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  • Governing Educational Desire: Culture, Politics, and Schooling in China
  • Xuan Weng (bio) and Jing Lin (bio)
Andrew B. Kipnis. Governing Educational Desire: Culture, Politics, and Schooling in China Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. 205 pp. Hardcover $80.00, ISBN 978-0-226-43753-8. Paperback $27.50, ISBN 978-0-226-43755-2.

In this book, Andrew B. Kipnis examines the causes of high educational desires in Zouping County, China, through an exploration of the cultural, political, and economic histories and changes that affect this desire for educational success. The research question, “Why is the educational desire high in Zouping?” is initiated by a survey of households that Kipnis conducted in Zouping during 2005 and 2006. To answer this question, Kipnis discusses the social and cultural factors at four levels: local, higher governmental agencies, East Asian countries inheriting similar cultural legacies, and universal contexts. He also adopts three concepts — culture, governing, and emplacement — to frame his study. Beginning at the local level, Kipnis provides a deep and thoughtful account about educational desires and goes further to explore this phenomenon in terms of global circumstances.

In the first chapter, Kipnis introduces the survey of households he conducted in Zouping, China. He asks whether parents want their children to attend college, and the result shows that 100 percent of parents say “Yes.” Impressed by their high educational desires, Kipnis starts to investigate the causes and social consequences of educational desires in Zouping. He adopts three concepts to frame his work: culture, governing, and emplacement. He refers to Fischer’s definition of culture to understand people’s desire for educational achievement in China, Foucault’s understanding of governing as “conduct of conduct” to analyze the governing behaviors of various agencies, and finally Herzfeld and Englund’s discourses of circulation of cultures among different places to discuss the third key concept, emplacement, which connects the other two concepts, culture and governing.

In the second chapter, Kipnis examines the governing of educational desire in Zouping. He discusses recent economic growth that improves educational success in Zouping, such as impressive construction of highways and the Zouping township and large investments in school facilities. He examines Zouping’s educational history that leads to the traditional pedagogy at school; for example, memorization is still heavily used as a pedagogic technique today. In great detail, he illustrates how parents and families glorify educational success, and how intensively in their daily routines children study in order to attain that success. Kipnis also provides the portraits of several families he interviewed in Zouping, in which he shows that, regardless of family background, all the parents expect their children to succeed in school. In sum, all agents — including the government (county education bureau and educational administrators), enterprises, parents, teachers, and students — work together to push the educational desire in Zouping. [End Page 78]

In the third chapter, Kipnis examines the national policies and their implementation in Zouping and the way they influence educational desire. He discusses two national policies that enhance or moderate educational desire. First, he discusses the birth control policy, which contributes to a decline in birthrates, changes in sibling patterns, and high parental expectations in terms of “Hoping one’s son to become a dragon and one’s daughter a phoenix” (wangzi chenglong, wangnu chengfeng) (p. 61). Second, Kipnis discusses the “education for quality” initiative (suzi jiaoyu) and various campaigns under this national policy. He discusses efforts to divert students from rote learning and to promote creativity and alternative forms of education, such as homework reduction, privatization, promoting vocational education, and others. He demonstrates that, regardless of the alternatives, the desire for higher education has been fueled by expanded higher education opportunities and fierce competition for good jobs.

In the fourth chapter, Kipnis examines educational desire as a cultural phenomenon, with roots in the governing practices of imperial China. He phrases the legacies using the term “the imperial governing complex” (p. 103). He explores how these legacies enact in Zouping through a discussion of four themes: exemplarity, examinations, holistic hierarchy, and nation building. Exemplar pedagogy suffuses the curriculum in Zouping’s schools through requirements for students in terms of obedience, politeness, and following standards, and for...