Becoming a Moral Child in China

Xu, Jing. 2014. Becoming a Moral Child amidst China’s Moral Crisis: Preschool Discourse and Practices of Sharing in Shanghai. Ethos (2): 222-242. (Winner of 2013 Condon Prize in Society for Psychological Anthropology)

This article explores the moral development of Chinese children through the discrepancies between the ideologies and practices of adults and children. School educators and parents promote an egalitarian norm of sharing—“share with everyone”—in the hope of cultivating altruism and cooperation, values seen as a corrective to China’s universally deplored “moral crisis.” By contrast, young children spontaneously engage in strategic sharing—“extend favors so others can help you”—in their everyday interactions. Such practices resonate with the adult norm of guanxi (exchange of favors) that is the object of ambivalent attitudes in modern Chinese discourse. This study combined ethnographic and experimental methods to examine children’s spontaneous choices and their implication in current discourse, showing how the anthropology of childhood may contribute to a finer-grained understanding of contemporary Chinese cultural dynamics as well as the conversation between psychological anthropology and developmental psychology on the emergence of prosocial dispositions in cultural processes. [morality, early childhood, one child policy, guanxi, education, China]

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