State schooling and ethnic identity: a study of an inland Tibet middle school in the People's Republic of China

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Doctor of Philosophy
Title State schooling and ethnic identity: a study of an inland Tibet middle school in the People's Republic of China
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2004
Research in ethnic identity has become an increasingly prominent area of studies in the
field of ethnic minority education during the past two decades. Both Western and Chinese
scholars have become increasingly interested in how the ethnic identity of students from
different ethnic groups has been constructed in state-sponsored schools in China. In the
early 1980s, the Chinese government instituted a new preferential educational policy for
students from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), known as Inland Tibet
Schools/Classes. Primary school Tibetan graduates are selected through examination and
sent to inland China for at least four years of junior secondary education. Little research
has been conducted into this group of students living and studying in the Han Chinese
society, and how their ethnic identity is shaped within the Han-dominated cultural
context. The purpose of this research is to examine the relationship between state
schooling and Tibetan students' ethnic identity construction in an inland Tibet school,
The Changzhou Tibet Middle School.
Three research methods were employed for data triangulation: diary and document
analysis, interviews, and non-participant observation. The study examined how students'
ethnic identity construction was influenced within the contexts of the state policy, the
local community, and the school. The constructionist approach was used so as to
maintain the significance of contexts. Hegemonic state reproduction theory of the
sociology of education provided the conceptual framework. Data on students' school life
experiences and perspectives were obtained from diaries written by five students to flesh
out the profile of students' ethnic identity.
The Inland Tibet Schools are required to legitimate the state and state ideologies,
including patriotism,love of Tibet, ethnic unity, normalized and civilized behavior, and
revolutionary traditions. In Changzhou Tibet Middle School, the ideologies of patriotism
(state unification), love of Tibet, and ethnic unity (Han-Tibetan friendship) were
exhaustively transmitted to students, and clearly represented an attempt by both state and
school to assign a desired identity to Tibetan students. However, the Tibetan students also
asserted a distinctively Tibetan identity, expressed by the representation of Tibetan
culture and influenced by negative perspectives from Han Chinese in the local
In such an ideological and political schooling context, the five students' ethnic identity
can be categorized, through the analysis of their diaries,as follows: asserted and "thin"
ethnic identity, asserted and “thick’’ ethnic identity, and assigned and “thick’’ ethnic
identity. The study concludes that the state and the school encouraged students to
construct ethnic identity within the framework of the state ideologies, and utilized
students' ethnic identity to meet the state's political and economic aims of strengthening
and developing Tibet within the People's Republic of China. In this sense, the school
worked with the help of the state to reproduce the construction of ethnic identity.

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