Will the Leadership of Chinese Education Follow the Footsteps of American Education? A Brief Historical and Socio-Political Analysis

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Introduction

For thousands of years China has kept itself a closed, isolated, and mysterious country with respect to its culture, education, and economy. The world knew nothing more than a vague impression of its traditional imperial system and notorious communist dictatorial structure. After Deng Xiaoping's 1978 reformation, China started to open its doors to Western influence and American ideas. The economic and cultural export from Western countries together with a willingness of citizens to reform the Chinese government has resulted in the current economic expansion and prosperity of China. China has become, without dispute, one of the economic super-powers based upon its population, geographic size, and gross domestic product (GDP). The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing attests to China's ever increasing openness, economic expansion, and national pride. Increasingly, China makes its presence known on the stage of international affairs for its own benefit. It is clear at this point that the Chinese economic system has changed to a mixed social-market economy instead of purely a command economy; yet at the same time the Chinese government is still a communist dictatorial government.

In this mixed or hybrid economic-political system, where does Chinese education stand? How do we predict the direction of the Chinese education system? Will national education fix itself within a Chinese traditional education agenda; move toward a Western or principally US culturally-influenced system; or remain under the communist government's umbrella of control and surveillance?

This article analyzes both past and contemporary Chinese education, walks us through the Chinese education pathway, and tries to determine and anticipate the direction of the current Chinese education system. Our logic and argument are derived from historical aspects of Chinese education, the contemporary political atmosphere, educational philosophy, and curricular and leadership studies in education. Leadership, as we define it here, is "everything that consciously seeks to accomplish educational projects" and their varied ends, either aesthetically, economically or ideologically (Hodgkinson, 1991, p. 17). The questions we seek to answer are: Will the leadership of Chinese education follow in the footsteps of Western countries, and particularly America (U.S.), in purpose, organization, policy and practice? What can or should be done to assist in this matter?

Chinese Education of the Distant and Recent Past

Confucius' Impact on Chinese Education

In Chinese traditional values, "Wan ban jie Xia pin, Wei you du shu gao" means that educated people are above every other human being in social standing. In the Song Dynasty of China, the Emperor Zheng Zong wrote a famous poem called "The Exhortation of Study" in order to encourage Chinese people to achieve self-actualization through studying hard. The poem mentions, "There are golden houses in books; there are pretty girls in books; there are myriads of grain in books; and there are crowds of horses and carriages in books." Therefore, in ancient China, even the poor could appreciate the value of education. For thousands of years, education was almost the only way in which people could climb to the elite classes.

What is Traditional Chinese Education and Why Is It Influential?

China has a long history of being an emperor-run country. Before the first unification of the entire country in BC 221, China was in an era of warring states that fought for power over each other--it was a time of great chaos. Among the different philosophers who flourished during this era, Confucius (551-479 BC) was the most influential. One of his codes was "Jun Jun, Chen Chen, fu fu, zi zi." Actually, this was his societal organization code meaning: "the ruler rules as he should; the minister manages as he should; the father acts as he should; and the son behaves as he should" (Waley, 1996, p. …