The Chinese Pedagogical Imagination of the “New Socialist Man” in Cold War Geopolitics

Friday, 20 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Zhipeng GAO, York University, Canada
This paper, based on archival and published sources, investigates how Chinese educators and psychologists in the first decade of the People’s Republic of China became involved with a radical shift of knowledge about the human mind. Upon the founding of the new socialist regime in 1949, they adopted a considerable amount of American scientific knowledge that often positioned thoughts, capacities, attitudes, etc. as located in the individual mind and affected by natural laws. Over the course of the 1950s, their understanding of the human mind was significantly altered by China’s alliance and split with the Soviet Union. By 1958, many revolutionary educators and psychologists had come to dismiss American scientific knowledge as a false ideology, and postulated a sociopolitical ontology that emphasized the power of class struggle for creating the “new socialist man”. Accompanying this knowledge shift were the requirements that students should achieve comprehensive development in all academic subjects as well as physical labor, and contribute an extraordinary amount of social service both on and off campus. This shift in knowledge, while partly affected by China’s postwar recovery and class struggle, was deeply entrenched in the Sino-Soviet relationship and Cold War competition. In both academic debate and pedagogical practice, Chinese educators and psychologists alternated between, on the one hand, borrowing knowledge from America and the Soviet Union, and, on the other, treating the two competing super powers as ideological tokens to legitimatize particular knowledge in relation to China’s socialist revolution.