Jinting Wu


On her book Fabricating an Educational Miracle: Compulsory Schooling Meets Ethnic Rural Development in Southwest China

Cover Interview of January 03, 2017

In a nutshell

In the media spotlight, ruthlessly dedicated Chinese students and their superb performance in international testing continue to fuel global interest in China’s education system. This, however, tells only a partial story. On the flip side of an educational “China rising” is a vast rural ethnic landscape trapped in educational mediocrity, stagnation, and crisis. This crisis has been deepened by China’s economic boom and optimism about development that offers abundant manufacturing jobs while also enabling a school-to-the-factory pipeline. In scholarship and the popular press, the myth of China’s educational success seems to be quickly fading, as more and more youth find themselves schooled yet prepared only for factory sweatshops.

The book laces together accounts of how compulsory education encounters rural development to produce dilemmas and possibilities in village schools in Southwest China. The study draws upon multi-sited ethnography, oral history, and archival research to investigate conflicts between education policies and modernization agendas in rural China. It starts out with a central puzzle: how do we understand the profound disenchantment and high attrition rates among rural ethnic youth despite the nationwide educational desire for success, despite the state’s relentless efforts to enforce compulsory education, and despite the folk belief in “jumping out of the village gate through academic success?” Reasons behind the disenchanted sentiment are complex, and the book ventures into the domains of policy, audit culture, tourism, labor migration, and people’s contingent life choices (or lack thereof) to highlight the complexity. The volume provides a detailed account of how an educational miracle is fabricated in everyday maneuvers in rural minority schools; and how schooling becomes increasingly penetrated by development programs, audit culture, tourism, and translocal labor migration to produce unintended consequences.