Shuqin Xu. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. Volume 39, Issue 4. 2018.
National identity is a collective belief in an agreed-upon territory, shared legal rights and duties, common historical memories, and culture (Smith, 1991). Studies have pointed out national identity can be constructed and determined by national interests and forces influencing state policy and action (Brass, 1991; Callahan, 2006), as well as through shared culture embodied in real and imagined national myths, historical memories, language, beliefs, customs, habits, practices, and values (Anderson, 2006; Brass, 1991; Githens-Mazer, 2006; Smith, 1991). Culture is an ‘essential ideological component of national memory’ (Ho, 2013) that not only contributes to nurturing national identity, but also enables individuals to locate and contextualize their own personal experience (Anderson, 2006; Githens-Mazer, 2006). In addition to stressing citizens’ construction initiatives (Smith, 1991), researchers (e.g. Brass, 1991) have noted the rulers’ key role in managing cultural narratives and dispositions to produce national identity.
Cultural governance, how the rulers purposively choose and popularize official and vernacular cultural expressions to get the subordinates’ consent to the rule (Shapiro, 2004), has been research concern. ‘Soft’ strategies (e.g. attraction), with schools and media being key agents (Nye, 1990; Perry, 2013), are valued by cultural governance. Resistance is inherent in cultural governance (Callahan, 2006; Fairbrother, 2003; Giroux, 1983a; Shapiro, 2004). Different from Giroux’s (1983b) dichotomous view that the resistance of the led and the dominator’s hegemonic intention are linear and incompatible, Shapiro (2004) posited complex interplays and interactions in the process, while Callahan (2006) observed that resistance (in terms of cultural consumption) does not conflict with, but entails the state’s production of national identity.
Since the early 1990s, the Communist Party of China (CPC), China’s sole ruling party since 1949, has worked hard to broaden China’s national identity to include not only the country, land, nation, and state, but also the CPC and its governance (Guo, 1998), using traditional Chinese culture (TCC)—which it once denounced—as a key resource. Much literature has addressed China’s nationalism (Guo, 1998; Hughes, 2011; Zhao, 1998), the CPC’s cultural governance (Perry, 2013; Wu, 2014), and its cultural diplomacy (Pan, 2013). Specifically regarding education, studies have examined how the state has preserved national identity with TCC in citizenship education (Law, 2013), cultivated nationalism by transmitting history memory through music education (Ho, 2007, 2013), and projected cultural soft power internationally through Confucius Institutes (Lo & Pan, 2016).
Nevertheless, few studies have explored how the CPC-led state interacts with domestic actors (e.g. schools, market actors, netizens, Non-government Organizations (NGOs), academics, and students) in cultivating students’ national identity with a previously denounced culture, and what paradoxes lie therein. While all such interactions warrant attention, this paper, due to its length limit, focuses on how the state interacts with domestic stakeholders involved in promoting TCC education to students (e.g. schools, market, netizens, NGOs, academics). Although Pan’s (2011) survey has shown that junior secondary students were proud of TCC, in what aspects and to what extent students respond to TCC deserve a specific empirical study and a separate paper to examine.
This study addresses these issues through a documentary review. It analyzes primary documents provided by various stakeholders (e.g. official regulations, policy pronouncements, official newspapers, textbooks), and secondary sources on the empirical data, interpretations related to TCC education (e.g. academic articles and books). This paper first introduces the meaning of TCC and outlines its relationship with China’s politics. It then examines how the state institutionalizes the cultivation of national identity through TCC education, and interacts with diverse actors to promote this project.
TCC and Its Relationship with China’s Politics
TCC is the product of China’s millennia-long history, and has developed by absorbing the cultures of different ethnic minorities, countries, religions, and regions (Ge, 2011; Tu, 1991). It is represented by Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism, and has shaped Chinese people’s thoughts and behaviors (Liang, 2006; Russell, 1922; Zhang, 2016). Of the three ideologies, Confucianism, formed primarily during the Spring and Autumn dynasty (770-476 BCE), is widely regarded as the most influential (Huang, 2016).
The profound influence of Confucianism resulted from its role as state doctrine since the Western Han dynasty (202-209 BCE). Confucian fundamentals, such as morality and respect for authority, were valued by imperial China’s rulers as tools for defending its political legitimacy and manipulating subordinates’ obedience (Ren, 2005a). Education was designed to promote Confucianism; Confucian writings (e.g. Great Learning and Analects) were China’s primary education content since the Western Han dynasty, and the sole content of imperial civil service examinations since the Sui dynasty (581-618).
