Culture, Music Education, and the Chinese Dream in Mainland China, by Wai-Chung Ho

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Culture, Music Education, and the Chinese Dream in Mainland ChinaCulture, Music Education, and the Chinese Dream in Mainland China. Wai-Chung Ho. Singapore: Springer Nature, 2018. 256 pp. 11 figures and 5 tables. ISBN 978-981-10-7533-9.

Timely, informative, and provocative, Ho’s book sheds light on the development and structuring of values education and character training in China’s education system. He describes the increasing importance of values education, as the government uses its “soft power” in the form of the arts, moral training, and history to ingrain traditional Confucian ideas and a love of the motherland into Chinese students from elementary school through the university. Ho’s research helps the reader grasp a little of the complexity of Chinese culture and heritage, as well as ways in which propaganda is used to promote the “Chinese Dream.”

Although this text is clearly aimed at scholars and researchers interested in Chinese or Asian topics, Ho’s observations could also benefit music educators seeking to gain a broader understanding of the uses and techniques of music and culture in education around the world. In addition, as China continues to grow as a rising international power, this book provides an inside perspective into the country’s system of education and its use of propaganda to promote core values and beliefs.

The text consists of eight chapters and a short preface introducing the book’s foundational questions and goals. Each chapter has its own abstract, which provide a distillation of the chapter and serve as a handy tool for researchers seeking specific facts and materials. Throughout the text, Ho uses a variety of abbreviations for specific organizations and institutions, and a clear guide to each abbreviation is provided immediately following the table of contents.

The chapters progress from the general to the specific, with the first chapter serving as both an introduction to important concepts—such as the cultural and historical implications of dreams and the idea of “Collective Memory”—and an introduction to the text as a whole. Here Ho breaks down each chapter, offering a brief outline of what will be discussed. These outlines are further fleshed out in the introduction to each chapter, as well as in the summary at the end of every chapter. While such material can be helpful, it is also a bit redundant, as points are introduced, re-introduced, discussed, and then summarized.   

Central to the narrative is the concept of the “Chinese Dream,” which the preface describes as “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” (v). Ho further develops the idea, saying that the concept “integrates national and personal aspirations, targeting the reclamation of national pride and the achievement of personal well-being” (67). Woven throughout the book are references to the “Chinese Dream” and how it is engrained into the minds and hearts of China’s youth through “soft power,” such as cultural education and Confucianism. However, despite constant references to the “Chinese Dream,” this remains a rather amorphous concept as the book progresses. Perhaps Ho could define the term at the beginning of the text, thus laying a stronger foundation for the data and facts that follow.

Even if the concept itself is rather obscure, Ho does an excellent job illuminating ways in which the “Chinese Dream” is promoted, both nationally and internationally. He points to the establishment of Confucius Institutes in many cities and Universities around the world as a way in which the Chinese government uses its “soft power” to further its political and cultural agenda. Ho also discusses the use of international media, such as CCTV and the People’s Daily, which produce foreign language editions that “promote the Chinese Dream to an international audience” (64). He mentions the 2008 Beijing Olympics on several occasions, drawing parallels between the marketing campaign associated with it and the promotion of the Chinese Dream. These connections serve to draw in readers who have never been to China, helping them identify with the idea of the Chinese Dream by providing examples they have seen and experienced.

As the book progresses, Ho increasingly focuses on the main topics of values education and its place within arts and education in China. He offers numerous examples of propaganda that promotes traditional Chinese values and a love of the motherland in both popular and school music. Many of these examples are very enlightening, such as the continued use of rap and hip-hop music as propaganda, showing how the government strives to keep pace with a changing society and new global trends. Ho notes that this type of propaganda shows the Chinese government grappling with a rapid rise in the popularity of Western culture that accompanied the “opening up and reform” initiated in 1978. As the youth of China are increasingly exposed to the popular sounds and cultural values of western countries, the CCP has begun changing propaganda tactics to focus on winning the love and loyalty of younger generations through messages delivered in the popular musical styles they enjoy. This is accompanied by an increasing focus on traditional Chinese culture in education, thus giving students pride in the long and esteemed heritage of their country.

While the first six chapters provide background material, Ho does not touch on his own fieldwork until Chapter Seven. Here he rather unexpectedly introduces a study done by interviewing thirty-three primary and secondary teachers in Beijing. Ho asked each teacher a series of questions about values education and the inclusion of global music and traditional Chinese music in the school curriculum. In comparison with the rest of the text, his discussion of this study is rather brief, but it provides some useful insights near the end of the book by offering readers a view into the beliefs and motivations of teachers in the Chinese system. Ho highlights the fact that nearly all of them consider values education to be important, with music serving as a tool to convey important values and political beliefs.

Ho might have introduced this study earlier in the text, thus drawing upon some of his personal observations as he introduced other concepts. However, the six chapters of introductory material do serve to give the reader a deeper understanding of Chinese values and education, as well as the political and cultural implications of music education in a Chinese context, which lays a foundation for his study. Ho provides much food for thought, as well as new ideas for incorporating values into music education, in this worthwhile book.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 18/08/2021

Erica Rumbley

Erica Rumbley is an independent scholar and musician currently completing a term at Ningxia University in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China. She received her PhD in musicology from the University of Kentucky, and her current research interests include American Music and the uses of music to treat victims of PTSD. She also serves regularly as a collaborative pianist and music teacher.

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