Chinese Studies Children’s Culture and Social Studies
Stephanie Hemelryk Donald, Zhenhui Yan, Zitong Qiu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0073


The study of childhood is crucial to understanding contemporary Chinese society and culture. Successive generations of childhood since the mid-20th century have been given the burden of succession—of revolution, of reform, and now of globalization and national pride. They have been involved in wars as child soldiers; they have found themselves at the forefront of internal struggles for the very meaning of culture; and they have been assigned the task of taking Chinese science and technology to the pinnacle of modernity. Chinese society expects a lot from its children. Nonetheless, there are relatively few academic studies of the subject, although that situation is changing in line with the increasing academic focus on Chinese media, an area where younger generations are leading the way. This article seeks to provide an account of key foci in the study of childhood, while also extending the reach of the works cited to certain writings on “youth.” Childhood is a difficult category to pin down, as cultural and social norms can mean that a sixteen-year-old is a child in one place, but a working adult somewhere else. Here we keep to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of a Child (1988), of which China is a signatory, and mark infancy up to age two, and childhood up to seventeen years of age. However, we have still included titles that are concerned with youth over seventeen (approximately), when those discussions are also pertinent to an overall study of generational change. The twelve sections of this article are not exhaustive, but they tease out important themes: Annual Reports, Premodern History of Children and Childhood, Modern Histories of Childhood and Youth, the Child as a Sign of Value, Youth, Music and Literature, Television and Film, Media Use, Education, Anthropology, Politics and Psychology, and Rural Children. The overwhelming impression is one of a double contradiction. The study of the child entails a focus on the future, on abrupt change, and on China’s potential in the world. At the same time, it leads us back to longstanding discourses of social value, discourses that have been forged in the political philosophies of the Confucian tradition but that have developed through the governmental necessities of imperial systems, whereby education underpinned an imperial bureaucracy that spread across the imperial sphere of influence. Indeed, the Book of Rites is clear that the job of a ten-year-old is to study. Yet it was childhood that became the working metaphor for 20th-century critiques of that tradition, whereby lost childhoods such as of that of the peasant Runtu in Lu Xun’s seminal short story “Old Home” (first published in the radical magazine New Youth, 1921; see also Lu 1972, cited under Premodern History of Children and Childhood) were taken as causes and effects of an impoverished and emasculated China.

Annual Reports

Consulting annual reports will help readers find their own leads in areas of particular interest. We have listed only the most recent. Fang and Liu 2010 offers an annual report of Chinese children’s culture research. It is divided into four sections that focus on government documents, academic frontiers, hot issues, and an index of papers and theses. Since 2011, this series of annual reports started to relegate government documents to the index. Each contains three sections, and various hot issues of the previous year are selected for discussion. Fang 2015a is the last report in the series and contains only two sections: academic frontiers and hot issues. In the same year, Fang edited the last issue of the annual journal China Children’s Culture, which was started in 2004 (Fang 2015b). Lu, et al. 2004 collects research essays, most of which adopt a sociological perspective, and closely examines the social politics of exclusion and integration in urban space in contemporary China. Each of these includes multiple resources and disciplinary foci. In contrast, the China Child Welfare Policy Report series focuses on Chinese children’s welfare only. It has been released annually since 2010. Most of its editions are not published under the names of specific editors, but there are exceptions (Wang and Gao 2016). Two other researchers, Shang Xiaoyuan and Wang Xiaolin, also wrote reports on emerging issues in China’s child welfare research and practice. They were most active between 2011 and 2013 (Shang and Wang 2013).

  • Fang Weiping 方卫平, ed. 2014 Zhongguo ertong wenhua yanjiu niandu baogao (2014中国儿童文化研究年度报告). Hangzhou, China: Zhejiang shaonian ertong chubanshe, 2015a.

    This is the eighth report in the series since its launch in 2007. Hot issues of 2004 include child sexual harassment and the two-child policy for singleton parents.

  • Fang Weiping 方卫平, ed. Zhongguo ertong wenhua (di jiu ji) (中国儿童文化 [第9辑]). China Children’s Culture 9 (2015b).

    This is the last issue of the annual journal China Children’s Culture, which publishes papers on childhood studies, children’s literature, children’s culture and education, children’s book publishing, and other topics.

  • Fang Weiping 方卫平, and Liu Xuanwen 刘宣文, eds. 2009 Zhongguo ertong wenhua yanjiu niandu baogao (2009中国儿童文化研究年度报告). Hangzhou, China: Zhejiang shaonian ertong chubanshe, 2010.

    Divided into four parts; this 2009 annual report on Chinese children’s culture research emulates the structure of the previous two years’ reports. The “hot issues focus” described in this report relates to research into gender education, children’s post-earthquake psychological crisis, and the problems inherent in the division between arts and sciences in high school (gaoxue) education.

  • Lu Shizhen 陆士祯, Wu Luping 吴鲁平, and Lu Deping 卢德平, eds. Zhongguo chengshi qingshaonian ruoshi qunti xianzhuang yu shehui baohu zhengce (中国城市青少年弱势群体现状与社会保护政策). Beijing: Shehui kexue chubanshe, 2004.

    Focus is on issues pertaining to the vulnerable and/or disadvantaged social groups of urban youth and adolescents (chengshi qingshaonian): the evaluation and assessment of social policies, the legal system vis-à-vis special social protection, and suggestions regarding countermeasures. Categories include adolescents and urban college students affected by poverty, orphans and disabled children fostered by urban families, and migrant youth.

  • Shang Xiaoyuan 尚晓媛, and Wang Xiaolin 王小林. Zhongguo ertong fuli qianyan (2013) (中国儿童福利前沿 [2013]). Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2013.

    This is a theoretical exploration of China’s child welfare system, including its general design, sites of experimentation, assessment, and suggestions for improvement.

  • Wang Zhenyao 王振耀, and Gao Huajun 高华俊, eds. Xitong jianshe puhuixing ertong fuli tixi: Zhongguo ertong fuli zhengce baogao 2015 (系统建设普惠型儿童福利体系:中国儿童福利政策报告2015). Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2016.

    This report provides a comprehensive account of the progress made in building an inclusive child welfare system in China since 2014. It also analyzes in detail how government subsidies, state supervisions, and medical resources can impact the life security, medical health, educational development, and social engagement of orphans as well as children who are impoverished, seriously ill, or disabled, and those who have AIDS.

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