Making of the Confucian individual: morality, subjectification and classical schooling in China
This research explores the complexity of Confucian schooling in the context of contemporary China. Based on fieldwork in a Confucian-‐style classical school (given the pseudonym Yiqian School), the thesis reveals why parents choose Confucian education, how the school seeks to cultivate children as Confucian autonomous, learned individuals and what sense parents, students and teachers make of this schooling. Theoretically the thesis draws together three strands of scholarship—research on Chinese education and the rhetoric of suzhi/quality, the individualisation thesis as it applies to China, and governmentality and subjectification in the context of China. The study is ethnographic, drawing on participant observation and formal and informal interviews. Conducted in 2015, the fieldwork took place over six months in Yiqian School, a classical school with a student population spanning seven to 15 years. The research demonstrates the complexity of parents’ decisions to withdraw their children from state schools and in planning for their future education. These parents had contradictory dispositions towards the state school system: while many criticised compulsory schooling, at the same time they also recognised the importance of the state-‐defined educational track in awarding academic certificate. The parental desire for their children to receive Confucian classical education was deeply influenced by anxiety about morality and a belief that classical education would enhance children’s moral status. As most parents came from middle-‐class families, their stress on Confucian ethical virtue can be interpreted as an attempt to distinguish their children from other social groups through a Confucian-‐inspired distinction between good/bad manners, high/low qualities (suzhi), and superior/inferior civilities (wenming). The thesis also explores the specific educational practices and techniques used in the Confucian school. While Yiqian School aimed to cultivate students as autonomous, learned individuals through the approach of “individualised memorisation,” this process is subjected to disciplinary power in two conflicting types of memorisation-‐based pedagogy, an individualistic and an authoritarian mode. This meant the subjectification of the students involved a contradiction between autonomy and coercion. By showing how Confucian individuals are shaped within the education system, the thesis reveals what Confucian education tells us about the Chinese path to individualisation. The making of Confucian individuals in the school is not completely “dis-‐embedded” from the “traditional” categories such as family relations, the state school system and social class. The tension between parents and their children in planning for the latter’s future education indicates how strongly the Confucian youth pursue personal aspirations. Furthermore, while parents were free to take their children out of the state school system and choose Confucian education, they had to face the risks resulting from the ambiguous status of Confucian education, particularly the lack of certificate-‐granting powers and the marginalisation of the Confucian educational experience.