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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Reading From Below: Alternative Literacies, Citizenship, and Community in Modern China
4: Unimagined Community: The Alternative Authority of Dujing (Reading Classics) in Contemporary Chinese Societies
Thursday, March 25, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of Chicago, United States
Whether and how to read Confucian classics is a crucial problem in modern Chinese history. After the abolishment of civic examinations in the Republic of China, Confucianism later suffered the Cultural Revolution then recent revitalization in the PRC. On the other side of the Taiwan Strait, the government first legitimated its status via Confucian education, then post-democratized Taiwan gradually downplayed tradition. While recognizing the influence of high-profile politics, this paper approaches the popular pragmatics of literacy in Chinese societies through the case of dujing or “reading the (Confucian) classic,” a rapidly developing education movement that originated in Taiwan and spread to mainland China. Claimed by its promoters to be authentic Chinese pedagogy, dujing features repetitive reading aloud of ancient canonic texts without exegesis. This mode of reading, advocates argue, helps readers access “perennial” wisdom, in contrast to the “momentary knowledge” taught in public schools. In both Taiwan and mainland China, dujing appears to parents as an alternative to public education. Ethnographic research on contemporary “redemptive societies” in Taiwan and grassroot Neo-Confucianists in the mainland shows how dujing is desired and practiced as alternative literacy practice yet synthesizes traditional authority in both places., This paper attends to various sociopolitical conditions of dujing to show how different ideologies and practices of reading classics carve out “unimagined communities” in contemporary Chinese societies.