Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Barbara Thayer-Bacon

Committee Members

Allison Anders, Zhong Yang, Harry Dahms


China’s curriculum system has been undergoing substantial transformations since 1986. In response to public criticism of the highly prescribed national curriculum, the central state of China is attempting to build a more inclusive system which is composed of national curriculum, province curriculum and school-based curriculum. The new curriculum system accommodates more flexibility in carrying out national curriculum policies and even encourages local input in curriculum development and management. Apparently, the current curriculum reform in China is moving toward decentralization.

The purpose of this work is to demonstrate the complexity of decentralization reform in China’s curriculum system and examine the dynamics of policy formulation and outcomes of reform efforts in great depth. The main argument made in this socio-philosophical work is that the on-going Chinese curriculum reform is a process of centralized decentralization, which merely transfers work to the local level but not real authority. With an inquiry into the impetus of current Chinese curriculum reform, this theoretical research illustrates that centralized decentralization is taken as a strategic imperative by the state to avoid loss of control over school curriculum that carries particular social and political significance for China in a transitional period. Another major task for this cultural studies research is to problematize the strategy of centralized decentralization, investigating the consequences of the superficial decentralization in reality and analyzing the bottlenecks in promoting current Chinese curriculum reform.

In this research, Mark Hanson’s conceptual framework of education decentralization is used to clarify ambiguity in defining decentralization reform in the education sector in China. Meanwhile, Foucault’s theory about power/knowledge and governmentality and Williams’ theory about hegemony are used to deepen the understanding of the state-education relationship in contemporary China. Besides a descriptive analysis of phenomena in current Chinese curriculum reform, the discussion is deployed through pragmatic approach and logic-based reasoning. Most data are obtained from literature review, including previous studies on Chinese education reform, government documents, laws and regulations related to current Chinese curriculum reform.

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