Children’s Culture and Social Studies

Stephanie Hemelryk Donald and Zitong Qiu

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Children’s Culture and Social Studies

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  • East Asian Studies
  • Asian History
  • East Asian Philosophy
  • East Asian Religions


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The study of childhood is crucial to understanding contemporary Chinese society and culture. Successive generations of childhood since the mid-20th century have been given the burden of succession—of revolution, of reform, and now of globalization and national pride. They have been involved in wars as child soldiers; they have found themselves at the forefront of internal struggles for the very meaning of culture; and they have been assigned the task of taking Chinese science and technology to the pinnacle of modernity. Chinese society expects a lot from its children. Nonetheless, there are relatively few academic studies of the subject, although that situation is changing in line with the increasing academic focus on Chinese media, an area where younger generations are leading the way. This bibliography seeks to provide an account of key foci in the study of childhood, while also extending the reach of the works cited to certain writings on “youth.” Childhood is a difficult category to pin down, as cultural and social norms can mean that a sixteen-year-old is a child in one place, but a working adult somewhere else. Here we keep to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of a Child (1988), of which China is a signatory, and mark infancy up to age two, and childhood up to seventeen years of age. However, we have still included titles that are concerned with youth over seventeen (approximately), when those discussions are also pertinent to an overall study of generational change. The eleven sections of this bibliography are not exhaustive, but they tease out important themes: Annual Reports, Premodern History of Children and Childhood, Modern Histories of Childhood and Youth, the Child as a Sign of Value, Youth, Music and Literature, Television and Film, Media Use, Education, Anthropology, Politics and Psychology, and Rural Children. The overwhelming impression is one of a double contradiction. The study of the child entails a focus on the future, on abrupt change, and on China’s potential in the world. At the same time, it leads us back to longstanding discourses of social value, discourses which have been forged in the political philosophies of the Confucian tradition but which have developed through the governmental necessities of imperial systems, whereby education underpinned an imperial bureaucracy that spread across the imperial sphere of influence. Indeed, the Book of Rites is clear that the job of a ten-year-old is to study. Yet it was childhood that became the working metaphor for 20th-century critiques of that tradition, whereby lost childhoods such as of that of the peasant Runtu in Lu Xun’s seminal short story “Old Home” (first published in the radical magazine New Youth, 1921; see also Lu 1972, cited under Premodern History of Children and Childhood) were taken as causes and effects of an impoverished and emasculated China.

Article.  9117 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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