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University student culture in China, 1978-1990: Formal and informal organization

Paul Mark Englesberg, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study is an interdisciplinary inquiry into university student culture in the People's Republic of China with a focus on formal organizations and informal social relations. The purpose of the study is to examine the characteristics of student organizations and networks on campuses and to determine how students participate in and evaluate these organizations. Literature on college student culture and higher education in China is reviewed as a basis for the study. The author's study of Chinese society and prior experiences teaching at Chinese universities further guided the research. The research employed three major types of data collection: participant observation on three campuses in an urban area in western China in 1990, interviews in the United States with Chinese university graduates, and document research. Three types of formal organization were studied: academic divisions by department, grade, and classroom; mass organizations--the Student Association and the Communist Youth League; and a political organization--the Communist Party. Informal groups included networks based on former schoolmate and hometown ties, student societies and clubs, and male-female couples. Classroom groups were found to be the most important reference group for most students. These groups and the related dormitory groups were important both academically and socially. The Student Association and Communist Youth League were found to have limited influence on the majority of students who were passive members. The Communist Party was found to have some indirect influence on students, but only a small percentage of students were recruited as members. The dominant characteristics of the formal groups were their rigid hierarchies and the division between those who held positions and the majority of students who tended to remain uninvolved. The study found informal groups and networks to be active and the preferred mode of interaction for most students. These groups bridged the academic divisions and had fluid, loose structures with little or no hierarchy. During the 1980's, many types of informal groups developed in number and in popularity as students became more involved in extracurricular activities such as part-time work, business, and love affairs.

Subject Area

Higher education|Educational sociology|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Englesberg, Paul Mark, "University student culture in China, 1978-1990: Formal and informal organization" (1992). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9305825.