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Navigating the Aspirational City

Urban Educational Culture and the Revolutionary Path to Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

Spotlight on China, Volume: 006
Buy now from Brill-Sense Publishers.

The re-emergence of China as a world power promises to be the signal economic, political, cultural, and social development of the 21st century. In the face of its rise, fine grained accounts of the shape and texture of this new China are both timely and necessary.

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Navigating the Aspirational City forwards a theory of contemporary Chinese urban educational culture that focusses on the influence of dominant conceptions of “the good citizen” and the material environment upon parents as they pursue their childrearing projects. The book provides a description of the beliefs and practices of urban Chinese parents as they “educate” their children. These beliefs and practices are placed in relation to a historical chain of ideas about how to best educate children, as well as within the urban context in which they are produced and reproduced, renovated, and transformed.

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Beginning with a history of revolutionary “orders of worth” culminating in the “aspirational cité,” the book details the shifting standards that define the “human capital” conditions of possibility of a developed modern economy. It goes on to describe a set of policies and practices known as san nian da bianyang by which the whole of one particular city, Shijiazhuang, has been demolished, re-built, and re-ordered.

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Contemporary China is, the author contends, no less revolutionary than Mao’s, noting that parents’ beliefs and practices articulate with the present ideational and material context to produce what appears, at times, to be radical transformation and, at others, remarkable stability.

Buy now from Brill-Sense Publishers.

The following is Inadequately subtle in terms of analysis, but does give a brief and useful description of the gaokao and the anxiety surrounding it. The point made about transparency of results is an important one. In my own research, parents were very much attached to the relative objectivity and trustworthiness of the exam and equally suspicious of alternative systems to replace it. Better the devil you know.

Read this short but descriptively accurate article here:  The gaokao – The test where time stands still – University World News.

via The gaokao – The test where time stands still – University World News.

Justrecently's Weblog

Wu Ping (吴平), vice president of Zhejiang University, was killed in an automobile accident in the city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province last Thursday, June 12.  China Radio International (CRI) didn’t give details of the accident in its news report published on the same day, but one day later, China Dailydescribed surveillance footage from the scene of the accident, Hangzhou Western Beltway, according to which, Wu almost missed the exit where he wanted to leave the beltway and head to the university. 

The footage, published on websites like sina.com, suggests that Wu Ping cut into a truck’s safety zone, long after the opportunity to leave the highway in accordance with the traffic regulations had passed.

China Daily quoted a colleague of Wu as saying that lack of sleep could be the cause of the accident – he was a diligent man who often worked very…

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Hogwarts of Asia: New Campus in China Channels Harry Potter – WSJ.

via Hogwarts of Asia: New Campus in China Channels Harry Potter – WSJ.

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Stunning Photos Of Chinas Insanely Stressful College Exam Process | Business Insider.

via Stunning Photos Of Chinas Insanely Stressful College Exam Process | Business Insider.

I use the word “rural” with reservations here, as what is rural in China would hardly be recognized as such in many other places. At any rate, I offer this (very) short video as a supplement to a photo essay on School Courtyard Pedagogy I posted here some time ago. This video was shot in Summer 2013. By the way, before going off on conformity, have a close look at the fine-grained chaos at about the 13s mark. Try supervising that, teacher!

Enjoy.

In a compelling essay on China’s urbanization project, Hyun Bang Shin argues, in part, that

China’s speculative urbanisation is both an ideological and a political project that disrupts and destroys the lives of the masses, while it is the few that benefits from it (Strategising Discontents, para. 1).

I don’t disagree with the notion that this project is both ideological and political. I also buy without reservation “disrupts.” But I wonder if the word “destroy” does justice to the ideological and political in the sense that it forgets the constructive moment of this project.

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Hebei Domicide

 

One of the things that may make the claiming of the city from below difficult is the impact of urbanization as a pedagogical project on those being disrupted. As I’ve discussed in previous posts (briefly) and in my recently completed dissertation (at length), they, like the city’s neighborhoods themselves, are not only being destroyed. They are also being built into something entirely new. Of course I have now gone a step too far with “entirely.” Is there something in the remains of the city and the old socialist man — some resource of critique and/or solidarity — to be drawn upon such that the right to the city might be won? If I’m not mistaken, this question lies at the centre of Shin’s essay. I suggest you have a look yourself if interested in the answer.

Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents.

via Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents.

The recommendations here are pretty mundane*: give peasants rights over land to encourage consolidation and innovation; reform hukou to give people equal social rights; make services more efficient. Points two and three are hard to argue with as principles. Point one, of course, is seriously debatable.

Maybe it’s this early Saturday morning talking, but I found this piece somewhat underwhelming. Thoughts:

First: Is this really all World Bankers have to offer? Reform a policy that divides your entire population into two classes (yes, more complicated than that) and consigns one to relative disadvantage? Why didn’t I think of that! Improve your public services? Hm?! Get the mayor of Beijing on the horn! It seems there is poor service at the motor vehicles office!

Second: the Chinese government has been all over these problems and solutions for years. There is nothing here that they don’t already know and apparently ascribe to. Of course planning and doing are two different things.

Anyway, have a look for yourself if you’re interested in pat solutions to deeply entrenched problems.

http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/bert-hofman-highlights-the-institutional-reforms-needed-to-keep-migration-on-track-and-inequality-in-check

* In defense of mundane solutons, I offer them quite regularly myself!

This post by justrecently captures a more in your face example of what I often lump under the more encompassing category of pedagogy of everyday life. My main purpose in focussing on the mundane rather than propaganda is to draw attention to aspects of education/learning that often go unnoticed as such. Note that one of the characteristics I dismiss in lumping these things (e.g., propaganda, planning, schooling, design) together is intent. Another is awareness. I’m not particularly concerned, in other words, what the intent of the author/creator is or whether or not the consumer of the message is conscious that any messaging is going on.

In the case of propaganda, of course, such questions become very important. This isn’t to say that the purveyors in this case see anything but truth in the examples raised here, or that they are particularly concerned with subtlety. Stories like these ought to be understood as both warning and dog whistling…though this particular whistling session is at a frequency that all can hear.

My recently completed dissertation offers my own take on the process of land conversion, and I plan to pen a series of posts on the process of urbanization more generally. What interests me, of course, is not only the conversion of rural to urban land, but also the conversion of “rural lands in the city” to properly urban neighbourhoods, not to mention (and here this sentence is really getting out of hand because this my actual primary concern) the conversion of “ruralites” of both kinds into urbanites.

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I’ve commented a bit on these processes in a couple previous posts (this one and that one), but haven’t yet pursued the topic at length in this venue. For some perspective on the activities of peasants opposed to the process of conversion as currently conceived, have a look at this piece on a pitchfork rebellion in Shijiazhuang, Hebei. I do have a book chapter coming out sometime this year, and I’ll be sure to talk more about that when it is released.

For now, have a look at the Wall Street Journal (Land Sales: The Ever-More Lucrative Habit China’s Officials Just Can’t Kick – China Real Time Report – WSJ.) for some bare stats on land conversion and the addictions of local officials to the money to be earned in the process.

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