The Cultural Dimension of Comparative Education: The Meaning of Work and Vocation in the Chinese Context and Its Implications for Vocational Education

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceedingpeer-review


Just like other newly introduced concepts such as 'science', 'culture', or 'religion', the widely used Chinese term for 'profession' – zhiye – has been established with its modern meaning only in the course of this century, especially after the foundation of the 'Chinese Society of Vocational Education' by Huang Yanpei in 1917. However, the term itself is not a new one, but is the product of ancient Chinese (especially Confucian) conceptions of the vocational world. Whereas the first morpheme (zhi) denotes the Confucian official, the second (ye) represents the hierarchical order of the working people, i.e. scholars, peasants, craftsmen, and merchants. This dichotomy – though sometimes more imagined than real, as the gap between officials and merchants tended to be smaller than it was maintained in the somewhat idealized Confucian thinking – was a shaping factor for the perception of work and profession in the Chinese context, and, in the author's opinion, still continues to be so.
The present paper attempts to investigate the different layers of meaning inherent in the concept of 'profession' by approaching it from a semantic perspective, also taking into account historical, philosophical, and societal developments. Against the background of the German vocational world, it aims at combining comparative educational and historical research with semantic methods, thus trying to make these disciplines' theories mutually benefit from each other. In general, research on vocational education has been rather descriptive and policy-oriented in nature. In contrast, this paper aims to illuminate why certain ideas and, subsequently, systems of vocational education have emerged (or have been adopted from other countries) and why others have not. Though the reasons are to be found in the Chinese past and though even Chinese educational vocational research seldom considers its traditional roots, the author regards these 'hidden meanings' nonetheless as essential for the Chinese conception of the vocational world and for vocational training patterns today. It can be shown that certain developments of the recent past can be interpreted as emerging from this conception, even though the Communist take-over and the policies following from this might imply otherwise.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2001
EventWorld Congress of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES) - Chungbuk, Korea, Republic of
Duration: 2001 Jul 2 → …


ConferenceWorld Congress of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES)
Country/TerritoryKorea, Republic of
Period2001/07/02 → …

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Educational Sciences


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