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The Big Picture: What is Moral Education? A View From China

For many countries and regions in the world, “moral education” refers to character education or education for morality. However, for a long time in China, the emphasis was on “politics in command,” and as a consequence, there have been disagreements about the concept of moral education.

Before the Cultural Revolution, people narrowed the concept of moral education to ideological and political education. During the Cultural Revolution, the concept was further narrowed to political education. Following the Revolution, many people said that moral education should include ideological education, political education, and moral education. As time has gone by, the concept of moral education has been generalized constantly. Its connotation and denotation have expanded into a much broader and inclusive meaning.

Now for many educators, the meaning of moral education includes character education, political education, ideological education, psychological education, sexual education, life education, marketing and economically conscious education, law education, etc. The definition covers almost all educational content. People think that moral education is just like a basket, which holds everything. Even now, educational theorists have yet to achieve consensus regarding the concept of education.

In fact, such a generalization of the concept of “moral education” lacks scientific evidence, and I argue that appying the concept too broadly lessens the effectiveness of moral education.

I agree with the view of Beijing Normal University ’s moral educational expert Tan Chuan-bao. He strongly opposed such a broad definition of moral education and insisted that moral education should be only about morality. He once pointed out that the reason the concept has been so generalized is that it has been politicized. He described moral education as a process that involves educators continually constructing, changing, and increasing the effectiveness of the conditions in an appropriate environment that promotes moral cognition, moral emotions, and moral practice in the student (Tan Chuan-Bao, 2010, p. 6). This  new definition is a more reasonable explanation of the objective of moral education.

Fortunately, more and more Chinese scholars have accepted Professor Tan’s view. Restoring the true color of moral education is better for international discussion and communication and carrying out academic exchanges, enhancing academic construction, and eventually improving pertinence and effectiveness of moral education.

Tan Chuan-bao. (2010), The principle of moral education. Beijing Normal University Press.