The Chinese continuum of self-cultivation: a Confucian-Deweyan learning model

Christine Hale

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

This thesis explores a transcultural philosophy of education based on the Neo-Confucian concepts of the universal nature of self (ren xing人性), as positioned with self-in-the-world (ren 人) and humanity (ren 仁) in the co-creative process of self-cultivation (xiushen 修身). This approach to knowledge synthesis and consolidation informs and enhances the educational theories of John Dewey (1859-1952) and presents a philosophy of education which has a dynamic self interacting with and becoming in the world as an evolving process of knowledge schematization and application.

The Confucian-Deweyan educational model explored herein is presented as, not only a transcultural educational approach in the changing face of globality, but also a means to encourage and foster humanitarian and communitarian values in the student to be applied in life-long learning. That is, a wholistic approach to education whereby the individual considers the other – human and natural – tantamount to the self in an increasingly shifting world. This concept is in direct opposition to the anthropocentric approach of egoistic individualism currently prevalent in post-modern societies. Hence, the model developed herein is a pragmatic response to 21st century globality, fostering cooperation, rather than competition; an anthropocosmic vision of life and living, enabling non-European indigenous values to co-exist in a global arena.

The specific elements addressed for the contextual background of the thesis is the history and influence of Deweyan thought in China (Dewey lectured in China for two years – 1919-1921), the history of China’s educational systems, and the PRC’s current education reform initiatives. China, with a community-based culture and growing global presence, offers a real-world context for exploring the viability of such a Confucian-Deweyan model of education as a confluence of Western and Eastern approaches to learning, self, community, creativity and knowledge.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Nigel Bagnall