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Individualization, Subjectification, and Confucian Education

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Cultivating the Confucian Individual
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Abstract

This chapter introduces the theoretical framework applied to the research presented in this book. It addresses two strands of the sociological literature: the individualization thesis and its application to China and the Confucian education revival, and Foucault’s conceptual tools of subjectification and governmentality and their relevance to contemporary Chinese society. By drawing on the literature on individualization and the Chinese path to individualization, I lay a theoretical foundation for the presentation of the students’ self-formation, their parents’ moral anxieties, the plans made for the students’ future education, and the ambivalent relationship between Confucian education practitioners and the state education system. By looking into the literature on subjectification and governmentality and applying it to the Confucian education revival, I establish a conceptual basis for revealing the pedagogical practices adopted in the Confucian school and the implications of these practices for the subject-making of Confucian individuals.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The middle class in China has various definitions in sociological studies (Chen 2006; Goodman 2016; Hong and Zhao 2014; Li and Li 2007; Li and Wang 2017; Liu 2007; Rocca 2017; Sun 2009a; Zhu 2007; Zhou 2005). In general, there are two types of common criteria to describe the middle class in contemporary Chinese society: the objective criteria, “such as education, income, occupation and level of consumption,” and the subjective criteria, “such as lifestyle, manners, political ideas and identification with a social figure” (Rocca 2017: 3; see also Liu and Li 2005; Liu and Liu 2010). Additionally, in the post-1978 reform era, the middle class has emerged to become “a politically and economically stabilizing force,” “promoters of advanced culture,” and “represent moderation and rationality” (Lu 2006: 21–23; see also Guo 2012; Li 2006).

  2. 2.

    One recent study (Elizondo 2021) analyzes parents’ motivations for a range of traditional Chinese education projects, including those of Confucianism.

  3. 3.

    Bio-power is the form “to foster life or disallow it to the point of death” (Foucault 1990: 138). As Foucault explained, this type of power deals with “living beings, and the mastery it would be able to exercise over them would have to be applied at the level of life itself: it was the taking charge of life, more than the threat of death” (Foucault 1990: 142–143).

  4. 4.

    Sovereign power is a classical, juridico-legal form of power that appeared in the pre-modern era, whose focus lies on the right of subtraction (Taylor 2011: 42). As Foucault (1990: 136) argued, “The sovereign exercised his right of life only by exercising his right to kill, or by refraining from killing; (…) The right which was formulated as the ‘power of life and death’ was in reality the right to take life or let live.”

  5. 5.

    On the other hand, some researchers have commented that from the perspective of governmentality, both China and Western Europe are a hybridity of neoliberal and authoritarian governmentality practices (see Gong and Dobinson 2017; Taylor 2017; Lemke 2001, 2002, 2007, 2012).

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Wang, C. (2023). Individualization, Subjectification, and Confucian Education. In: Cultivating the Confucian Individual. Palgrave Studies on Chinese Education in a Global Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-27669-9_2

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