Guoxue: Confucian Schools

From Emily Feng in the FT:

Although the Chinese Communist party has imposed stricter education controls that put such private guoxue schools in a legal grey area, their numbers have grown quickly.

Their popularity — there are an estimated 1,800 Confucian schools such as Wan Hui across China

, according to state media — reflects parents’ desire to give children an education steeped in traditional Chinese values as the country’s leaders push out an increasingly nationalistic message.

“Guoxue is now the most dominant trend in Chinese education,” said Jiang Xueqin, a Chinese education consultant used by foreign institutions. “For the Chinese government, guoxue is an ideology and cultural system that can unite the thinking and values of the Chinese people, as China enters into a more intense period of global competition. For Chinese parents, it’s important . . . to firm up Chinese identity in a time of disorienting economic, social and technological change.”

What happens in these schools? It reminds me a little of Hebrew School, which I would attend 2 days a week from age 8 to 13 or so. We were supposed to learn about Judaism, about our heritage. However, I mostly remember stealing huge numbers of cookies from the kitchen, and outrageous mischievous misbehavior by my classmates. I’m sure the guoxue are better run…

…In addition to Confucian texts, guoxue studies concentrate on teaching Tang dynasty poetry as well as traditional painting and calligraphy. Such pursuits give students a strong sense of Chinese identity, say proponents.

…The popularity of guoxue reflects a shift among Chinese parents, who for decades prioritised sending their children abroad to receive a western education, which created a booming industry of education consultants who promised to place students in elite boarding schools and universities for a hefty fee.

So interesting. Though I can see those trends not necessarily in opposition. You could combine them in interesting ways.

That question of national pride also poses a different question. When a kid studies in USA, how does it affect him or her, upon return home?

I’ve been thinking about this, both in the context of being the “USA family” for 4 Kenyan kids now in their junior years of high school, and as I study the intersection of Chinese and American education.

From the New Yorker:

In the most thorough look at how studying abroad shapes the views of Chinese returnees, Donglin Han and David Zweig found that those who had lived overseas—in this case, those who had spent time in Canada and Japan—believed more strongly in “coöperative internationalism,” and were slightly less supportive of assertive nationalism, compared to members of the middle class who had never lived abroad.

But the authors also noted a remarkable point: “A strikingly significant proportion of returnees support Chinese foreign policy, regardless of ‘whether it is right or wrong.’ ” This may be a result of self-selection (nationalistic students are more likely to return), but it also underscores the magnifying effect of living far away from home.

Anyone who has lived overseas probably knows or can recall the temptation to hold fast to national characteristics, partly in contrast with an adopted land and partly out of resentment of foreigners’ criticisms.

I do remember that feeling at the London School of Economics in 1989.

Cheng Li, of the Brookings Institution, has noted that, contrary to the myth of “democracy by osmosis”—the notion that simply living in the U.S. will make foreigners more congenial to democratic-liberal ideas—many of the most strident nationalist books in China are written by people who have returned from abroad.

If Xi Mingze (Jin’s daughter who went to Harvard) to someday choose a public life, we may discover what she brought home to the dinner-table conversation. In the meantime, other Chinese citizens abroad have helped to complicate our understanding of democracy by osmosis.

Earlier this year, a fascinating piece called “Patriotism Abroad,” published in the Journal of Studies in International Education, compiled the views of anonymous Chinese faculty and students living outside the country. A woman teaching in the natural sciences said, “In China, people often complain. But in America, I want to see the positive side of China. It has something to do with pride, you know; I want to feel proud to be Chinese.”