Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Weili Zhao (2019) China’s making and governing of educational subjects as ‘talent’: A dialogue with Michel Foucault, Educational Philosophy and Theory

DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2019.1646640

As an imprint of Confucian culture, China’s education intersects state governance in making and governing educational subjects as ‘talent’, an official translation of the Chinese term ‘rencai’ (literally, human-talent). Whereas the English word ‘talent’ itself denotes ‘[people with] natural aptitude or skill’, ‘talent’ is currently mobilized in China not only as a globalized discourse that speaks to the most aspired educational subjects for the 21st century but also as a re-invoked cultural notion that relates to Confucian wisdom. Drawing upon Foucault’s biopower hypothesis and Confucian thought, this paper leverages upon China’s unique manipulation of ‘talent’ as certain skills and human subjects, both cultivable through education, to problematize China’s talent making and governing in two dimensions. First, it unpacks the various technologies of power entangled in China’s talent making and governing within its ‘state governance’ paradigm. Second, it unpacks Confucian thought as an archaeological prototype for China’s present talent appeal, meanwhile explicating their divergences in defining ‘human’, ‘talent’, and the human-talent interpellation. In so doing, this paper makes two arguments. First, the linguistic notion of ‘talent’ functions as a Foucauldian apparatus of biopower, making (up) new kinds of people and normalizing a certain population as the objective/object of China’s state governance. Second, CPC’s re-invocation of Confucian talent discourses is more of a rhetorical strategy than an authentic cultural renaissance gesture.

Keywords: Educational subjects, talent making and governing, biopower, state governance, technologies of power, Confucian wisdom

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