Beginning in the late Qing dynasty (1644-1912), TCC and Confucianism in particular were criticized as instruments for maintaining a decaying ruling class and exploiting the people, as mental shackles inhibiting creativity, and as barriers to China’s modernization (Wu, Wang, Shen, & Li, 2005). The most vicious and enduring critic was the CPC. Since its 1921 founding, the CPC has tried to destroy and exclude TCC, and Confucianism in particular, and to advance the people’s interests by replacing Confucianism with Marxism-Leninism. The few Confucian elements presented in school textbooks, for example, were only for denouncement purposes, and the few other TCC elements for demonstrating the people’s devotion, wisdom, and bravery (Research Institute of Curriculum and Instruction, 2010). The anti-TCC movement reached its peak in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when works on TCC and Confucianism were destroyed, and TCC and Confucian elements almost wiped out in schooling. Despite this, TCC and Confucianism continued to influence Chinese people’s thoughts and daily life (Zhang & Schwartz, 1997).
After the Cultural Revolution, the CPC-led state gradually admitted the importance of TCC, but did not actively promote it until after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Movement (Yang, 2014), a student-led pro-democracy protest that mired the CPC in a deep legitimacy crisis (Zhao, 2001). To maintain its dominance, the CPC-led state, inspired by the introduction of Asian values and ‘cultural soft power’, attached more political importance TCC as a pragmatic instrument for forestalling a deepening political crisis, constructing national identity, and replacing an ineffective ‘foreign’ ideology (i.e. Marxism-Leninism) as the party-state’s leadership basis (Guo, 2004). For political purposes, an official version of TCC was crafted that celebrated its quintessence (i.e. CPC-approved elements relating to social stability, strong leadership, respecting authority, valuing collective good over individual rights, and national pride), while discarding the remainder as ‘dregs’ (Ai, 2012; Wang, 1996). For convenience of presentation, all further uses of TCC in this paper refer to this version.
Eventually, TCC was valued as a precious asset for the CPC-led state’s governance. Elements of TCC have been implicitly cited in the CPC’s official ideology since the early 2000s; for example, one of President Jiang Zemin’s governance principles, governing the nation with virtue (yide zhiguo), comes from Analects (Zhou, 2001), while Jiang’s successor, Hu Jintao, defined the goal of state governance to be establishing a ‘harmonious society’, another Confucian concept (Tang, 2006). Moreover, the CPC’s top leaders and Central Committee have explicitly illustrated the importance of TCC to the party-state. TCC has come to be regarded as key to boosting China’s ‘soft power’, for domestic stability and prosperity, global competitiveness (Hu, 2007), its national lifeblood, and its people’s ‘spiritual life’ (Communist Party of China Central Committee, 2011). When President Xi Jinping came to power, in 2012, the importance of TCC was raised to a higher level. He declared that China’s rich culture was a valuable resource for the CPC’s continued national governance (Xinhua News Agency, 2014). Xi also defended the compatibility of Marxism and TCC, claiming that only by finding its roots in TCC could Marxism become suitable for China (Xinhua News Agency, 2014). In addition, the CPC-led state also protected its new basis for legitimacy from being usurped. On the one hand, the state continued to defend its cultural security and resist cultural intrusion, especially from Western countries (Communist Party of China Central Committee, 2011; National People’s Congress, 2015); on the other, it promoted TCC both internationally and domestically. Special concern was given to cultivating students’ national identity through TCC education (Xie, 2010; Yang, 2014; Zhao, 1998), an integral part of the CPC’s national governance strategy, by using both the soft power of TCC, and the socialization function of education to guide and shape students’ thoughts and behaviors, from their earliest stage of learning.
Institutionalizing the Project of Cultivating National Identity with TCC in Schooling
Since the early 1990s, constructing national identity with TCC has been mandated in national educational policies and law, including the Outline of education reform and development (Communist Party of China Central Committee and State Council, 1993), Educational law of China (National People’s Congress, 1995), Outline of curriculum reform in basic education (Ministry of Education, 2001), and Directive of perfecting education on traditional Chinese culture (Ministry of Education, 2014). As a project for reviving China’s previously denounced traditional culture and co-opting it for its own political purposes, the CPC-led state delicately institutionalized the project to win ‘the active consent of those over whom it rules’ (Gramsci, 1971, p. 244), and enhance its almost collapsed legitimacy. Maintaining its central role in the project, the CPC prioritized the goal of constructing national identity, and prescribed strategies that could be monitored through a rigid authoritarian system.
