The following quote about China is often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821): ‘Let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world.’ China has now awakened; is she then shaking the world, and especially the world of education? Although the influence of China is far from that of an earthquake yet, there are signs that tremors are already felt. First, the most important international benchmarks for education, the so-called PISA tests, have placed China on the world map for education. Shanghai took part in the 2012 tests and obtained the best results. Of course Shanghai is not China, but Beijing, Jiangsu and Guangdong (China’s most populated province) will also take part in the 2015 PISA studies. Second, China has started – like many other countries – to export her education. The Department for Education in England is currently recruiting mathematics teachers from Shanghai to give master classes in centres of excellence or ‘maths hubs’. In higher education, China is building a campus in Malaysia – the first branch of a Chinese university abroad. Xiamen University Malaysian campus will open in 2015. All the courses will be delivered in English.
China has the largest education system in the world with 474,000 schools, 10 million teachers and 200 million students (China Education and Research Network, 2011). It is a “vast and complex” (Bush et al., 1998) system of public education, run and overseen by the Ministry of Education (MoE). The Ministry formulates and enforces policies, principles and laws concerning education and liaises with various local governmental agencies. Education is a high priority area for the Chinese authorities as stipulated by Article 4 of The China Education Law (CEL hereafter, 1995): “With education being the foundation for construction of socialist modernization, the state shall give priority to the development of educational undertakings. The whole society shall pay attention and render support to the educational undertakings. The whole society shall respect teachers.”
China is an extremely diverse country of 1.3 billion inhabitants, comprising very different social, ethnic and linguistic groups. Students from Yining (northwest of China in the Mongolian Uplands), Qiqihar (in the north-eastern part of the country) or Nanning (southern China) may have very little in common with each other, even though they share a passport. But one does not even need to change regions; in Beijing for example, one can easily meet diverse people in a different district or even on a different street. Yet for the ‘West’ China is often perceived as homogeneous and Confucian as if China (stopped) “thinking in Ancient times, or when Western modernity was introduced to her” (Cheng, 2007, p. 11).
The Chinese Education Research Group (CERG) aims at describing and problematizing many and varied aspects of Chinese education.
It also endeavours to tackle educational features that are often misunderstood or misrepresented in e.g. the ‘West’ and thus serve as a mediator between researchers, practitioners, decision-makers and media of different nationalities.
CERG also serves as a platform for creating opportunities to learn from each other (China, Finland and other countries).
Its members endeavour to reject the usual process of ‘cultural taxidermy’ of the Chinese and to apply critical and interculturally reflexive approaches to their research.
CERG is also interested in analyzing the ‘fear’ of China, a certain ‘Changst’ (China + angst, Chu, 2013), found in e.g. Yong Zhao (2014)’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?Why China: Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.