Advertisement

China’s Fluctuating English Education Policy Discourses and Continuing Ambivalences in Identity Construction

  • Yihong GAO
Chapter
Part of the Multilingual Education book series (MULT, volume 24)

Abstract

Foreign language education policies constitute an important aspect of China’s reconstruction of its linguistic and cultural identities in an increasingly globalized world. China’s English language education policies in the past three decades have undergone fluctuations, which can be roughly categorized into the following stages: (1) the opening up of English education from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, and related to this, the euphoria for learning English. (2) The speeding up of English education from the mid-1990s to the first decade of the new millennium, and related to this, the anxiety regarding “too much time and too little effect.” (3) The slowing down or losing direction as shown in a recent debate over a proposed English education policy reform from 2013 to 2014. Related to this is the fear that English education will have a negative effect on Chinese language proficiency and cultural identity. These changes have been reflected in and constructed by policy related discourses, including those of the national policy makers, education institutions and experts, and ordinary learners and netizens. The above policy and attitudinal fluctuations over 30 years can be contextualized and interpreted as being emblematic of issues in China’s history over the last 150 years. An ambivalent psychological complex towards self and “the West” is revealed, situated in China’s semi-colonial and semi-feudal history, beginning with the Opium Wars in 1840, when China faced foreign invasions and was forced to open its markets and partially give up sovereignty. It was in that context that the ambivalence was developed, i.e., the strong desire for the English language through which new technologies can be learned to strengthen the nation, and the fear that this foreign language will threaten Chinese identity. A brief historical analysis shows that the status of English in China has been fluctuating for the past 150 years. Such ambivalences and fluctuations have become a “habitus” (Bourdieu, P. Language and symbolic power. (J. B. Thompson Ed.; G. Raymond & M. Adamson Trans.). Cambridge: CUP, 1991), i.e., durable “structuring structures” of the collective mind. English has become a screen with two sides: on one side is projected the Chinese dream of becoming strong; and on the other side is projected the nightmare of losing national identity. This self-perpetuating ambivalence helps to explain the fluctuations of China’s English language education policies. In the context of increased globalization, when English is becoming a de-territorialized resource, the habitual defense mechanism is no longer effective, and it may well hinder national and individual development. The durable yet not eternal habitus can be transformed, and alternative strategies are to be conceived. Instead of a screen, English can be taken as a mirror, from which we can perceive our complex needs, desires, and emotions. With a clear self-perception, we can probably be free from compulsory policy and mood swings, feel more confident about our native cultural identity, and be ready to take on the identity of a “dialogical communicator” (Gao, Lang Intercult Commun 14(1):1–17, 2014) in intercultural communication.

Notes

Acknowledgement

This chapter is based on an earlier paper in Chinese, “A Mirror for Reflection vs. a Screen for Projection” (投射之 “屏幕”与反观之“镜子”), Foreign Language Learning Theory and Practice (《外语教学理论与实践》) 149:1-7. Efforts are made to update the data and further the discussion. The author would like to thank Professor Roland Sussex and Professor Andy Curtis for their helpful comments, suggestions and editing work during the revision of this paper.

