The "Chinese Learner": A Historical and Cultural Biography

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Elizabeth Li


There are two main factors that have contributed to the emergence of a modern educational phenomenon known as the "Chinese Leaner." The "Chinese learner" is described as, "...being obedient to authority, passive in class, lacking in critical thinking, and adopting inadequate learning strategies" (Clark & Gieve, 2006, p. 54). The concept of the "Chinese Learner" cannot be understood without understanding the historical and cultural roots that precede its emergence. This paper will address the cultural and sociopolitical influences that may underlie the descriptions commonly associated with Chinese students. Although culture is deeply embedded and influences individuals in their educational contexts, it is crucial to acknowledge that the "Chinese Learner" only exists when contrasted and applied to Westernized standards and ideals of education and learning. The "Chinese Learner" presents a paradox since many Chinese students rise above the stereotype of being superficial learners and perform quite well in their studies. This prompts one to use a more critical lens when evaluating whether or not being a "Chinese Learner" is at an advantage or disadvantage in the classroom. The paradox of the "Chinese Learner" leads to the realization that this construct is only possible in Western educational settings. Without the contrast between the two, there would be no such concept. Therefore, in order to understand the phenomenon of the "Chinese Learner," it is important to explore the cultural traditions, sociopolitical changes, and Western educational practices that are intertwined that allow for people to establish such a concept within a group of specific learners in the first place.


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How to Cite
Li, E. (2017). The "Chinese Learner": A Historical and Cultural Biography. SFU Educational Review, 10(1).
Author Biography

Elizabeth Li, Simon Fraser University

Faculty of Education - Master of Education in Educational Psychology, Graduate Student