Forging national identity in modern China: A study of political education textbooks

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The concept of ‘the Chinese nationality’ (Zhonghua minzu) was invented and transmitted from the Han intellectuals to ordinary people during the first half of the twentieth century. It transposes the imperial subjects from culturally heterogeneous populations to a national entity. This paper explores the construction of this new national collective identity embedded within the narrative of political education textbooks in modern China. The textbooks analysed in this study span from the earliest modern civics teaching material produced in 1902 – almost the same period in which the modern school system appeared in China – to the final edition before communist ideology permeated the classroom after the Chinese Communist Party took power in 1949. The eleven editions of political education textbooks were published by influential presses of their time, such as the Commercial Press (Shangwu yinshuguan) and World Book Store (Shijie shuju). The data were analysed using the inductive thematic analysis approach. The textbook segments that pertain to the relationship between individuals and the state (and/or society) were first selected as the units of coding. Then preliminary themes were generated inductively from the raw information, framed and developed into a thematic code. Two themes emerged from the narratives of national identity within the textbooks: moral and practical grounds. They function as the core mechanism used by the textbooks to try to convince young citizens to internalise the collective identity of the Chinese nation. The paper concludes with a discussion on the relationship between citizenship and national identity in the Chinese context.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


Zhao, Z. (2013, March). Forging national identity in modern China: A study of political education textbooks. Paper presented at the 57th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society: Educational quality: Global imperatives and contested visions, Hilton Riverside Hotel, Hilton Riverside, New Orleans.


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