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Tradition and modernity: The discursive construction of national identity in Chinese textbooks

Qingliang Chen, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study explores and illustrates the construction and representation of Chinese national identity in Chinese language textbooks. It identifies the traditional and modern resources for conceptualizing the modern nation-state. It takes an approach to the study of national identity that integrates the discourse-historical method and the multimodal approach into critical discourse analysis (CDA). It describes and interprets the cultural and ideological dimensions of Chinese nationalism embedded in textbooks through verbal and visual representations. The perspectives presented in selected materials are examined with respect to how the national identity is discursively constructed in the textbooks after its economic transformation within the context of globalization. Key questions developed for this study are: (1) How is the nation imagined, represented, and projected to the world? (2) What cultural, historical, and symbolic resources do the textbooks use in the discourse construction of tradition and modernity? (3) How have textbooks drawn on evolving discourses of modern Chinese identity? Data is collected from two series of Chinese textbooks, including their corresponding student workbooks, teacher's manuals, and multimedia materials. Discourse-historical analysis is employed to understand how cultural meanings are encoded into the language of texts and serve to influence students' perception about China. Using multimodal analysis, it examines devices such as characterization, symbolism, and visual composition to extract ideological messages inherent within the text. It concludes that textbooks articulate an elite version of Chinese national identity. They present the Chinese nation as a historical and cultural entity by combining the assumptions of continuous Chinese civilization and of China as a modern nation-state. Through textbooks' cultural representations, the textbook authors address their audience, American students in our case, and embody Chinese national identity, modern progress, and historical continuity. ^

Subject Area

Foreign language education|Social sciences education

Recommended Citation

Chen, Qingliang, "Tradition and modernity: The discursive construction of national identity in Chinese textbooks" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3556236.