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A Chinese Civil Society in the Making? Civic Perceptions and Civic Participation of University Students in an Era of Massification

Abstract: Chinese higher education has achieved a remarkable expansion in recent years but few studies have examined the civic perceptions and civic participation of contemporary university students. This study aims to fill the gap in the existing literature by accomplishing four main goals: first, to investigate how students view citizenship, civic issues, and civil society; second, to examine how they participate in civic activities, both on and off campus; third, to understand how their civic attitudes and behaviours are being influenced by society, university and family, also by such factors as formal citizenship education curricula, informal educational experiences and the mass media; and fourth, to analyze the impact of higher education expansion on civil society in China. This study adopted a mixed methods approach, and combined findings from a large-scale national student survey across 12 universities and 34 face to face interviews conducted in 3 selected institutions among the 12 that were surveyed. The conceptual framework drew upon social capital theory and both ecological and cognitive psychological theories to generate two analytic frameworks for analyzing the quantitative and qualitative data. The major findings were: (1) university students demonstrated strong patriotism, and a serious commitment to social justice and civic participation, which was partly the result of the distinctive form of citizenship education they received in the Chinese context; (2) half of the survey participants were found to be inactive participants in civic activities, which showed a disconnect between their civic attitudes and civic behaviours; (3) higher socio-economic status (SES) was associated with more active civic participation; (4) the mass media, especially the Internet was found to have a profound impact on students’ civic perceptions; (5) interview participants in the three qualitative case institutions revealed distinctive patterns of civic engagement, which confirmed the importance of university environment, policy, history and culture on student civic participation and citizenship development. This study has made a significant contribution to the existing literature on citizenship issues in contemporary Chinese universities. It has also added to current knowledge on trends of civil society development and the democratization process in China, from the perspective of university students.

Author: Yuxin Tu

Source: University of Toronto - TSpace

Size: 9.00 MB
Last Updated: August 4, 2015