemporary “academies” and “study halls”, heated debates on the value of traditional education for contemporary Chinese society ensued in academia and society. Children who study the classics in a full-time approach receive education outside of China’s system of compulsory education. Given that study halls and academies are usually not registered as schools, they can neither offer an officially recognized diploma nor an official school registration which is, for example, needed for participation in the secondary school and the university entrance examinations. The legal situation of reading the classics today as alternative to public education remains subject of negotiations between headmasters of the newly emerged facilities and local government officials. Nevertheless, parents take the risk to send their children to these facilities to receive education. In addition, parents are taking on a huge financial burden as study fees in these facilities are quite high. Despite all obstacles, many parents decide that their child(ren) should learn from China’s ancient masters rather than from today’s schoolbooks.
In the continued trend of Confucian revival in China since the 1980s and 1990s, classics reading education appears as a project of retraditionalization on the level of the people (minjian). Originally developed by educator and Confucian scholar Wang Caigui, the educational approach of reading the classics has been translated into different forms of practice in individual educational facilities. Even though classics reading activities and initiatives are very diverse and far from forming a coherent movement, educational activists follow the common goal to make Chinese society more moral, civilized, and more Chinese again. Confucian idealism is projected into visions of a better future which highly influence activists in the classics reading movement (dujing yundong). Motivated (or repelled) by perceived lacks and deficiencies in Chinese society today, classics reading activists develop rich imaginaries of a better future; this utopian thought is attempted to be implemented into everyday routines and learners’ lives in study halls and academies.
Ideals and specific localized practice play key roles in classics reading education: ideals are implemented into daily practice, and daily practice takes place in a carefully designed environment which responds to these abstract ideals with corresponding ideal structures. The embodiment of abstract ideals and visions in locations and people’s identities, behaviors and actions is a major concern in grounded utopian movements. The theory of grounded utopian movements is taken over as tool to make results of the study of the classics reading movement better understandable and to take them to another level of abstraction and comparability. Emerging in the research on nativistic movements in North and South America among native groups, grounded utopian movement theory explained what fell out of the grid of established social movement and new social movement theory – movements that could not respond well to the society-state relation assumed in Northern America and Europe in relation to their nation state building processes. Crucial for the introduction of this new theoretical framework is a history of foreign occupation and cultural oppression which influenced nation building processes in these countries. Considering China’s turbulent conditions at the beginning of the 20th century, similarities in historical fates appear, especially in China’s intellectual world and educational landscape which were both dominated by foreign thought and system for a long time. Different “lacks” in China’s current society (inadequate public education, moral decline of society, shifting family values and lack of knowledge in child raising on parent’s side) are linked to China’s multiple disconnection with its own cultural tradition in the past (from Qing dynasty onwards but at the latest starting with the anti-traditional May Fourth Movement in 1919). Confucian activists take the responsibility for filling or counterbalancing these lacks with a rich cultural and moral education under the patronage of the sages of China’s more distant and more glorious past.
Interview and participant observation data from ethnographic field research carried out between October 2015 and July 2016 are the basis for this study. In 2015, information on the phenomenon of classics reading education which was taken directly from practice was scarce and largely related to studies which were not mainly concerned with education but, for example, with Confucian revival in general or the religious/ spiritual side of popular Confucian projects. In-depth interviews drew a vivid image of the classics reading world as imagined and lived by classics reading educators and parents. Field observation during the visits in class and naturally occurring talks with involved people revealed how difficult it is to drag such rich ideals into reality. The highest ideal to become a morally upright gentleman (junzi; the term is used gender-neutral and encompasses girls and women) who would influence and improve Chinese society requires time consuming daily recitation of Confucian (and “Western”) classics over many years – a practice which is always the same and carried out in the same daily rhythms. Exceedingly few (parents of) children commit to the whole package of 20 years of classics reading education – and considering that the movement only picked up speed at the beginning of the 2000s, there can hardly be students who already went all the way. An assessment of possible outcomes of the movement can only have a preliminary character, but there are activists who critically examine their own actions and routines and see the price paid for sticking to ideals too strictly. In many cases, students’ further development in higher education and/ or professional life remains a question mark. Utopia in practice looks less ideal than in theory. Nevertheless, the utopian movement of reading the classics teaches a lot about coping with caesuras in the past, changes in the present, and conceptualizations of the future. Active engagement in realizing these future concepts drives people to explore new paths – even in legally unclarified grey areas – and secure their own participation in (social) matters which are of concern for them. Even though the classics reading movement might be small and operating in the margins, the Chinese government has started to respond to people’s own initiatives in their (educational) policies.
dc.rightsIn Copyright
dc.subjectChinesische Akademien
dc.subjectPrivate Bildung in China
dc.subjectKonfuzianische Bildung
dc.subjectKonfuzianischer Kanon und chinesische Klassiker
dc.subjectKonfuzianische Rituale und Spiritualität
dc.subjectGrounded Theory
dc.subjectGrounded Utopian Movements
dc.subjectPopulärer Konfuzianismus
dc.subjectRäumlichkeit in der Bildung
dc.subjectUtopie und gesellschaftliche Entwicklung
dc.subjectWang Caigui
dc.subjectChinese academies
dc.subjectPrivate education in China
dc.subjectConfucian education
dc.subjectConfucian canon and Chinese classics
dc.subjectConfucian ritual and spirituality
dc.subjectDujing movement
dc.subjectFamily education
dc.subjectGrounded Theory
dc.subjectGrounded Utopian Movements
dc.subjectPopular Confucianism
dc.subjectSpatiality in education
dc.subjectUtopia and social development
dc.subjectWang Caigui
dc.subject.ddc300 Sozialwissenschaften, Soziologie, Anthropologie
dc.subject.ddc370 Erziehung, Schul- und Bildungswesen
dc.subject.ddc390 Bräuche, Etikette, Folklore
dc.titleImaginaries of a better Chinese society enacted in the revival of Confucian education
dc.title.alternativeAn ethnography of living and learning in contemporary classics reading education dujing jiaoyu
dc.typeDissertation oder Habilitation
dc.publisher.nameUniversitäts- und Landesbibliothek Bonn
ulbbnediss.affiliation.nameRheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
ulbbnediss.institutePhilosophische Fakultät : Institut für Orient- und Asienwissenschaften (IOA)
ulbbnediss.fakultaetPhilosophische Fakultät
dc.contributor.coRefereeZimmer, Thomas

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