Chen, J.

The exploration and research of family education in the context of Chinese culture 

CITATION: Chen, J. (2023), ‘The exploration and research of family education in the context of Chinese culture’, Journal of Social Science Student Research, Volume 1, Issue 2, DOI: 10.20933/30000103

Abstract: Family education is highly valued in China, both at the national level and locally, in individual families. As a result, the state encourages schools, kindergartens, and communities to hold regular public lectures on family education. In addition, over recent generations Chinese parents have gradually reduced their control over their children and given them more autonomy. This has resulted in Chinese parents’ views on education becoming more closely aligned to those in the West. This article discusses this evolving situation from the perspective of a Chinese early-years educator, who also draws on personal experience of the UK education system. 

Key words: Family education; Parenting style; China

This article explores family education within the context of Chinese culture. In China, people attach great importance to family education, and the national policy encourages parents to learn about family education (Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, 2021; Xinhua, 2021). Although Chinese parents’ views on education are increasingly similar to those in the West, in terms of the definition of family education, China and the UK are different. The definition, and associated understanding, of the term family education varies between the two contexts. Home education in the UK is defined as: ‘You can teach your child at home, either full or part-time. This is called home education – sometimes “elective home education” or “home schooling”’ (GOV.UK, 2021; no page). This reflects a mode of formal education that can replace or complement school-based learning. In contrast, this does not exist as a concept in China. The concept of family education in China mainly refers to the role of parents in educating their children informally in addition to formal schooling supplementing, rather than replacing it.   

In my past work experience, I led the operations of an organisation training nursery school children’s parents in China. I managed a key project and led the team developing a series of courses called “New Chinese Parenting School (新中国式家长学堂)”. The programme has already trained hundreds of thousands of Chinese nursery age parents. Chinese people attach great importance to family education and emphasise the importance of family culture (Xia and Creaser, 2018). Zhang Chunguang and I founded the “New Chinese Parenting School” mentioned in the article in 2008. We began to develop the curriculum framework and operation model in 2008, which lasted for five years. In January 2013, the training was officially started. At that time, there was no family education law at the national level to encourage parents to participate in parent schools. But Chinese parents are well aware of the importance of family education and are willing to volunteer to attend parent schools in private institutions or schools.  The critical influence of parents on their children has been universally recognised, not only in China but also worldwide. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2016) argued that family is essential in one’s growth and plays a vital role. As a result, the state, academics and the general public have emphasised the importance of family education and parents’ critical influence on their children’s lives (Zhu and Chang, 2019).   

In October 2021, China introduced a new law titled the ‘Family Education Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China’, attaching visible importance to family education at the national level. China has always placed great emphasis on “family traditions” and “family rules” and has placed great emphasis on the influence of the family on a person. President Xi Jinping signed Order No. 98 of the People’s Republic of China President, announcing the Family Education Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China, which came into force on January 1, 2022 (Xinhuanet, 2021). This legislation is divided into six chapters and fifty-five articles. Of these, four articles mention the critical influence of parents on children’s education, the importance of the family environment, and the need for parents to participate in relevant training in family education knowledge. This emphasises the belief, in China, that there are skills and knowledge which can be learned to aide family education. This is highlighted in article 40 which states: 

Primary and secondary schools and kindergartens may regularly organise public welfare family education guidance services and practice activities, and urge the parents or other guardians of minors to attend them. (Xinhuanet, 2021) 

It can be seen that the importance of family education, and the need for parents to learn how to educate their children alongside the responsibilities of the state, have been put forward at a national level in China. Meanwhile, schools, kindergartens and communities are encouraged to hold regular public lectures on family education. This encourages a partnership approach to education between schools and families. This two-way process is a crucial development.  

In the context of Chinese culture, collectivism is a dominant social principle that emphasizes groups rather than individuals, valuing harmony and interdependence (Tan et al., 2021). This spirit is strongly reflected in China’s educational philosophy, where children’s education is seen as a shared responsibility between families, teachers and the wider community. Chinese philosophy of education, especially under the influence of Confucianism, emphasizes that education is not merely an individualistic pursuit, but is linked to the honour of the family and the improvement of society (Lu and Chi, 2007). Therefore, family education is considered crucial and there is a strong belief that a student’s family background can significantly affect their academic performance (Gu et al., 2017). Therefore, the State attaches great importance to family participation in education, encouraging parents to learn how to effectively educate their children. Public lectures on family education are also encouraged in schools, kindergartens and communities. This has led to a collaborative approach to education, where families and schools work together for the child’s education, reflecting the wider society’s commitment to collectivism. 

