Schooling 'Soft-Spoken Boys' and 'Masculine Girls': Morality, Equality, and Difference in China's Gender Education

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Young people's gender practices and the function of the school in shaping these practices have become a contentious issue in Chinese public discussions over the past decade. This article explores an emergent strain of thinking within this debate: that schools should promote the notion of gender equality. Focusing on the case of Daode yu fazhi (Morality and legal rule) textbooks currently used in all junior high schools (Grades 7-9) across the country, the article employs qualitative textual analysis to examine whether and how the gender equality principle is presented to youth in the Xi Jinping era (2012-). The study finds that the Xi-era textbooks promote the principle of equality between men and women and urge young people to fight for the implementation of this principle. In a notable break from the past, the books also acknowledge the existence of diverse gender practices among contemporary youth. At the same time, the textbooks endorse the notion of "natural"gender difference and "harmonious"gender complementarity. The books also censor gender/sexuality expressions that do not conform with hegemonic binary gender norms. Reflecting patriarchal and heteronormative ideologies reinforced by nationalist politics and a growing moral anxiety about the blurring of boundaries between masculinity and femininity, the Xi era curriculum ultimately leaves little space for flexible gender formulations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-113
Number of pages29
JournalNAN NU
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024


  • China
  • education
  • femininity
  • gender difference
  • gender equality
  • masculinity

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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