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Returning to State Schools? Educational Re-embedding and the Institutional Dilemma

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Cultivating the Confucian Individual
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This chapter focuses on the “re-embedding” dimension of the Confucian education revival according to the individualization thesis. It examines the first of the two most common options available to families for their children’s future education—returning to state schools. Whereas Chap. 3 reveals parents’ and students’ critical attitudes toward the state school system from which they are attempting to “dis-embed,” this chapter demonstrates the paradoxical situation in which many parents struggle to “re-embed” their children into state schools after years of full-time classics study. Based on fieldwork data obtained at Yiqian School, I summarize the following three interlinked aspects of the parental decision to return their children to state education: (1) uncertainty about the prospects of Confucian education, (2) concern about academic qualifications, and (3) anxiety about the marginalization of the educational experience. I also describe Yiqian School’s failed efforts to provide state-approved courses in its regular curriculum and clarify the implications of that failure for parents’ and students’ “re-embedding” attempt to return to state education. This chapter concludes with the argument that parents and students involved in Confucian education are caught in an institutional dilemma between freedom and risk in pursuing educational re-embedding approaches.

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  1. 1.

    Interview in May 2015.

  2. 2.

    As mentioned in the preceding Chaps. 4 and 5, Boyue Academy has established an admission requirement that all applicants must have successfully recited at least 300,000 characters of the classics before they submit an application, including 200,000 characters of Chinese classics and 100,000 words of non-Chinese classics (e.g., English, German, and Sanskrit).

  3. 3.

    Some studies (Billioud and Thoraval 2015; Gilgan 2022b) have revealed that some parents leave one Confucian school to find another sishu (old-style private school) that better matches their expectations. There are circulations between traditional schools and parents’ reflections on the ideal education. Acknowledging the truth of it, this book, however, takes a different focus on the circulations between traditional schools and the official education system.

  4. 4.

    The self-study higher education examination, or the self-study examination (zixue kaoshi) for short, is a form of higher education that integrates self-study, social study, and national examinations. It is considered an open, inclusive educational system, and its target audience is very broad: students taking the self-study examination are not restricted by gender, age, nationality, race, or educational background. More than 100 programs are provided to applicants for the self-study examination, and they are allowed to choose the one that best matches their interests. Students are eligible for a bachelor’s degree when they successfully pass all of the modules and earn the required credits after years of self-study. In addition, a self-study degree can be used to pursue a master’s degree and even a doctorate.

  5. 5.

    Interview in August 2015.

  6. 6.

    Interview in July 2015.

  7. 7.

    Interview in August 2015.

  8. 8.

    Interview in June 2015.

  9. 9.

    Interview in August 2015.

  10. 10.

    Class discussion with students at Qibo Class in May 2015.

  11. 11.

    Interview in August 2015.

  12. 12.

    Interview in August 2015.

  13. 13.

    Interestingly, Yiqian School faces an ethical dilemma concerning the issue of tuition fees. On the one hand, as a private school, it charges higher tuition fees than free state-sponsored public schools. On the other hand, some Buddhist parents argued that the school has an obligation to reduce tuition for economically disadvantaged students. Indeed, Yiqian School does offer some discounts on tuition to students from low-income families, but it does not waive all fees. Moreover, this policy only applies to students who have attended for several years—the longer a student stays at the school, the greater the tuition discount.

  14. 14.

    Another piece of evidence is that the school’s persistent efforts to provide state-stipulated courses at the compulsory education stage were explicitly described in various versions of its brochures.

  15. 15.

    Compared with mathematics and English, the students and parents interviewed felt much better about the compulsory course in Chinese Language and Literature, because they believed that reading the Confucian classics would improve learners’ overall skills in Chinese.

  16. 16.

    Interview in August 2015.

  17. 17.

    Interview in August 2015.

  18. 18.

    Interview in June 2015.

  19. 19.

    Interview in April 2015.


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Wang, C. (2023). Returning to State Schools? Educational Re-embedding and the Institutional Dilemma. In: Cultivating the Confucian Individual. Palgrave Studies on Chinese Education in a Global Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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