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

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Wiley, Nov 18, 2019 - Social Science - 240 pages
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.

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About the author (2019)

Paul Willis is an ethnographer and cultural theorist and a founding editor of Ethnography. He gained his PhD at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 1972 where he remained as Senior Research Fellow for several years followed by professorships at Wolverhampton, Keele, Princeton and Beijing Normal Universities. His book Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs is a classic of modern sociology and cultural studies.

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