The China Quarterly


Learning Individualism: Hesse, Confucius, and Pep-Rallies in a Chinese Rural High School

Mette Halskov Hansen

University of Oslo, Norway. Email:


In Chinese public discourse, it has almost become a truism that the generation born after the mid-1980s is more selfish, individualistic, and materialistic than previous generations. Consequently, an important task for public moral education is to correct this behaviour and to generate compassion for others beyond the family, to strengthen nationalist sentiments and to imbue a sense of duty to the greater community. Schools provide the Chinese government with a key opportunity to achieve this. Based on fieldwork in a rural high school in China, this article demonstrates how the official visions of the learned individual portrayed in textbooks collide with a more powerful ideology of individualism that is implicitly promoted through activities within the school, and is reflective of an ongoing process of individualization, not only in Chinese society, but also within state institutions, such as the school.

(Online publication February 07 2013)


  • education;
  • individualization;
  • high school;
  • individual;
  • China

Mette Halskov Hansen is professor of China studies at the University of Oslo, Norway. Her publications include articles and books on the topics of minority education, Han migrations to minority areas, processes of individualization, and, most recently, high school education and perceptions of the individual in rural China.