China’s English: Lessons for Asia literacy

Robert Damian ADAMSON

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapters

4 Citations (Scopus)


At a time when countries such as Australia are becoming increasingly aware of the complexities embedded in social, economic and political engagement with Asia, it may be instructive to consider the issues from the reverse perspective. This chapter analyses how one of the major Asian nations, China, has handled the issue of Western literacy, and most notably the development of competence in English, in the formal education system. Historically, China has veered between violent resistance and enthusiastic embrace, while recent approaches have included innovative models of multilingualism in ethnic minority areas of the country, whereby the local language actively supports the learning of Chinese and English. The Chinese experience is particularly relevant for Australia, where there is a commitment to greater Asian language competence, often in the context of schools with large numbers of students for whom English is not their first language. The experience is rich. Governments during the Imperial and Republican eras, and after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, have a long and sometimes troubled history of engagement with English speakers, who have appeared as traders, missionaries, emissaries, educators, athletes, writers, entertainers and dilettantes, among other guises. Within China, they were sometimes portrayed as barbarians who threatened the cultural integrity of the Chinese nation, and whose new world order was based on very different principles from the harmonious and benevolent governance that underpinned the imperial system (Adamson 2002). To contain the barbarians and to regain a key position in world affairs, China has had to accommodate English within its education system, and also within aspects of its legal, commercial and social interactions (Gil & Adamson 2011). Copyright © 2015 Christine Halse.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAsia literate schooling in the Asian century
EditorsChristine HALSE
Place of PublicationLondon ; New York
ISBN (Electronic)9781317806615, 9781317806608
ISBN (Print)9780415738538, 9781315815121, 9781138492806
Publication statusPublished - 2015


Adamson, B. (2015). China’s English: Lessons for Asia literacy. In C. Halse (Ed.), Asia literate schooling in the Asian century (pp. 119-132). London ; New York: Routledge.


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