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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The chinese struggle for literacy : villagers and the state in Guangdong, 1949-1976 Peterson, Glen


This dissertation is a social and intellectual history of the struggle for literacy in Mao's China from 1949 to1976. The major objective of the dissertation is to assess the nature and significance of this struggle in one part of China: the southeastern coastal province of Guangdong. In order to achieve this objective, I pursue three central aims. First, the dissertation seeks to illuminate elite influences which shaped state literacy policy in the PRC. Since we are dealing with literacy ideologies prescribed by the state for various social groups, it is crucial to understand how those ideologies were formed and articulated. Second, the dissertation attempts to uncover popular mentalites toward literacy in order to bring into focus the tension between two educational worlds: the one that existed in the minds and in the organizational blueprints of China's state leaders, and the other that guided village educational thought and practice. In this way I show the struggle for literacy to be a process of continuous, dynamic interaction between villagers and the state. The third aim of the dissertation is to show how literacy is related to the social structure. I argue that it is insufficient and potentially misleading to assess the history of Chinese literacy in terms of statistical growth patterns alone. I demonstrate how changing literacy ideologies for different social groups played a crucial role in the formation and reproduction of social differences after 1949. In showing how the literacy map is also a map of the class structure, the dissertation involves itself with larger theoretical controversies over the role of literacy in society. In particular, this dissertation adds to a growing body of critical scholarship that challenges established, Enlightenment-derived assumptions about the relationship of literacy and societal progress.

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