Delicate Prioritizing the Goal of Constructing National Identity Through TCC Education
To make its political goal of constructing national identity through education acceptable to students, the CPC-led state included the sub-goal of rebuilding morality (e.g. self-improvement, philanthropy, filial piety, sincerity, faith) which was once deeply rooted in Chinese values (Communist Party of China Central Committee, 1994; Ministry of Education, 2014). This design was crafty in two ways. First, it convinced students to accept and promote TCC by attributing the wide range of social problems affecting Chinese lives and welfare to the collapse of morality, and instructed them to find solutions from TCC that stressed morality. Second, it focused students’ concerns on individuals’ problems, rather than on the state’s ineffective governance.
The main focus of TCC education, however, is to preserve the CPC’s legitimacy by constructing national identity; morality is only one of a wide range of state-specified TCC topics, and is listed behind such topics favoring for national identity as traditional Chinese characters, calligraphy, literature, festivals, arts, sports, and history (Communist Party of China Central Committee, 1994; Ministry of Education, 2014). Famous TCC relics and museums containing TCC-related exhibits, or attractions the state has renovated or developed also prioritize national identity, with some being designated Model Bases of Patriotic Education (aiguo zhuyi jiaoyu shifan jidi). Rebuilding morality is to construct national identity (Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of Communist Party of China and Ministry of Education, 2004).
Prescribing Strategies of Cultivating National Identity Through TCC Education
To cultivate students’ national identity based on cultural pride and confidence, the CPC-led state (Communist Party of China Central Committee, 1994, 2011) requested all of its departments to promote TCC education in schools’ informal and formal curricula, and prescribed strategies for doing so. While including ‘soft’ options, such as cultural exposure and immersion, the three suggested strategy types are generally coercive.
The first was to increase students’ off-campus exposure to TCC (Communist Party of China Central Committee, 1994; Ministry of Education, 2014), which could be characterized as a soft strategy with elements of state manipulation, as all possible official organizations and propaganda mechanisms were mobilized to attract students’ attention, and facilitate their acquaintance with and experience of TCC. The television programs on the key international events, such as the opening ceremony of Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics Games and Shanghai’s Expo 2010, were integrated with TCC, and all public museums and memorial halls allowed free access in 2008 (State Bureau of Cultural Relics, 2008).
The second and third types of strategies were coercive, as they were forcibly promoted to students. The second concerned increasing the presence of TCC in school curricula, especially in the humanities and social sciences. First, as textbook content is determined by the central government, the space afforded TCC (e.g. Chinese characters, Chinese calligraphy, ancient building, Confucian thoughts, historic figures, traditional Chinese music) grew dramatically. My analysis showed that in junior secondary history textbooks published by People’s Education Press, TCC increased from 14.89% of content in 1986, to 52.94% in 1991, and 65.67% in 2001. In addition, the number of textbooks that included TCC also increased; in 1991, following a 35-year absence, senior secondary textbooks began to address the history of Ancient China; by 2004, the space those textbooks allotted for TCC increased from 24.09%, to 68.75% (based on my analysis of textbooks published by People’s Education Press). In the early 2000s, ideo-morality and ideo-politics textbooks for secondary education, which had until then only addressed Marxism and China’s politics, also began to include sections on TCC. Next, local and school-based curricula, initially intended to supplement national curricula with local and school elements (Ministry of Education, 2001), were also urged to add more TCC topics (Ministry of Education, 2014).
The third type of strategy was to enhance the academic significance of TCC in high-stakes examinations. The presence of TCC in promotion examinations increased, especially after the Ministry of Education (MoE) (2014) directly required that students’ TCC learning outcomes be examined. In 2002, for example, the TCC portion of the university-entrance examination for Chinese language and literature expanded from examining students’ familiarity with famous excerpts from ancient Chinese poetry, to scrutinizing their ability to analyze ancient Chinese poetry and prose (Li, 2002). In addition, the scoring weight placed on TCC increased; for example, Bozhou Municipal Education Bureau in Anhui province added classical Chinese literature (CCL) as an additional examination subject, with students’ scores thereon accounting for 10% of their overall score (Xu, Guo, & Yu, 2015).
Interacting with Domestic Actors in Promoting TCC Education
To ensure the cultivation of students’ national identity through TCC education, the CPC-led state chose an unprecedented strategy of providing ideological education, involving multiple actors and allowing debates. In addition to schools, the traditional actor expected to faithfully carry out value education policies, the state also encouraged for-profit market actors, netizens, officially supported NGOs, and academics to explore and debate the promotion of TCC education, while still preventing these actors from endangering the CPC’s domination. Although these five types of actors had purposes and interests that differed from or even conflicted with the state, their involvement was nonetheless promoted TCC to students.
First, school actors mediated the state-prescribed TCC education. They mediated between different stakeholders’ aims for TCC education by shifting the state-prescribed focus on cultivating students’ national identity to other actors’ (e.g. schools, parents, and students) concerns about nurturing students’ morality (Mu & Xu, 2014) and benefiting their examination results (Jia, 2015). School actors also mediated between higher authorities and the school regarding TCC in curricula. They followed policies on teaching TCC as presented in national curricula and preparing students for TCC-related examinations (Jin, 2014; Law & Ho, 2015), but modified policies on promoting TCC in school-based curricula. Due to the twin pressures of competitive examinations and inadequate human resources, many schools were unable to develop school-based curricula that included diverse elements of TCC (Liu, 2011; Zhang, 2015), and instead modified state requirement to include reciting CCL (Zhang, 2010); despite meeting state requirements for including TCC elements, this strategy excluded other elements of TCC (e.g. arts, customs) from school-based curricula (Liu, 2011; Wei & Song, 2011; Zhang, 2014).
Second, market actors promoted TCC through symbolic consumption, but diverted the state-prescribed goal of TCC education in cultivating national identity (Wang, 2003). Books covering a wide range of TCC-related topics (history, politics, literature, management, and technology in traditional China) were widely published, and many became bestsellers; books on Confucianism, particularly Confucian classics edited to be accessible to young children and students, were the most popular (Bu, 2006). More than 3000 for-fee, out-of-school TCC training centers (supplementing formal schools’ TCC education) and old-style, for-fee private schools (providing TCC education for students who fled formal schools that stressed examination scores) were established from 2004 to 2014 (Deng, 2014). In addition, different from the state’s emphasis on cultivating national identity through TCC education, the market actors advertised learning TCC could help students accumulate cultural capital, enrich their knowledge, enhance their competencies in fine arts, and cultivate virtues. While promoting TCC, market actors were monitored and controlled by the CPC-led state; for example, publishers were censored, and old-style, for-fee private schools that challenged the state-prescribed school system were denied licenses (Wu, 2010).
Third, Chinese netizens, both individuals and organizations, promoted TCC in cyberspace, under close state monitoring and control. They established numerous websites with such titles as ‘Traditional Chinese Culture’ and ‘National Learning (with emphasis on traditional Chinese thoughts)’. The netizens also promoted TCC on key social media sites (e.g. WeChat and Weibo) that broaden and quicken interactions among people (including students), and played an important role in shaping their views. Specifically, they posted or forwarded information on TCC through their individual social media accounts, or registered official social media accounts specially for promoting TCC. Zhonghua Book Company, for example, registered six official WeChat accounts promoting TCC, from different perspectives. However, despite their influence, most Chinese domestic netizens could only promote TCC on websites or social media permitted by the CPC-led state, and had limited access to such popular international cyberspace tools as Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, the CPC-led state censored their posts, and those it deemed to contain sensitive information were either prevented from being posted, or were deleted without notice.
Fourth, officially supported cultural NGOs helped the state explore and experiment with TCC education. Worried about NGOs’ potential challenges to its legitimacy, the CPC-led state officially supported only those defended the party’s leadership (Lin, 2007); of these, China Youth Development Foundation, and Chinese Confucian Academy were influential in assisting the state to explore TCC education in different ways. In 1998, the China Youth Development Foundation started a Reciting Chinese Classical Poetry and Essays (zhonghua gushiwen songdu gongcheng) project aimed at promoting TCC by having students recite CCL—a learning method popular in traditional China, but was previously criticized by the CPC. Despite its methods, the Foundation was encouraged by then-top national leaders (e.g. Jiang Zemin and Li Lanqing) and collaborated with official organizations (e.g. the National Committee of the Communist Young Pioneer of China). With official support, the Foundation recruited over one million students in mainland China to this project (Liu, 2000), inspired other official organizations (e.g. Service Center of China Youth Development) to start similar activities, and pushed the MoE to fund projects researching reciting CCL. In response, local educational authorities (e.g. in Guangdong, Jiangsu, Hunan, Sichuan, Henan, Shandong, and Fujian) actively started CCL reciting programs.
Chinese Confucian Academy also supported reciting CCL and had 12 books on Basic education for reciting Chinese classical culture (zhonghua wenhua jingdian jichu jiaoyu songben) published by Higher Education Press, in 2004. These books were selected from 19 Confucian classics, and were intended for primary school students for rote learning purposes. Jiang Qing, the books’ editor, remarked that Confucian classics were holy books, and that ‘only by memorizing the 150,000 words in these books could students learn the core values of classical Chinese culture’ (Qiu, 2004). The books were legitimized in that they were published by a press under MoE leadership and reported on Xinhua Net, the top national website, which resulted in a wave of Confucian classics reading among students.
The publication of the 12 books and Jiang Qing’s remarks in particular inspired academic debates about TCC education, which was the fifth force. The first academic debate concerned whether reciting Confucian classics would nurture students’ morality. Supporters claimed reading Confucian classics provided students with moral ‘vitamins’ and would implicitly influence their morality (Ren, 2005b), while critics asserted that expecting Confucian classics to nurture morality was a mirage (J. Zhang, 2011) and ‘wishful thinking’ (Xiao, 2006). Specifically, Xiao (2006) pointed to the corruption and immorality rampant in Chinese dynasties in which Confucianism was core political doctrine as proof that learning Confucian moral principles did not necessarily make one moral. J. Zhang (2011) added that students’ morality could not be nurtured by reciting moral platitudes, but by improving governance.
The second debate concerned whether recitation, a traditional Chinese learning method, was good for learning TCC. Despite Jiang and his supporters’ promotion, Xue (2004) criticized recitation as non-scientific and fatuous, claiming it could decrease students’ interests in learning and inhibit their creativity and problem-solving capabilities. Xue’s criticism led to debates on the promotion of reciting Confucian classics. Li, Wang, Liu, and Yan (2004) further pointed out that reciting CCL and Confucian classics would increase students’ learning workload, as the classics were written in ancient Chinese and addressed issues that did not exist in modern society.
The third debate centered on what elements of TCC could be provided to students, and in what ways. While some academics (e.g. Jiang Qing) tried to provide students with only Confucian classics in TCC education, other academics disagreed, and advocated including non-Confucian CCL (Wu et al., 2005) and other TCC elements (e.g. fine arts, sports, customs) (Liu, 2006). Academics also debated ways of providing students with CCL, and Confucian classics in particular. Three options were proposed: providing Bowdlerized versions from which inappropriate content and concepts had been removed; providing lower grades of students with Bowdlerized texts, and upper grades with complete texts; and providing all students with complete texts, but in a critical way (Jia, 2015).
While involving diverse forces in TCC education, the CPC-led state actively responded and guided them to work within the CPC’s political framework and serve its political purposes. Zhou Ji, the then-Minister of Education, quickly processed the complaint that Jiang Qing proposed to equate reciting Confucian classics to TCC education, and replace Marxism with Confucianism (Fang, 2006). Following Zhou Ji’s request, the Curriculum Development Center for the MoE’s Basic Education Department criticized Jiang’s proposal as being incompatible with the CPC’s party line, and stated the MoE would not support reading only Confucian classics (Fang, 2006). The MoE then updated its guidelines for TCC education, requesting to provide TCC education with diverse cultural elements and in ways acceptable to students. At the request of the MoE, the People’s Education Press and Fujian Education Press, in 2011, jointly published the Journal of Elementary Chinese Language and Literature—National Learning (Xiaoxue Yuwen·Guoxue), which introduced traditional Chinese arts and customs, Chinese history, and places of cultural interest through stories, games, and vivid pictures (C. Zhang, 2011). In 2012, People’s Education Press published national textbooks for TCC education for primary and secondary schools. The textbooks included Confucian and non-Confucian classics, as well as traditional Chinese arts and customs (Jiang & Zhang, 2012); these themes then were included in local textbooks on TCC published by 25 provinces (Rui, 2015).
