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 new cultural landscapes of meaning, which include worship of the glorified city, devotion to consumerism, and fixation upon the smartphone and the internet.
Massive educational expansion has been a precondition for explosive economic growth and technical development, but at the same time the school provides a cultural stage for personal and collective experience. In its closed walls 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.
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.
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
10 ‘My Own Song’
11 A Country Trip
Orders of Experience