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Mobilising Morality: Moral Education Reform within China’s 21st Century ‘New Era’



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Lawrence, Leigh 


The purpose of this study is to enhance our understanding of Chinese moral education reforms under the scope of Xi Jinping’s ‘New Era’ national reforms. It does this through examining the relationship between the prescribed expectations and lived realisations of moral education reform within the compulsory moral education class (deyu) in Mainland Chinese primary schools. This research adopts a constructivist and grounded theory epistemological perspective. Theoretically, it draws upon cross-cultural theories of moral education, socio-political philosophy, cultural hegemony, and moral philosophy. The research methodology utilises a mixed methods approach to critically analyse the current state of moral education and its socio-political implications. Methodologies used include autoethnography, critical discourse analysis, semi-structured qualitative interviews, and quantitative surveys.
It was originally assumed that there would be a prominent disparity between the prescribed expectations and lived realisations of moral education reform due to vague official policies that included few details regarding implementation or assessment measures. This research found this to be true, but also found that the functional role of moral education reforms extends far beyond the classroom. The effect of this was that moral education not only passively facilitates social change, but actively produces social change. This thesis suggests that moral education is a driving force in an ideological policy feedback loop that reproduces cultural hegemony and ruling Party legitimacy. By highlighting the integral role of moral education within ongoing socio-political transformations in contemporary Chinese society, this thesis argues that moral education is a driving force for Chinese 21st century ‘New Era’ development.





Robertson, Susan


Moral education, People's Republic of China, ideological education reform, ethnography, critical discourse analysis, legitimacy, hegemony


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
United States Department of State Fulbright Program, University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, and University of Cambridge St John's College