This article critically examines how interactions between social changes, social harmony, and historical memory shape school music education in China. As a historical review and documentary analysis, it traces the historical development of music education and examines the Chinese government's role in such interactions over time. The article argues that the Chinese government uses music and music education as an influential nation-building system to enrich the politics of memory. In particular, it adapts the nation's past for political ends, and passes on state-prescribed values to its citizens with a view to legitimising its power. The dynamics and dilemmas that challenge school education result from two divergent aims: (1) to combine the functional education of Confucianism and nationalism so as to encourage social harmony and maintain national myths; and (2) to encourage popular and other world music with traditional Chinese music by using multicultural teaching strategies in music lessons. The question remains how to balance ideas of social harmony, musical cultures and nationalism in school music education in the contexts of current Chinese education policies, teacher education and the globally oriented economics of China today.
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