Between Agency and Sponsorship: Adulthood Entry into Higher Education in China, 1949-2003

Qing Lai, University of Michigan

China is currently the largest higher education provider in the world. Until recently, adult higher education accounted for about half of the industry. This paper, for the first time, systematically investigates the stratification of higher education opportunities over adulthood (age 21-40) across the PRC regime (1949-present). We argue that, under the historical influences of keju credentialism (i.e., belief in academic efforts as the orthodox means to social mobility) and revolutionary pragmatism (i.e., manipulative institutional practices in favor of political elite), the PRC adult higher education has been characterized by a duality of self-agency and institutional sponsorship. Using the retrospective information from the 2003 Chinese General Social Survey, we found evidence for the credentialist agency that resisted modern life course norms and state interventions, as well as the institutional sponsorship that favored cadre leaders, party members, and employees in party/government organs and state-run professional services.

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Presented in Session 33: State and School Policies