The Good Child: Moral Development in a Chinese Preschool

Talk by Jing Xu, University of Washington/Washington University in St. Louis

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Thursday, January 18, 2018
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Bunche Hall 10383

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Based on 12-month fieldwork in Shanghai that integrates ethnography and experiment, this talk examines Chinese preschool-kindergarten children’s moral education and development. Chinese academic traditions take zuo ren—self-fulfillment in terms of moral cultivation—as the ultimate goal of education. To many in contemporary China, however, the nation seems gripped by anxiety of moral decay during China’s social transformations. Placing Chinese children, alternately seen as China's greatest hope and derided as self-centered "little emperors," at the center of its analysis, this talk traces how Chinese socialization beliefs and methods influence young children’s construction of a moral world. In particular, it investigates young children’s sharing behavior as part of a larger educational project for cultivating “the good child,” a project that is both grounded in historical foundations of moral cultivation and shaped by new educational anxieties in China. The combination of anthropological and psychological theories and methods illuminates how cultural forces mediate the development of morality at its earliest stage.


Jing Xu is an anthropologist affiliated with the University of Washington (Seattle) and Washington University in St. Louis. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis in 2014. She received her M.A. in Sociology and B.A. in Journalism from Tsinghua University, China. Situated at the intersection between anthropology, psychology, and Chinese studies, she has broad interests in moral development, child-rearing and cultural transmission in contemporary China as well as cross-cultural comparative contexts.

Specifically, her dissertation research in anthropology combined ethnographic and experimental methods to examine Chinese children’s moral life under the one-child policy and China’s socio-moral transformations. Her postdoctoral research in developmental psychology at the University of Washington used lab-based experiments to investigate prosocial development in infancy and early childhood. She has published a monograph, The Good Child: Moral Development in a Chinese Preschool, and peer-reviewed articles in both anthropology and psychology journals. Currently she is working on a new project on child-rearing, parental anxiety and children’s psycho-social wellbeing in Chinese families.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies