Higher Education in Post-Mao China

By Michael Agelasto; Bob Adamson | Go to book overview

characterized Chinese politics and educational practices for several decades is once again moving towards a tightening in an effort to curb the effects of 'creeping capitalism'. 35 Internal and external forces are at work pressing Chinese society towards another period of constraint. One example of this is a ¥1.2 million campaign to promote communist ideology (moral and political education) over three years on the campus of Shenzhen University. This plan, which was announced by the local government shortly after a visit from Jiang Zemin, 36 appears to be part of a nationwide trend towards ideological retrenchment, 37 an inevitable occurrence at the beginning of a new political era, following the death of Deng Xiaoping. Such a retrenchment poses a particular problem for students who, on the one hand, are being encouraged to take responsibility for financing their education and conducting their own job searches -- activities which demand greater autonomy, personal initiative, habits of choice-making and entrepreneurialism -- but, on the other hand, are being forced to comply with an increasingly restrictive ideological education which demands compliance to a narrow set of politically correct thoughts and behaviours. The obvious disjuncture between these two conflicting messages could lead to a psychological 'double bind' which is potentially explosive. Negotiating the paths among these conflicting values is problematic. One of the graduate students surveyed described the moral climate of the PRC as in a transitional period. With the boom of the domestic economy and the Open Door policy old moral values are being challenged, while new market-oriented ones have not been established. There is a mixture of both.

The tension between material and spiritual civilization is always present and meaning is continuously being renegotiated in relation to competing social, political and economic factors. In this time of reform and transition when the social impetus is towards greater pluralism, it is significant that Lei Feng is still part of the conversation about values. Within the confines of the military and in educational settings with younger children, the message still has some usefulness. For adults and for university students, however, the Lei Feng message is too simplistic. But since it is not clear what direction the new drive towards 'moral reconstruction' will take, and since the general thrust of reform is towards plurality, it is premature to suggest that the values that the Lei Feng model represents are expendable.


NOTES
1.
There were two sayings which were commonly heard: Lei Feng shushu bu jianle (Uncle Lei Feng has disappeared) and Lei Feng shushu sile (Uncle Lei Feng is dead).

-371-

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