Advancing the theory of identity grafting in Chinese school systems

Daphnee Hui Lin LEE, Christine Margaret HALSE

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This paper examines the global implications of policy borrowing, employing case examples of Chinese school systems, which enjoy the success of grafting new identities to improve education. The paper comments on contemporary scholars’ use of identity grafting theory (Lee in Managing Chineseness: identity and ethnic management in Singapore, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2017) to generate insights on how schools, teachers and students engaged educational change in mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore. Scholars presented empirical findings by using identity grafting constructs to explain education stakeholders’ diverse responses to change: (1) born-again—rejecting change by reviving traditional practices; (2) repression—repressing traditional identities instead of embracing change; (3) integration—combining traditional identities and progressive change to achieve a balance; and (4) situationalism—developing new identities that transcend boundaries between traditional identities and progressive change. The scholars contributed research that advances the theorization of identity grafting. First, rising born-again Chinese sentiments seek to reject the imposition of a singular Chinese identity imposed by state governments. Born-again Chineseness no longer singularly focuses on defending traditional identities against Western influences. Second, a better understanding is achieved on identity repression—change resistance results from a displaced focus on repressing traditional identities. Third, the prevalence of identity integration strategies can be explained by intensive policy borrowing in the region. Policy borrowers need to ensure externally imposed identities are represented to overcome challenges generated by identity grafting strategies that impede progressive change. This popularity of integrationist strategies accounts for the challenges in achieving identity situationalism—policy borrowing needs culturally divisive identity markers that provide clear indicators to what needs to change. Copyright © 2020 Springer Nature B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-314
JournalJournal of Educational Change
Issue number2
Early online date08 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


Lee, D. H. L., & Halse, C. M. (2021). Advancing the theory of identity grafting in Chinese school systems. Journal of Educational Change, 22(2), 297-314. doi: 10.1007/s10833-020-09398-9


  • Chinese school systems
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Singapore
  • Identity grafting


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