Confucianism, Marxism, and Pragmatism: The Intellectual Contexts of Engineering Education in China

  • Qin Zhu
  • Brent K. Jesiek
Part of the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology book series (POET, volume 20)


Sensitivity to cross-cultural and cross-national differences in engineering education and practice is essential for globally competent engineers. Those who fail to pay close attention to the historical-cultural contexts of engineering do so at their own peril, increasing the likelihood that their gaps in knowledge and misconceptions will lead to failed collaborations, projects, and products. This chapter aims to support this thesis by describing the historical and intellectual contexts for engineering education in contemporary China. It starts by presenting a variety of controversial issues in current global discourses on China’s engineering education, e.g., distinct understandings of professionalism and accountability, and different approaches to defining core bodies of knowledge, competencies, and other learning outcomes. It argues that these controversies mainly arise from insufficient understandings of three key intellectual contexts of Chinese engineering education: Confucianism (historical), Marxism (ideological), and economic pragmatism (economic). It is then followed by analyses showing how these three intellectual contexts historically contributed to shaping China’s unique developmental trajectory of engineering education. The three dimensions are not presented and judged in historical sequence, but instead framed as interwoven and coproduced, with real and present implications for the culture and character of engineering education and practice. Finally, this chapter attempts to use the three-dimensional framework as an interpretative tool to reflect on the practical issues proposed in the first part. In so doing, it highlights the relevance and implications of the intellectual contexts of global engineering education and policymaking in contemporary China. The chapter’s main thesis is further advanced by revisiting an influential cross-national, comparative study of engineering education, which helps show how discourses originating outside of China frequently provide impoverished or oversimplified understandings of the Chinese context.


Confucianism Marxism Pragmatism Intellectual history Global engineering education Engineering education Educational policy China 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Engineering EducationPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.School of Engineering EducationPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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