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Taiwan Research Programme
London School of Economics and Political Science
Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE


Professor Stephan Feuchtwang

Dr Fang-Long Shih

Authority, Obedience, and Discipline: a case study of two primary schools in Beijing

With Mr Chih-Yuan Wang (London School of Economics)

Series: Seminar on Taiwan in Comparative Perspective, special series on  Justice in Comparative Perspective

Date: Thursday 5 November 2009, 6pm-8pm

Venue: Seligman Library (Room A607), Old Building, London School of Economics (LSE)

Chair: Mr Stuart Thompson (Taiwan Research Programme)


Justice, as considered by law, political philosophy, sociology and other social sciences, denotes ideas of moral rightness, ideals of fairness, and the proper ordering of things and people within society. In primary schools, discipline and rules present the proper ordering of things and people, mainly from adults' point of view. Modern primary education aims to provide basic knowledge for the younger generation, but without imposing a moral education. However, this is unlike China, where school and education have long been associated with individual moral development and personhood through the influence of the Confucian tradition. Students at primary schools in Beijing learn not only textbook knowledge but also proper conduct, and discipline and proper codes of behavior here shed light on how the concepts of rightness pass on from one generation to another. However, we can question the extent to which school discipline and constant reminders from teachers are internalized by school students.

This paper examines the relationship between authority, obedience and discipline within Chinese primary schools, based on 20 months of field research in two primary schools in Beijing (one an elite public school and the other for migrant children). In the first section, I examine disciplinary practices in schools with reference to teachers' ideas about school order and discipline. Further, as school is also the product of society, I also discuss popular concepts of Chinese childhood. In section two, I present children's opinions on school rules and regulations and their response towards school discipline. Schoolchildren do not just passively absorb teachers' notions about right and wrong, nor do they accept teachers' instructions unquestionably. I show how children behave and reason using their own logic.