Child Science Exchange Program in East Asia 2: "Development as Culture" from a Comparative View of Japan and China - CRN Events



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Child Science Exchange Program in East Asia 2: "Development as Culture" from a Comparative View of Japan and China

The constraints of culture

First, I will talk a little, and then I would like to show a video. I am not going to introduce too many theories about why it is impossible to understand human beings without regard to culture or why human beings are unable to exist without culture. I would like you to experience what I have experienced by showing specific examples.

Recently, the book about preschool education titled "Child Education from Chinese Perspective," edited by Professor Zhu Jiaxiong, was published. In this book, Professor Zhu writes about some important points related to today's theme as follows.

Regarding education in Chinese kindergarten, I noticed that educational practices, the situation of teachers and children, guardians' expectations, and all other related matters were always different from what I have seen in some western countries. As a background factor, some kind of vague but irremovable power imposes constraints on everything that is generated by kindergarten education, and I sensed that such intrinsic power sometimes rendered external force ineffectual. Through these findings, I realized little by little that that is what it is called culture. Culture affects and constrains the practice of preschool education through a multilayered ecological relationship.

I share much of Professor Zhu's sentiments. Currently, qualitative research has become a trend in the field of psychology, etc. The importance of qualitative research beyond quantitative analysis, such as the search for the meaning of human beings, is growing.

In the last part of his presentation yesterday, Professor Zhu mentioned that fish were the last to learn of the existence of water. People are hardly aware of the world they live in. For instance, to what degree do you think you are Japanese in your daily life?

Something odd about Chinese children

Now, I would like to show you a video of children in Beijing, China so that you can experience what I am talking about. I visited China for the first time in 1992. Ever since I started working seriously on a comparative study in 1993, the professors of Beijing Normal University have kindly showed me many educational institutions. I shot a lot of footage there, and I would like to share it with you.

(Video viewing)

I assume many of you are involved in child education. How is your image of three-year-old children different from what you just saw on the video? These children had just entered kindergarten. It had not been a week since they had started.

At that point in time, I could not believe what I saw. I watched these children all day long, from morning until the children went to sleep. I told the teacher on this video, "Wow! These children are all doing great!" The teacher, however, responded by saying, "No. I am ashamed that they cannot do anything yet because they have just entered kindergarten." Surprised, I thought to myself, "What would it be like if they did better than this?"

Now, can you imagine how Japanese teachers reacted after watching this video? They said, "Why! These children are sitting quietly," "The children carry out each activity of daily life attentively and well," and "They act like five-year olds!" The teachers were so excited and surprised at how well the children were doing things that even five-year-old children might not be able to do.

I showed this video to my students, and they also found it odd. They said, "These children are somehow not childlike," or "Children are supposed to act more freely and selfishly. They are supposed to be out of control and that what children are like." The students seemed to have the impression that "They do not look like children," "Everything is under control, and the children are acting like soldiers," or "The children are oppressed and controlled, and that might hinder the development of personality and self-assertiveness."

Strong personality developed by controlled education

In my opinion, what Japanese teachers emphasize in the kindergarten setting are: "thinking from a child's point of view," "not imposing correct answers on children but letting them find their own answers or solve the problems on their own," and "encouraging children to express themselves in their own words and to understand others' feelings." However, if we try to understand what we saw on the video with these ideas, we will notice a paradox in the context.

First of all, from the Japanese perspective, the following schema should be true: If personality and self-assertiveness are denied in oppressive or controlled group education, children will become devoid of personality and cannot be assertive.

Now, I do not know how many of you have socialized with international students or people from China, but I personally do not believe that they lack individuality or self-assertiveness. Actually, Chinese people are very assertive and have a strong personality.

If you take a close look at the children on the video, they move at their own pace and make strong personal statements. On the other hand, when compared with Chinese children, Japanese children who are brought up to be independent are poor at asserting themselves. You could hardly say that Japanese children have a strong personality. Therefore, a question arises in the above-mentioned schema. So now, how should we resolve such a paradox?

Difference in views of human nature between Japan and China

In China, I strongly think that people expect teachers to be a role model or to set an example for children. On the other hand, in the case of Japan, it is opposite. Most likely, children rather act like a role model.

People who are engaged in child education may often share this kind of feeling: "How impure I am compared to the innocence of a child." I sometimes think so, too. I won't say everyone is like that, but that is how I tend to think about things.

I feel certain that the Japanese educational approach or attitude has been different from that of Chinese, at least from the Edo period. One day, I realized there was a big difference between Japan and China in the view of human nature as inherently good.

This is part of what Professor Yamazumi, who studied on child rearing in the Edo period, said. In his eyes, the Japanese perspective of child rearing is similar to growing plants. The perspective that we should not interfere much in children or child rearing has been popular in various settings.

However, this idea is confusing when it is applied to the case of China. Chinese people discipline children very strictly from a young age. We may think, "Why do they discipline children that much? Children may be crushed by expectations!" When we think about it now, however, the idea that human nature is fundamentally good was originally advocated by Mencius in China, not by the Japanese. My confusion was dispelled when I saw the "Three Word Maxims."

"Three Word Maxims" is a Chinese textbook created in the Song dynasty for elementary school children. It introduces the Chinese Confucian way of thinking, historical issues and related anecdotes by reciting three words repetitively. Children start learning by memorizing these words.

Human Nature and Ethics (sanzijing) in Japan and China

Children are naturally pure, so raising them in a way that preserves this nature is important. They should not be tainted by the corrupted nature of adults.

People at birth,
are naturally good.
They have similar natures;
their habits become different.

If, through neglect, they are not taught,
their nature will deteriorate,....

To feed without teaching,
is the father's fault.
To teach without strictness,
is the teacher's laziness.

(excerpt from sanzijing)


The first sentence explains that human nature is fundamentally good . Then it states that each individual is born with the same human nature . However, afterwards, human nature becomes differentiated depending on experience, learning, and external influences . If an individual is not taught , his/her human nature changes rapidly in a negative way.

It later goes on to say that if children are taken care of by being fed and dressed but not taught , that is their father's fault . If children are not educated strictly, that means teachers are lazy .

In sum, Chinese doctrine implies that children are to be trained thoroughly so as not to spoil their potential to become good, while Japanese try not to interfere much with children because they are already good enough. Their perspectives are completely opposite.

Knowing various cultures makes us richer. Such a process is very important to each individual. It is very important to "rediscover" yourself through others. In my arbitrary interpretation, that is exactly what Professor Zhu talked about yesterday. I have applied Professor Zhu's ideas on how education should be to the situation in Japan.

That is all for my presentation today.