Breaking with old ideas: Chinese students’ perceptions of China’s neoliberal turn in higher education

Year: 2015

Author: Gong, Qian, Dobinson, Toni

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The education policy in China in the Maoist era was marked by an emphasis on the politically advanced class (the peasants and workers), and on integrating academic study with productive labour. The aim was to nurture socialist citizens useful for the nation’s modernisation. However, with China’s neoliberal turn, higher education is increasingly viewed as a means to better oneself and equip individuals with the skills to become competitive in the global market. Privatisation, marketisation, commodification and societalisation have been used to create a new kind of relationship between the state, the market and other non‐state sectors involved in social policy provision and financing. This projects looks at how the change of discourse in higher education has impacted on the production of subjectivity.

Following a Foucauldian view of subjectification, the study examined how a group of Chinese students studying at Curtin University, Western Australia, perceived the transformation of higher education in China. Two unit assignments were examined to see how students responded to two films: “Breaking with Old Ideas” (Jue Lie, 1975, dir Li Wenhua, Beijing Film Studio), made towards the end of the Cultural Revolution and a didactic mapping of this Maoist pedagogy, and “Assembly of Youth” (Qingchun Jihehao, 2012, dir, Mo Shen, Xi’an Film Group), a film about university accessibility for students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. Follow-up interviews were conducted based on students’ written responses in order to confirm and extend the written data. Analysis of data was conducted using thematic analysis. The findings contributed to a much overlooked area of discussion - the relationship between neoliberal imaginings and the processes of subjectification in post-Maoist China.

Qian Gong is a lecturer in Chinese Program at Curtin University. She was previously a journalist and editor in China Daily. She teaches Chinese language and media and supervises HDR students in the relevant field. Her research interest lies in media and Socialist culture in China.
Email: Ph: 9266 7042

Toni Dobinson is a lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Curtin University. She delivers the MA Applied Linguistics both onshore at the Bentley Campus and offshore in Vietnam and supervises HDR students from many different ethno-linguistic backgrounds. Her areas of research are critical education and cultural competence.
Email: Ph: 9266 4311