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Being Modern in China: A Western Cultural Analysis of Modernity, Tradition and Schooling in China Today

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Being Modern in China: A Western Cultural Analysis of Modernity, Tradition and Schooling in China Today

Paul Willis

ISBN: 978-1-509-53933-8 October 2019 Polity 240 Pages

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Description

This book analyses modernity and tradition in China today and how they combine in striking ways in the Chinese school.  Paul Willis – the leading ethnographer and author of Learning to Labour – shows how China has undergone an internal migration not only of masses of workers but also of a mental and ideological kind to a new cultural landscape of meaning characterized by the worship of the glorified city, devotion to consumerism and fixation with the smartphone and the internet. 

Massive educational expansion has been a precondition for explosive economic growth and technical development, but at the same time it provides sites where the new meets the old in the experiences, practices and developing self-identities of students and future generations of workers and citizens.  In the closed walls of the school and the inescapability of its `scores`, an astonishing drama plays out between the new and the old with a tapestry of intricate human meanings woven of small tragedies and triumphs, secret promises and felt betrayals, helping to produce not only exam results but cultural orientations and occupational destinies.  Willis presents the human stories, the everyday human habitations and facilitations of how vast change comes about in local registers and feelings. The conformists and educational achievers have a particular way of relating to modernity that involves duty, delay and sacrifice – perhaps without end. Those failing or rebelling in school find their own more immediate ways of relating to modernity but it is a different and more brutal kind of modernity, arrived at with apparent enthusiasm but great cost.

By exploring the cultural dimension of everyday experience as it is lived out in the school, this book sheds new light on the enormous transformations that have swept through China and created the kind of society that it is today, a society that is obsessed with the future and at the same time structured by and in continuous dialogue with its past.
Acknowledgements

Preface

Introduction and Theoretical Groundings

The Chinese Scene

Part I    Modernity’s Symbolic Order

1          Country Bad/City Good
2          Consuming Consumerism
3          The Internet as Deus Ex Machina

Part II Education’s Symbolic Order

4          The GaoKao Regime
5          The Three Arrows and Experience
6          ‘People is the Fish’

Part III The View from the Saved

7          Passing GaoKao
8          Not Passing GaoKao

Part IV Closing Portraits

9          ‘Chen’
10        ‘My Own Song’
11        A Country Trip

Orders of Experience

Notes