References

  1. Adamson, B. (2002). Barbarian as a foreign language: English in China’s schools. World Englishes, 21(2), 231–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bourdieu, P. (1990). In other words (M. Adamson Trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. (J. B. Thompson Ed.; G. Raymond & M. Adamson Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Cai, J. G. (蔡基刚). (2006). College English teaching: Review, reflection and research (《大学英语教学:回顾、反思和研究》). Shanghai: Fudan University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cen, J.J. (岑建君). (1998). College English teaching reform should look to the future(大学英语教学改革应着眼于未来). Foreign Language World (《外语界》), 4, 12–17.Google Scholar
  8. Cheng, X. T. (程晓堂). (2014). Thoughts on current adjustment of English language education policies (关于当前英语教育政策调整的思考). Curriculum, Teaching Material and Method (《课程·教材·教法》), 5, 58–64.Google Scholar
  9. Dai, W. D. (戴炜栋). (2001). The phenomenon of “too much time and too little effect” in foreign language teaching (外语教学的”费时低效”现象). Foreign Languages and Their Teaching (《外语与外语教学》), 7, 10–14.Google Scholar
  10. Fairclough, N. (2006). Language and globalization. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Fromm, E. (1948). Man for himself. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  12. Gao, Y. H. (2001). Foreign language learning: “1+1>2”. Beijing: Peking University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Gao, Y. H. (2009). Sociocultural contexts and English in China: Retaining and reforming the cultural habitus. In J. Lo Bianco, J. Orton, & Y. H. Gao (Eds.), China and English: Globalization and the dilemmas of identity (pp. 56–78). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  14. Gao, Y. H. (2014). Faithful imitator, legitimate speaker, playful creator and dialogical communicator: Shift in English learners’ identity prototypes. Language and Intercultural Communication, 14(1), 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gao, Y. H. & Project Group (高一虹等). (2013). College students’ English learning motivation and self-identity development – A four-year longitudinal study (《大学生英语学习动机与自我认同发展—四年五校跟踪研究》). Beijing: Higher Education Press.Google Scholar
  16. Higher Education Research Institute, Sichuan Institute of Foreign Languages (Ed.). (1993). (四川外国语学院高等教育研究所编), 1993, Annals of foreign language education in China (《中国外语教育要事录》). Revised and approved by Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Education (国家教委高等教育司审订). Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hu, W. Z. (2003). A matter of balance – Reflections on China’s language policy in education. In W. Z. Hu (Ed.), ELT in China 2001 (pp. 107–127). Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.Google Scholar
  18. Hu, Z. L. (胡壮麟). (2002). The issue of “too little effect” regarding English teaching in China (中国英语教学中的”低效”问题). Foreign Language Teaching Abroad (《国外外语教学》), 4, 3–7.Google Scholar
  19. Kachru, B. (1992). The other tongue: English across cultures (2nd ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  20. Lam, A. (2002). English in education in China: Policy changes and learners’ experiences. World Englishes, 21(2), 245–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Li, L. Q. (李岚清). (1996). Improve methods and quality of foreign language teaching (改进外语教学方法,提高外语教学水平). Teaching and Teaching Material (《教学与教材研究》), 6, 4–5.Google Scholar
  22. Luo, Z. P. (罗正鹏). (2015). Chinese netizens’ language attitudes towards English in the context of college entrance examination reform (高考英语改革背景下中国网民的英语语言态度). Journal of Tianjin Foreign Studies University (《天津外国语大学学报》), 6, 57–63.Google Scholar
  23. Mitchell, S. A., & Black, M. J. (1995). Freud and beyond: A history of modern psychoanalytical thought. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  24. O’Regan, J. (2014). English as a global language and the situation of East Asia. Talk at the school of foreign languages, Beijing Normal University. June 4, 2014.Google Scholar
  25. Seidlhofer, B. (2011). Understanding English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Shen, L. X. & Gao, Y. H. (沈莉霞、高一虹). (2004). What “Crazy English” means to Chinese students (疯狂英语对于学习者的意义). In Y. H. Gao and Project Group (高一虹等), The social psychology of English learning by Chinese college students (《中国大学生英语学习社会心理》), Chapter 9 (pp. 190–201). Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.Google Scholar
  27. Shen, Q. (沈骑). (2012). Development of foreign language education policies in contemporary East Asia (《当代东亚外语教育政策发展研究》). Beijing: Peking University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Wen, Q. F., & Hu, W. Z. (2007). History and policy of English education in mainland China. In Y. H. Choi & B. Spolsky (Eds.), English education in Asia: History and policies (pp. 1–32). Seoul: AsiaTEFL.Google Scholar
  29. Widdowson, H. (2013). Competence and capability: Rethinking the subject English. The 11th Asia TEFL Conference, Manila October 2013.Google Scholar
  30. Yang, Y. (2000). History of English education in China. ERIC, ED441347.
  31. Zhao, Y., & Campbell, K. P. (1995). English in China. World Englishes, 14(3), 377–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Zhu, L.Z. & Yang, A.X. (朱鲁子、杨艾祥). (2004). English learning: Possessed by the devil (《走火入魔的英语》). Changsha: Hunan People’s Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, School of Foreign LanguagesPeking UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations