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Nation’s contemporary values education must keep pace with times

Author  :  LIU YANNAN, WANG KUNQING     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-06-07

One important theoretical and practical issue for education reform in China is to strike a balance between mainstream values and multicultural coexistence while establishing a values education system that parallels core social values.

In practice, values education in China’s primary, secondary and higher education mainly takes the form of moral, civic and political education. There are also informal themed and school-culture building activities.

As China deepens reform and opening up and becomes more involved in globalization, education in general is increasingly focused on the topics of international exchange and understanding, and values education should also keep up with this trend.

In addition, lessons on knowledge, culture, art and mental health are not the main forms of values education, but they carry a hint of it.

National identity, cultural tolerance

In the era of economic globalization, two fundamental problems exist in the inheritance and transformation of culture—cultural pluralism and national identity—and they are antagonistic. A form of multicultural pluralism led by Western culture results in the threat of Western “cultural hegemony.”

In reality, Western-centered values and ideologies have deeply influenced less-developed countries. For example, widespread consumerism and egoism in China have greatly impacted the youth’s outlook on life and values, and they are, in a way, spiritual nightmares, even cultural invasions, that developing countries cannot get rid of.

Hence, cultural colonization under the pretense of multiculturalism has become an unstoppable global phenomenon, making values education difficult and complex.

In general, a nation-state, as long as its mainstream culture remains dominant, will adhere to the bottom line of “national identity.” If any ethnic group or tribe fails to achieve the necessary consensus at the national level, disputes over the national identity are bound to occur. On the contrary, national cultural identity is relatively straightforward when there is some understanding and agreement, i.e. when it is united in opposition to cultural hegemony and tribalism. In this respect, any modern state that respects and protects cultural pluralism should avoid such tendencies.

As for international understanding, it refers to the respect and tolerance for other nations and cultures on the basis of loving its own, which embodies the significance of the diversity of cultural values and the universality of international communication.

As a modern nation upholding reform and opening up, China respects the cultural traditions of other countries and always participates in international affairs in a broad-minded and sincere manner in order to promote world economic development, maintain global peace, strengthen international coordination and enhance common understanding.

Moral, civic education

In China, moral education is an extended concept that includes ideological, political, legal and disciplinary education as well as moral cultivation. Still, these aspects seem insufficient for educators, so mental health is also incorporated in the broad sense of moral education and is widely applied in practice.

In our opinion, the framework of values education should be introduced to cover moral and civic education while moral education itself retains its original connation, which is the formation of individual morals and character.

Evidently, moral education is an important and basic form of values education. Though the moral standards of various countries and communities in today’s world are not synchronized, they all value moral education. We propose that our country’s moral education should highlight the basic moral quality of life and teach students how to conduct themselves. We hope to shape our young generations with kindness, compassion, understanding, care, a teamwork spirit, fine temperament and proper behavior, which are all basic requirements for human beings.

Also, if we agree moral education is meant to develop personal character, civic education mainly teaches us how to behave in society. It should not be a simple replacement of the old-fashioned moral lessons at school. Rather, it should be built upon the nature of civil citizens and fulfill three goals: The prerequisite is to foster independent characteristics, the foundation is to make known citizens’ rights and obligations, and the bottom line is to cultivate respect for law.

With regard to the content of civic education, it could be summed up as the following aspects against the backdrop of democratization and the political progress in China and the development of globalization: Our citizens should uphold democracy, freedom, the rule of law and understand the political structure of society as well as the process of democratic operation in order to actively participate in public social affairs. We should also be able to handle public affairs with tolerance, negotiation, humility, integrity and respect for differences. In addition, it is essential to have a rational understanding of rights, obligations and responsibilities. Finally, the Chinese should have consensus on national identity but at the same time have an international vision.

To say the least, civic education is necessary to the improvement of civic awareness and quality.

Scientific, humanistic spirit

In the contemporary era, scientific spirit and humanistic spirit, as spiritual beliefs, are vital to human beings. Thus, the decline and even disappearance of a contemporary humanistic spirit has aroused widespread concern in academia and society.

Both spirits represent the way human beings learn about the universe, but with different emphases. The scientific approach pays attention to the value of objects, society and social groups, while the humanistic spirit is devoted more to the value of man, spirit and individual.

In this light, we should put equal stress on scientific and humanistic spirit cultivation.

In the process of teaching knowledge, we want to make sure our youngsters have a scientific outlook on the world and life and remain enthusiastic about, respect and aspire to science.

And upon mastery of scientific knowledge and technology, they are equipped with the ability to understand and transform the world while staying creative and innovative.

In terms of the humanistic spirit, we should care more about children’s personal growth and their inner world to help them to develop love for life as well as respect for people. We would hope them to understand the true meaning of life through reading classics and inspiring books so that they become unique and loving human beings. More importantly, they can be independent, free and critical in extensive interpersonal communication and cooperation.

Ecological awareness

The current environmental and ecological problems have caused extensive and profound discussion around the world. A form of education centered on environment, ecology, health and population that takes sustainable development as its theoretical foundation has become an indispensable part of values education.

In China, environmental and health education has been gradually launched in recent years, aiming to advocate the idea of environmental protection and explore ways to deal with environmental pollution and the threat it poses to human well-being.

The curriculum will discuss specific problems and seek theoretical support, leading to a new form of comprehensive education on environment, ecological ethics, health and sustainable development. It will join moral education, physical education and other educational activities at school. For reference, we will name this kind of education environment, health and sustainable development education.

Theoretically, environment, health and sustainable development education involves a range of topics, but they are comprehensive and logical. Therefore, in practice, we can integrate them into history, geography, nature and other curricula, and we can also arrange them in separate extra-curricular activities.

From the perspective of values education, it is an important task for educational practitioners to actively promote environment, health and sustainable development and explore effective ways to convey such a concept at school.


Liu Yangnan is from the Institute of Education Theory at Wenzhou Medical University; Wang Kunqing is from the College of Education at Central China Normal University.

Editor: Yu Hui

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