Confucius stands on the London eye- an auto-ethnographic study

Jinjin Lu (2019) Confucius stands on the London eye- an auto-ethnographic
study, Ethnography and Education, 14:1, 51-64, DOI: 10.1080/17457823.2017.1387067

Helen Jinjin Lu

Dr Jinjin Lu, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan, China

In my recent paper (2019), I used an auto-ethnographic study to see how Confucianism has had a profound influence on Chinese learners’ academic achievements, moral education and education for citizenship. The paper is based on a BBC documentary that leads me to reflect on Chinese education. The documentary sought to investigate what would occur when Western learners undertake Chinese Confucian-based learning. In this article, my personal reflections on the content and messages of the documentary are interwoven with reflections of the teachers and others involved in the documentary. I begin this auto-ethnographic account by reflecting on my cultural upbringing in China and the influence that Confucianism had on my own early learning experiences. Selected diary entries show my identities within a unique Confucian cultural framework.

Chinese learners’ learning styles, motivation and self-regulation have been significantly discussed in relation to Confucianism. More specifically, in a large number of previous studies, the research findings revealed that Chinese learners followed a rote learning process with heavy memorization. For example, Chan (1999) claimed that Chinese students’ learning styles were still very much influenced by Confucianism, which is dominated by rote learning. Similarly, Kennedy (2002) explored Chinese students’ learning styles and found that they were accustomed to learning passively and mechanically because they lack the confidence to participate in the delivery of different learning modes. The lack of motivation remains a common problem in Chinese students’ knowledge transition (Dörnyei and Ryan 2015). Recently, Li and Chang (2015) noted that there was a positive effect on Chinese learners via learning English by adopting a rote learning method, and they argued that the Confucian influence appears to be the only explanation for the students’ rote learning in China. In terms of Chinese learners’ development of self-discipline and self-regulation, Heng (2015) used an auto-ethnographical approach to find a ‘hybridofnuancedculturalmeaningsunderneaththeself-regulatedlearningexperiences in the Chinese context’ (132). Heng’s (2015) research indicates that Confucianism has had a significant influence on the development of her self-regulation in the learning process in her junior high school years.

From a psychological perspective, the ‘educational stress’ phenomenon has been common in the Chinese context. It results in a high risk of mental disorders and may influence students’ peer and family relationships (Sun 2012). Stewart (2014) used surveys and pictures to illustrate how busy Chinese secondary school students were in Shanghai. He expressed concern about Chinese students’ health and wellbeing. In recent years, with the increased number of Chinese students in Western universities, an increasing number of researchers are paying attention to international students’ academic stress, language deficiency and mental health status. In a more recent study, Chen et al. (2015) and his colleagues found that cultural mismatch may lead to many problems among Chinese international students. In this case, investigating the unique culture of Chinese Confucianism is essential because it provides opportunities for Westerners to enhance their understanding of Chinese learners’ characteristics and cultural heritage (Nuyen 2002; Wang 2006; Gutierrez and Dyson 2009; Woods and Lamond 2011; Dennehy 2015). Confucianism has a close relationship with Chinese culture in traditional education. Confucianism refers to the ‘teachings of Confucius and his disciples’ (Lin 2010, 71). The core value of the Chinese cultural system is derived from Confucian ideas (Chan 1986), which have had a significant influence on teaching and learning for many years in China. Students are taught to maintain harmonious relationships with others, adhere to hierarchical structures and focus on hard work (Lin 2010). It is generally believed that ‘Confucian teaching emphasized personal morality, correctness of social behavior and harmony of interpersonal relationships’ (Lin 2010, 307). Because Confucianism, Chinese culture, and Confucian ideas are linked, some scholars (Luan 1994; Yu2008) have even stated, ‘Confucianism does represent Chinese culture, Confucian moral tradition represents Chinese moral tradition and education in Chinese tradition necessarily means education in the Confucian tradition’ (122).

In this research, I used auto-ethnography as a research method to show how my early learning process was influenced by Confucianism. By using this method, both readers and I will obtain a deeper understanding of the unique Chinese culture and its long-term influence in school and at home. Also, I used a range of forms of data to analyzing personal experience (Ellis, Adams, and Bochner 2011; Creswell 2013). This research method has also been used in my other recent articles (2018, 2019). Compared with other research methods, auto-ethnography provides an opportunity for researchers who could be engaged in the field. This does not mean that the stories told are similar to fiction. For me, it is just the opposite because ‘The categorization of the auto-ethnographer’s personal accounts into general themes and by-themes provides an easy, clear, and concise way of grouping the qualitative personal data into intelligible categories and making sense of them’ (Philaretou and Allen 2006, 68).

My auto-ethnographic essays are not only for assisting myself to improve my cultural identity but also to show my experiences enacted though my auto-ethnographic writing that stimulates my audience to reflect upon their educational experiences and the connected underlying cultural meanings, utterances and life experiences in a comparative context.


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Author Bio

Dr Jinjin Lu completed her PhD in the Faculty of Education at the University of Tasmania in Australia. She was a full-time research fellow in Charles Sturt University between 2015–2017 in Australia. Currently, she is an Associate Professor in the School of Foreign Languages at China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), China. Her research interests are in language education, digital technology and cultural studies. She can be contacted at

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