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Reviews 229 Martin Schoenhals. The Paradox ofPower in a People's Republic ofChina Middle School. Armonk and London: M. E. Sharpe, 1993. vii, 215 pp. Hardcover $59.95. Paperback $22.50. Martin Schoenhals spent thirteen months teaching and observing at a key Chinese middle school in 1988 and 1989. The Paradox ofPower is a result of this experience . With the often perceptive eye of a trained ethnographer, Schoenhals argues tiiat salient cultural norms including die desire to save face, a propensity to engage in critical evaluation, the desire to achieve and attain popular acclaim, and a willingness to pursue competitive activity incessantly as a means ofgaining achievement together create an interesting contradiction within Chinese middle school life tìiat is reflective ofbroader social tendencies. Specifically, the more one acquires authority, the greater the likelihood diat one will be subjected to criticism . But because responding to such criticism directiy would mean compromising the superiority of one's position, by implicitly acknowledging the equal and reciprocal status ofthe critic, open criticism on the part ofunderlings, be they students in school settings or children in family situations, is actually tolerated by teachers and parents, and is even encouraged under certain circumstances. To be sure, the degree to which one will openly engage in criticism will be dependent upon one's class, status, age, and other determinants. The author thus admits tiiat although many ofthe elite middle school and university students with whom he had contact were willing to criticize their teachers openly, this may have been somewhat specific to their privileged backgrounds. According to Professor Schoenhals, one would be more willing to criticize an authority figure directly when one accepts one's own status as being lower than that ofthe person subject to criticism, and when it is clear that this person's performance is incommensurate with predetermined achievement expectations based upon her or his authority . But, while the quality ofindividual achievement may be questioned, the system that confers differential degrees ofauthority upon certain individuals is not challenged (at least on die part ofthose who already see themselves as viable members ofthat system). On the other hand, students from less privileged backgrounds who are lacking in academic accomplishment would be more likely to offer indirect and less formalized resistance to pedagogic autiiority. The implication for those involved in die teaching process is that the Chinese classroom becomes a venue where teachers are expected to perform continuously, with stu-© 1995 by University dents dien incessantly evaluating their performance, rather than a stage where ofHawai'i Pressmore authentic interaction is encouraged. Because these insights are broadly drawn, they create a holistic description of behavioral norms and values that is less than totally satisfying. Classroom interac- 230 China Review International: Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1995 tion does not simply mirror larger social and cultural tendencies; it mediates those tendencies under rules and vocabularies that are quite specific. Although Professor Schoenhals does review the basics of middle school curricula while commenting upon the authority and shaming patterns implicit in certain pedagogical techniques, the reader does not gain as systematic an understanding of die classroom experience as one might like, in order to appreciate its uniqueness clearly, compared with other forms of social interaction. How, for example, does die teaching of die sciences differ, ifat all, from that of the humanities, with regard to teacher expectation, nature of assessment, and so on? How do students prepare for assignments and tests? How do they spend their spare time? Under what circumstances do cooperative tendencies intrude upon a competitive academic environment? Whenever one categorizes student/teacher and parent/child behavior solely according to a specific conceptual framework, some issues are bound to be left unattended. In this case though, issues of child-rearing, familial relationships between elder parents and tiieir children, and general issues of gender are much too broadly drawn. While Chinese society is categorized as one which involves a heavy use of shaming, the distinctions that separate this society from others are not always clearly articulated. And, although die author documents long-lasting historical and cultural resonances that reiterate his contemporary observations, little attention is paid to social change and discontinuity. Indeed, one senses that a greater...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 229-230
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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