This paper, with reference to China’s experience since the 1990s, has presented the state’s efforts in preserving and constructing national identity through an educational program on traditional culture. It has argued that, the CPC-led state has refunctioned and pragmatically used the previously denounced TCC to defend the Party’s legitimacy and continue its leadership. To achieve its political purposes, the state has tried to win consensus among diverse actors to maintain its principal role in defining and providing TCC education, and to mobilize and guide their contributions thereto. Despite the tensions they brought to the cultivation of national identity, these actors’ involvement in and exploration of TCC education nonetheless justified and facilitated the CPC-led state’s broad political purposes of changing its leadership basis from Marxism to TCC, and helped to maintain the Party’s dominance. This paper has the following three implications:
First, the political importance of traditional culture is twofold. On the one hand, traditional culture can serve as a denunciative target. In China’s case, the CPC marginalized and denounced TCC and the promotion of TCC education for almost half a century, to defend and basing its legitimacy on a foreign ideology of Marxism-Leninism, and to consolidate the masses’ support for its leadership. On the other hand, traditional culture where collective memory rests can function as a resource and pragmatic tool for constructing national identity and legitimacy. Having experienced the ineffectiveness of foreign ideology, the CPC-led state repurposed and promoted TCC to construct an expanded national identity, consolidate its political domination, and maintain its legitimacy.
Second, the state defended its legitimacy and its central role in repurposing the previously denounced traditional culture by strategically gaining consensus and seeking the support of diverse actors. To make the educational project of promoting TCC acceptable, the CPC-led state carefully presented it as an effort at rebuilding the nation’s morality; this Confucianism-rooted thought has long shaped Chinese people’s values, and was thus acceptable to them in the social context, as could be observed through the diverse actors’ involvement and interests in TCC education. The CPC’s tactic is also reflected in its attitudes toward Confucius and Confucianism. After denouncing and destroying Confucius and Confucianism, the CPC-led state then presented them as the hallmark of TCC, encouraged students to learn Confucianism in school, and indirectly cited Confucian sayings in national leaders’ speeches as governance principles. Nevertheless, terms relating to ‘Confucianism’ were not included in national policies and party’s documents (Ai, 2009; Wu, 2014), and the CPC-led educational authorities tried to decrease the domination of Confucian classics by prescribing a content list for TCC education. The CPC’s negative avoidance and active revival of Confucianism demonstrates that the party has tried to defend the legitimacy of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and pretended not concede socialism to Confucianism, despite relying on the latter to rebuild its legitimacy. In addition, to achieve its political purposes, the CPC-led state maintained its principal role in TCC education, providing hard strategies, and encouraging and guiding the involvement of diverse actors, even though that control could limit the space for promoting TCC.
Third, diverse actors’ involvement increased the complexities and paradoxes in using the previously denounced culture for political purposes. On the one hand, the actors’ different interests and goals brought tensions to the state’s project of constructing national identity through TCC. This can be found in the actors’ emphasis on using TCC education to facilitate students’ individual development (e.g. morality, cultural capital, examination scores) rather than their national identity, schools’ efforts at reducing workloads, market actors’ profit-making intentions, and NGO’s competition for resources. These tensions can be seen as a result of the interplay between globalization and neoliberalism (Apple, 2006; Law, 2006). Globalization has increased the flow of not only global capital into China, but also of values that conflict with the state’s efforts to provide values-based education for political purposes in general, and national identity construction in particular (Law, 2006; Xu, 2016). Neoliberalism, emphasizing privatization, competition, and effectiveness, could drive actors to deviate from the state’s political purposes in pursuit of their own interests (Apple, 2006).
On the other hand, despite focusing on individual development rather than national identity, the diverse actors’ passionate involvement in TCC education was in accordance with and contributed to the CPC’s goal—legitimating the Party’s change of its leadership basis, and facilitating its domination through cultural resources. That is why the CPC-led state allowed diverse actors (even market actors and academics with contradictory values) to explore and promote TCC education. The findings support Callahan’s (2006) finding that actions that do not fully follow the state’s prescription can still become productive forces. The findings also reflected that the focus of the CPC-led state’s urgent project was the party-state’s legitimacy and domination, even at the cost of reversing its previous position on TCC, and reintroducing and repurposing it—as the Chinese folk saying goes, it does not matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. The CPC-led state’s responses to academics’ complaints, and its permitting actors to use Party-denounced methods in TCC education indicated its need (and willingness) to cross the river by feeling for the stones.
Nevertheless, decades of criticizing TCC and TCC education and fostering cultural nihilism has left Chinese culture cracked and disjointed, to the extent that China cannot avoid blindness and confusion when seeking to establish a culturally based national identity. In addition, as a culturally diverse state in a globalized world, China’s efforts at cultivating national identity through TCC education need to consider how to deal with the inherent conflicts between the traditions of its ethnic majority and minorities, between traditional and modern culture, and between culture’s domestic and international contexts. The challenge facing the state is how to use social media for propaganda and educational purposes, while ensuring students remain immune from other values posted thereon.