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Cultivating Good Citizens: The State, Textbooks, and Agency in Contemporary China

  • Author(s): Jiang, Jia
  • Advisor(s): Torres, Carlos A
  • et al.

This dissertation investigates how the state, teachers, and students negotiate citizenship education in the high school politics curriculum in China to explore the functions and outcomes of Chinese citizenship education. Inspired by Gidden’s and Sewell’s statements of structure and Emirbayer and Mische’s agency theory, this study focuses on how social structures and agency shape the practices of Chinese citizenship education. In addition, this research explores the influences of the Chinese individualization on the practices of citizenship education.

Data were collected from a fieldwork lasting five months in two high schools in the same city in Zhejiang Province, China. This fieldwork included observing 58 classes of the politics curriculum, interviewing 25 students and seven teachers, and analyzing textbooks and documents relating to citizenship education. Findings reveal that the state desires responsible socialist citizens who know their rights, participate in public life with order, have a strong national identity, and support the current political system and official ideology; students demonstrate their understanding of citizens as being individualized, passive, yet patriotic; while politics curriculum teachers interpret good citizens as citizens who obey the law and behave well in their daily life. The major tension between the state and the teachers and students is that the state wants to promote its official ideology, but students and teachers are not terribly attracted to this theme; as such, teachers selectively teach citizenship and students selectively learn citizenship. Their selective strategy is shaped by social structures (e.g., the schema of ideal responsible socialist citizen proposed by the Party-state, the reality of China’s politics, exam-oriented educational system, the individualistic culture, textbooks, teachers’ teaching, students’ preferences, time, space, etc.) and the agency of teachers and students (including teachers’ and students’ knowledge and experience, teachers’ imagination of meaningful teaching, students’ aspiration of personal freedom and self-expression, etc.).

Due to teachers’ and students’ selective strategy, the Party-state’s goal of cultivating responsible socialist citizens succeeds in terms of promoting students’ awareness of their responsibilities to their communities and the state. It is not as successful in promoting students’ identification with the CCP and socialist ideology. In addition, it has the unintended result of facilitating students’ knowledge of their rights and their political participation. However, this research concludes that students’ increasing awareness of rights and political participation, which is facilitated by the rise of the individual, will not directly contribute to political change in China. Political control, the underdevelopment of cultural democratization, and the insufficient welfare system block their further political participation and limit their sufficient understanding of citizenship.

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