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World culture with Chinese characteristics: when global models go native

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Just as the world has increasingly been compressed over recent decades through transnationally engaged actors or ‘carriers’ such as mobile experts, international organisations, and seemingly globalised bodies of knowledge, so have China's politicians and academics increasingly ‘gone global’ in various fields of social action, including education. China's Open Door policy since the late 1970s is, historically, not the country's first opening to the world but is preceded by earlier phases of opening and closing. Each of these ‘global’ phases is witness to two interrelated phenomena: the reconstruction of the local through the global; and the reconceptualisation of the global through the local.

The article seeks to illustrate this dialectic process both in theory and in practice. The first part unpacks dimensions and paradoxes of the global–local nexus in comparative education, discussing both fruitfulness and shortcomings of the ‘world culture theory’ and complementary approaches. Based on the insights from this discussion, the second part showcases the local embeddedness of seemingly global paths by revealing how the Chinese educational field dealt with – and appropriated – ‘world culture’. I will exemplify this by looking at two different time periods: firstly, I will show how, in the Republican China of the 1920s, the idea of ‘vocational education’ was taken up, transformed, and meshed with socio-culturally grounded, both traditional and contemporaneous notions of how the individual should be socialised into working life. Secondly, I will trace how the idea of ‘neo-liberalism’ has been taken up by Chinese educationists since the 1990s and how it has been sinicised to justify – or oppose – equality in education. The insights from these two historical snapshots are two-fold: firstly, the development of Chinese education is not as nationally determined as is suggested by various actors and researchers but emerges at the interface of globally migrating ideas and nationally designed strategies; secondly, ‘world culture’ – or an educational ideology spreading worldwide – is not as uniform as is suggested by its apparent global ubiquity but is remade by local, if transnationally active agents and networks.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Lund University, Sweden

Publication date: November 1, 2012

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