Early Childhood Education in China
: A comparative approach to values and citizenship education in public and private kindergartens in Shanghai

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This dissertation looks at how the interplay between local and global forces has been (re)shaping early childhood education (ECE) in China since the 2010 Education Reform, how and why the dominant discourse has become increasingly keen on promoting values and citizenship education after the 19th National Congress, and whether its strategy has been effective in disseminating the core socialist values in public and private kindergartens. My focus is on analysing the dissemination and internalisation of moral education (labelled ‘values and citizenship education’) and the mainstream North American narratives of Halloween and Christmas in five public and private kindergartens in Shanghai, observed during the academic year 2017-2018. The analysis looks at the relationship between culture, values, and power within a thematic spatiality framework, where I apply a Centre-Periphery lens to position Beijing at the Centre (Space1), public kindergartens on the Space-in-Between (Space2), and private kindergartens on the Periphery (Space3) of the homogenising dominant discourse promoting moral education (deyu 德育). Moreover, I use the concepts of sovereign power and Foucauldian disciplinary power to understand the complex power dynamics shaping five elite preschools in Shanghai and the extent to which socialist morality has been successfully inculcated.

I rely on a multitude of data sources, from direct observation of festival celebrations in preschools, interviews with ECE officials, experts, and kindergarten staff and parent questionnaires to key ECE legislation and kindergarten social media accounts and curricula. To assess the power dynamics between local forces promoting the ‘cultivation of socialist builders’ and global ones I tackled the kindergartens’ Spring Festival and China’s National Day narratives, on one hand, and Christmas and Halloween-related ones, on the other, as well as looked at the attitudes and behaviour of a multitude of actors, from local education officials to preschool principals, teachers, parents and children.

My findings indicate that, starting with the 2010 Education Reform but gaining more impetus after the 19th National Congress, Space1, working through local education bureaus and local CCP branches, has increased its efforts of nationalising kindergarten education and pursuing . The Centre thus aims for ECE curricula to contain a moral education core and disseminate a discourse that would ensure the Party’s survival through the nurturing of new generations of loyal citizens who sharing its monolithic vision of ‘Chineseness.’ Based on the narratives promoted on their social media posts, both elite public kindergartens and private bilingual English-Mandarin ones are conforming with this directive. I also showed that Space2 is shaped by both sovereign and disciplinary power and that both staff and parents behave as ‘obedient bodies’ (Foucault 1991), fully aligned with the official rhetoric’s push for moral education. In Space3 the parents and native English teachers are resisting and negotiating with the Centre, retaining the agency to influence educational content by disseminating American narratives of Halloween and Christmas in the classroom, but exercise self-censorship in public, for example by aligning with the patriotic dominant discourse on social media.
Date of Award1 May 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorKonstantinos Tsimonis (Supervisor) & Kerry Brown (Supervisor)

Cite this