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Text Memorisation in Chinese Foreign Language Education

Xia Yu

In China, a widespread learning practice for foreign languages are reading, reciting and memorising texts. This book investigates this practice against a background of Confucian heritage learning and western attitudes towards memorising, particularly audio-lingual approaches to language teaching and later largely negative attitudes. The author conceptually examines a number of issues central to the understanding of the practice of text memorisation in the Chinese educational context. Furthermore, there is an empirical inquiry into Chinese learners/teachers’ practices and perceptions of the inclusion of text memorisation in foreign language learning and teaching. Drawing on heuristics yielded by both theoretical and empirical findings, this study promotes a ‘different-rather-than-deficit’ perspective in understanding Chinese learners and their learning practice by way of challenging the uncritical assumptions about the negative impact of a Confucian philosophy of education. More importantly, the topic and theme discussed in this book are timely and relevant to some long and widely debated issues in foreign language teaching and learning within China and internationally.


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CHAPTER 2 A Macroscopic View: Memorisation in Confucian Heritage Learning


In the previous chapter we have seen that (text) memorisation was not nec- essarily stamped with a Chinese birthmark. There is a considerable bulk of evidence leading to the conclusion that (text) memorisation had been widely practiced in other parts of the world including the Anglophone West up to the recent past. The demarcation became apparent only when the fact was taken into consideration that the practice has survived in contemporary China and persisted up to now while it has been largely abandoned in western education. This chapter aims to offer possible explanations by showing how memorisation is understood in a Confucian culture of learning as opposed to a Western contemporary construct. A major argument to be advanced is: in the Confucian philosophy of education, memorisation is viewed not only as a signifi cant part of learning, but memorised knowledge serves as the founda- tion for the development of creative thinking. First, posing a challenge to the widely-held belief that the Confucian tradition values surface learning which is characterised by memorisation, I will put under scrutiny two key issues: (1) Is memorisation legitimate in learning? (2) Is memorisation doomed to be incompatible with critical thinking? Then, I will move on to address the paradox of the Chinese learner by examining how memorisation is practiced and perceived by Confucian predecessors in relation to its relationship with understanding, repetition and creativity. Finally, I will discuss the relevance of the Confucian tradition to contemporary education by demonstrating the inclusion of elements of critical...

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