Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Mainland Chinese Primary and Middle-School Students' Social and Emotional Wellbeing

Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Mainland Chinese Primary and Middle-School Students' Social and Emotional Wellbeing

Article excerpt

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Students' social and emotional wellbeing is of global topical interest, as represented by burgeoning literature in the USA, UK, Europe and Australia (Lendrum & Humphrey, 2015), government policy directives (e.g., COAG, 2012), and school-based initiatives such as PATHS (Kam, Greenberg, & Walls, 2003), SEAL (Hallam, 2009; Lendrum, Humphrey, & Wigelsworth, 2013), CASEL initiatives (2015b), KidsMatter (2013) and MindMatters (beyondblue, 2014). This interest is related to appreciation of the importance of the social and emotional development of young people (UN, 2015; WHO, 2014), the quality of students' school life (Askell-Williams & Lawson, 2015), and links between students' mental health and their academic outcomes (CASEL, 2015a; Dix, Slee, Lawson, & Keeves, 2012). Layard and Hagell (2015), in accord with many scholars (e.g., CASEL, 2015b), proposed that:

Schools should make the well-being of their children a major objective, and this should include the children's sense of social obligation and also how they feel inside: are they fulfilled or are they anxious or depressed? Every school should have a well-being policy, affecting the whole life of the school. There is good evidence that schools with such a policy improve their outcomes on all fronts. (p. 116)

Layard and Hagell proposed that it is necessary to institute a system of measuring wellbeing so that progress can be identified and tracked. Diener and Tay (2015) also argued that nations should track citizens' subjective and psychological wellbeing in order to usefully inform policy directions, going beyond indicators such as economic performance.

Some studies of Chinese adults' wellbeing are available (Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2015; Diener & Tay, 2015). For example, the 2015 World Happiness Report (Helliwell, Huang, & Wang, 2015), using data from the Gallup World Poll, reported that interacting indicators such as Gross District Domestic Product, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption placed Chinese participants at a Happiness rank of 84 in 158 countries. However, such measurements and ranks are very broad indicators. Little detailed research about population wellbeing, in particular student wellbeing, has crossed from eastern to western literature, and vice versa, especially with mainland China. Increasing attention is turning to the quality of Chinese education systems, and within those systems, to Chinese students' social and emotional wellbeing.

The Chinese cultural context and school-student wellbeing

Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, tremendous changes have taken place in the field of education in mainland China, aligned to four historical stages. From 1949 to 1965, the first stage was characterised by an emphasis on political development; from 1966 to 1976, during the Cultural Revolution, ideological concerns saw a decline in educational provisions across the country; from 1977 to 2000, the third stage saw a period of recovery in the whole educational system; and from 2001 until the present has seen dramatic development in education, with China interested in learning from the educational trends of the western world (Luo & Arndt, 2010).

Since the turn of the 21st century a small body of literature on students' wellbeing (especially concerning the study of happiness and subjective wellbeing) by scholars of mainland China has been associated with the fourth educational stage (Chen & Davey, 2008). For example, suggestions to promote students' wellbeing have included building up close school and family collaboration (Shen, 2015); experimenting with a 'four-autonomous' learning platform (Zhang, 2012) and alleviating students' homework burden (Li & Li, 2012).

Chinese society takes pride in its multi-cultural nature, whereby Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism form three formative cultural foundations (Zeng & Guo, 2012). …

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