You are here:

Chinese Education Examined via the Lens of Self-Determination

, , ,

Educational Psychology Review Volume 30, Number 1, ISSN 1040-726X


Chinese education is controversial: it is not only lauded for Chinese students' high test achievements but also criticized for curbing students' deep learning and development into well-rounded individuals. In the current paper, we propose that self-determination theory (SDT) serves as a useful framework for anatomizing Chinese educational ecology, especially understanding the fundamental developmental costs behind Chinese students' high test scores. In the first part, we provide an up-to-date overview of SDT, which proposes that a growth-oriented motivation fueled by basic psychological needs underlies human development; hence, the role of education is to provide environmental support for these needs. After reviewing research evidence, we conclude that SDT serves as a valid theoretical framework for analyzing Chinese education. In the second part, we apply the lens of SDT to better understand the motivational dynamics that prevail in Chinese education. In doing so, we first primarily focus on the distal institutional level, thereby examining in detail how the high-stakes testing system headed by Gaokao fails to support--and may even thwart--basic psychological needs; we also address counterarguments favoring Gaokao, such as heightened involvement and alignment. We then scrutinize the pros and cons at the proximal level of the student environment--i.e., teachers and parents. Finally, we discuss existing reform attempts, which seemingly have very limited effectiveness. We propose that awareness of the problem and more holistic change are needed to realize more effective and sustainable change in Chinese education.


Yu, S., Chen, B., Levesque-Bristol, C. & Vansteenkiste, M. (2018). Chinese Education Examined via the Lens of Self-Determination. Educational Psychology Review, 30(1), 177-214. Retrieved January 27, 2020 from .

This record was imported from ERIC on January 9, 2019. [Original Record]

ERIC is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education.

Copyright for this record is held by the content creator. For more details see ERIC's copyright policy.