1999 Student-Faculty Fellows: Colgate University

People’s Republic of China: Engendering Social Capital Formation:
An Urban Rural Partnership for Enhancing Girls’ Schooling in China

Mentor: Heidi Ross, Education/Asian Studies
Student: Janna Pistiner, ’01, Education/Chemistry


Janna Pistiner

Equal access to education, educational equity, and the holistic appreciation of each individual’s capacities and talents, are ideals to- ward which every educational system should strive. … (M)y awesome experiences in China have made me interrogate ALL of these ideas and commitments. So much happened to me, I learned so much, that I am only beginning to process everything. Perhaps surprising only to me, I read back through my journal and see that there is almost as much recorded about ME as about China. I was also struck-speechless sometimes–by the huge gaps in educational access and equity that threaten China’s economic development and social stability. I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the emotional and intellectual swings I underwent during my month- long stay in China.

Prof. Heidi Ross

I can’t say that I wasn’t a bit apprehensive accompanying a 19-year-old student with little Chinese language background-and less travel experience-to China a week after the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. But, after a number of phone calls to Beijing friends and colleagues, it became clear to me that Chinese individuals would generally make the distinction between two people from the U.S. and the U.S. government. This had been my experience on past research trips, and so it was this summer. In retrospect, I could not have hoped for a richer, livelier experience for the two of us. We traveled widely, spent nearly two weeks at our primary research site in Nanchang, Jiangxi interviewing girls, and were able to develop a diverse context for our findings by interviewing 12-18 year old girls at over one-dozen other schools in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guilin. We also had plenty of hard conversations with Chinese parents, teachers, scholars, and girls about what it means for a nation-state and an individual to take a moral stance. We climbed the Great Wall, strolled through the Forbidden City, visited numerous temples, chatted with members of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, were featured on Jiangxi Television, had lunch while floating down the Li River. We even began to study Mulan Martial Arts, swords and fans swirling.

Research Findings

Preliminary findings from our fieldwork show that schooling, especially for rural children, can be (but not necessarily are) conceived of as sites for the construction of social capital. Increasingly, schools in urban areas, while expanding even at the post-secondary level to become mass institutions, are tailored for the needs of individuals. Education is viewed as a consumer good in cities like Shanghai. Rural parents recognize the utilitarian value of schooling for their children, but still talk about schools as institutions to serve society. Privatization trends, at least at the secondary school level, seem to be slowing in Beijing and Shanghai, but not in southern China. While social and career expectations differ markedly between rural and urban girls, even the most privileged urban female students express concern about their future careers. Graduates and current students of the Nanchang program report a seachange in their lives as a result of their high school education. It appears that very few of these girls will return permanently to their villages, a consequence of education that complicates viewing their educational program as enhancing social capital.

Venues for Sharing

Janna and Heidi will be presenting their experiences and findings at a Colgate University Social Sciences Division bag lunch in November. Janna has also shared her experiences in a 300-level course taught by Heidi at Colgate entitled, “Education in China and Japan.” Finally, Janna is working with Heidi as a research assistant in helping Heidi organize a 1,000-member conference of the Comparative and International Education Society in the spring of 2001. It is Heidi’s responsibility to organize this meeting of the world’s largest international education society as the society’s president-elect. Janna will be working on the conference over the next 11/2 years, and will attend and present at the conference.