Yukun Zeng

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Chicago, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9767

Approve Date

October 24, 2018

Project Title

Zeng, Yukun, U. of Chicago, Chicago, IL - To aid research on 'Canonical Reading, Alternative Education, and Perennial Wisdom in Contemporary China,' supervised by Dr. Michael Silverstein

Preliminary abstract: This project proposes an ethnographic study of Dujing or ‘reading the (Confucian) canons,’ a rapidly developing, but controversial, education movement in China. Conducted in private settings outside state schools by adherents of the pedagogy, Dujing appears to parents from various social backgrounds as either substitutive or supplementary education to their children’s mandatory formal education. Claimed by its promoters to be the authentic traditional Chinese pedagogy, Dujing features repetitive reading aloud of ancient canonic texts without pedagogical exegesis. This mode of reading, advocates argue, helps readers access ‘perennial’ moral wisdom in Confucian canons, in contrast to the ‘momentary knowledge’ taught in public schools. Yet, given China’s modernization of the twentieth century, many Chinese see Dujing as an awkward, ‘pre-modern’ regression. People also cast doubt on its non-cognitive path to wisdom, which is at odds with the utilitarianism of post-1980s reform. Finally, Dujing’s recitational reading renders it suspicious as a quasi-religious practice in China’s socialist context. To understand how students and parents are socialized to Dujing’s reading practices, language ideologies, and cultural values, this project proposes 12 months of fieldwork in a Dujing school and its network to investigate Dujing’s promotion, families’ adoption, and students’ reading practices and everyday lives. I propose that although Dujing is presented by its promoters as urgent alternative education, for its participants, it is not as much an education reform or regression yielding education achievement. Rather, it socializes participants to a community that allows them to explore alternative temporal paces and trajectories of reading, schooling and living.