The desire to enrol in good schools is strong among Chinese teenagers, and parents all over China share the hope that their child or children will qualify for further education. This study focuses on attitudes towards education as these are voiced by middle school students, teachers, parents and villagers in Rongcuo township in the outskirts of Xiamen municipality, Fujian province. The dominant view among the members of this local community is that success within the school system results in good employment opportunities and a steady income. Young students in Rongcuo township experience considerable pressure to perform well in school, both from parents and from the local community in general. How do middle school students relate to these expectations, and what are the consequences for the students in their everyday lives? Based on participant observation in the local community and informal talks and interviews with students in secondary school concerning school life, spare time activities and future prospects, this study addresses the consequences the strong emphasis on education has for young students in Rongcuo.
In the analysis special attention has been given to recurrent descriptions of young individuals as studious, unruly, rural, physically strong, or even stupid in everyday conversation. The importance of being a good student (hao xuesheng) and of getting access to good education will be assessed, as well as consequences suffered by those who fail to live up to these expectations. My discussion of the significance of being a good student owes much to the Chinese sociologist Chen Yingfang s thoughts on youth culture, youth ideals and the socialisation of youth in the Chinese context. Chen sees a tendency among Chinese youth to conform excessively to their parents and teachers expectations. Similar conclusions can be found in Børge Bakken s writing on socialization within what he has termed the exemplary society. According to Bakken, Chinese individuals are moulded through the imitation of exemplary models, and socialised in an environment characterised by a high level of social control. Bakken draws his conclusion on the background of texts written within the Chinese discourse on modernisation and socialist construction. In my study I explore the significance of exemplary models in a local context, and the status of membership in the Chinese Communist Youth League (gongqing tuan) among students in Rongcuo will be discussed as a case in point. As will the spare time activities available to young students locally, and the differences between boys and girls in terms of expected behaviour, studies and work life.
My findings suggest that rather than being driven by a need to conform, the Rongcuo students pursue education out of concern for their own future prospects.