Figure 1: Parents attend a public lecture on family education 

Contrasting this situation in China, with the United Kingdom, during 2018-2019, I worked as an intern at the University of Dundee Nursery for half a year. I intuitively felt the educational differences between Eastern and Western cultural backgrounds. For example, in China, kindergartens regularly organise parent-teacher meetings. Whereas in Scotland this seems to be less common and is more likely to take the form of a review rather than dialogue. It also inspired my doctoral research into Chinese and Scottish parenting. Parenting styles are influenced by culture. Either nationally, or locally, different cultural backgrounds may lead to different parenting styles.  This has impact for both professionals and policy makers and Chao (1994) identifies that educational approaches must be evaluated in terms of specific cultural values and indigenous concepts. Chinese parenting emphasises the dominance of parents over children; parents are usually strict with their children and take an active role in shaping the thoughts and beliefs of their children (Chan, Bowes, and Wyver 2009). It means that parents have a central role in terms of their responsibility and control, and they can make decisions for the children. However, this parenting style may not always be conducive to the child’s overall development. First of all, it can be said that strict control and high expectations of children can harm their mental health (Almroth et al., 2019; Anwar, 2013). The dominant parental control in Chinese culture can be seen as a stark contrast to the collectivist principle, which emphasizes the welfare and interest of the group. However, collectivism in Chinese culture can also be closely linked to family bonds and responsibilities, and parental leadership can be seen as a form of ensuring that family values and cultural practices are instilled in the younger generation. 

As mentioned above, Chinese parents have high control over their children, but also pay attention to their physical and mental health. By high control, I mean that they see it as their responsibility and role to direct and shape their futures.  However, the data on Chinese parenting styles collected in my doctoral research shows that respondents (parents of children in nursery schools) are not authoritarian parents with high control over children and low warmth, as mentioned in the existing literature. In fact, most of the respondents have a high level of warmth and respect for children’s ideas, appearing to contradict the commonly held historic belief around the parent/child relationship.  

Historically, democratic education was neglected during China’s recent planned economic development. However, since the reform and ‘opening up’, especially with the further introduction and marketisation of China’s economy and the implementation of modernisation policies, this point has received more and more attention (Li and Li, 2019; Ngok, K., 2007).  More attention has been paid to democratic education, legal education, and mental health in modernisation and marketisation due to China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (Lee, and Ho, 2005; Li and Li, 2019; and Ngok, K., 2007).  Education is now firmly linked to an attention to the importance of individual well-being in society (Lee, and Ho, 2005). 

In today’s Chinese education environment, the majority of families attach great importance to the critical role of family education. They also attach great importance to the vital influence of parents on their children, and this is illustrated by parents attending lectures on home education. Some scholars believe as parents continue to learn, in addition to highlighting the importance of the collective, there is also a focus on the individual happiness index (Cai, 2020; Zhou, 2018). As discussed, it seems that Chinese parents have become less authoritarian in their relationships with their children. As parents have fewer restrictions on their own lifestyles, parents recognise Western values such as independence and self-confidence, and parents do not emphasise the traditional Chinese qualities of their children’s need to obey their parents (Chang et al., 2011; Chen, Sun, and Yu, 2017; and Lu and Chang, 2013). Part of my PhD project was a survey of parenting styles in China and one of the main findings was that most participants said they were willing to respect their children’s opinions and would encourage them to do things independently. 

In conclusion, it seems that as Chinese parents are gradually reducing the control over their children, give their children more autonomy, and parents embrace what could be seen to be Western views of education.  This shift in parenting style is likely to affect not only the educational development of children but also the social structure of Chinese society, given that education has always been a fundamental aspect of Chinese culture. Moreover, as Chinese parents adopt more Western-style educational approaches, Eastern and Western educational philosophies may merge, potentially resulting in a more integrated educational experience for Chinese children. On the family level, alterations in educational approaches and parenting styles could influence family dynamics, children’s mental health, and parents’ satisfaction with both their lives and their children’s achievements (Chen et al., 2021).  


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