The moral imperative of children’s academic excellence: Tensions and contradictions in Chinese middle-class parenting styles

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


It is well documented that Chinese parents invest enormous amounts of time, resources and emotions in their children’s education, as if a life worthwhile is a life where education and self-cultivation is at the fore. Taking part in and excelling in educational activities is a moral imperative that marks childhood, whereby achieving in school is not only an act of filial piety, but also a patriotic deed, where the good-student-subject contributes to the advancement of the nation. Educational desire, seen across China and other East Asian societies, feeds off and contributes to an intrinsic web of subjects and public and private institutions that govern themselves as much as they are governed by the state. One key set of actors, subsumed in this web, is parents who both set goals and aspirations for their children’s academic achievement, and manage, support and coach their children in achieving these goals, often with the help of tutors and extra-curricular schools. This paper explores some of the tensions and contradictions in Chinese middle-class parenting styles aiming at academic excellence on part of their young children. Drawing on fieldwork in Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore, various norms and practices are delineated, pointing at tensions and contradictions of the moral imperative of children’s academic excellence. As we show, these tensions cannot be understood without taking into account aspirations for social mobility and intergenerational relations on the one hand, and concerns over (mental) health and wellbeing and the moral imperative of being a good parent on the other hand.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Apr 25
EventChina: Ethics and Society - Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 2023 Apr 242023 Apr 25


ConferenceChina: Ethics and Society
Abbreviated titleCES

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)

Cite this