Unwelcome Stranger to the System: Vocational Education in Early Twentieth-Century China

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Both in China and internationally, educators and policy makers claim that vocational education and training (VET) is essential for the sound economic development of a country and the physical and social well-being of its population. However, China looks back upon a century-long history of rejection when it comes to popularising VET, despite attempts, both in the present and in the past, to invest in its implementation. Much of the literature attributes this lack of success to the failed, or distorted, transfer of Western educational models or simply to policy drift.

The article approaches this history of rejection by tracing back the original Chinese encounters with Western-style vocational education. After an introductory discussion of different scholarly attempts at explaining failed transfers of VET, I look at how this transfer actually took place when VET was first introduced to China. Therefore, the focus will be on the first decades of the twentieth century and a group of Chinese actors who were pivotal in importing VET models from abroad and building up a nationwide vocational education programme (primarily members of the Chinese Association of Vocational Education). I will argue that vocational education, when introduced to China from abroad, was embedded in an existing framework of systematic and widely practised discrimination and segregation of the population. Therefore, it was less the Westernness of VET that made it undesirable to many Chinese, but its specific – and specifically Chinese – integration into existing practices of allocating cultural capital.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Educational Sciences


  • social control, educational transfer, vocational education, China, educational segregation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-241
JournalComparative Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Publication categoryResearch

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