Educating the China-Born: Colonial Cosmopolitanism in Shanghai’s Schools for Settler Children, 1870–1943

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    By the 1920s, the schools of the Shanghai Municipal Council aimed to teach “China-born” children, whose upbringing in the International Settlement’s littoral milieu meant they were in danger of becoming deracinated and déclassé, how to be both productive Shanghailanders and imperial Britons. Whereas the history of colonial education is often considered in national, imperial, or exclusionary terms, Shanghai’s schools for foreign children instead shaped and responded to understandings of education that were multinational, local, and reluctantly inclusionary. Through an exploration of the council’s education policies, the ideologies of childhood that governed admissions decisions, and the ways in which graduates of these schools employed their education professionally and politically, this article contends that the political and demographic features of the colonial periphery shaped alternative visions of imperial Britishness that went beyond nation and empire. As this case study makes clear, discussion of these British spaces overseas should be anchored in specific social, spatial, and political conditions rather than analysis of “sentiment” alone. Colonial ideologies of childhood and the ways in which it was produced by the educational experience were central to these articulations of a cosmopolitan Britishness that could be sustained beyond the boundaries of British territory by social and cultural institutions such as schools. In Shanghai, young settlers, and especially mixed-race “Eurasian” children, who together embodied both elite fears about racial and cultural degeneration and also their hopes of cultivating a firmly rooted settler society, were at the center of debates about community identity, status, and cohesion.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)180-206
    Number of pages27
    JournalJournal of Social History
    Issue number1
    Early online date5 Apr 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • History
    • Sociology and Political Science


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