A Comparison of Citizenship Curriculum in China and Australia


In an increasingly globalized world, the desire to cultivate the critical minds of young citizens seems to be escalating across different societies. The driving forces include changes in the production and dissemination of knowledge, the increasing impact of global issues beyond the nation state, and the need for an innovative workforce in a competitive global economy (Johnson & Morris, 2010). For many states, nevertheless, the notion of developing critical citizens’ constitutes a perennial dilemma about the sort of model citizen the nation wants: an obedient populace on one hand and/or a creative and critical thinking citizenry on the other (Tyack & Cuban, 1995). Thus, ‘being critical’ can be both a desirable and undesirable component in nurturing active citizenship; in Geissel’s (2008, p. 51) words, in the task of cultivating critical citizens there lies a tension between posing ‘a danger to democracy’ and creating ‘a democratic resource’.

The purpose of this chapter is to conduct a comparative study of how the aim of nurturing the critical mind / citizen is addressed in the national citizenship education curriculum guides of [mainland] China and of Australia.1 In the case of China, this study selects the latest civics and citizenship curriculum guidelines released by the Chinese State Ministry of Education over the most recent decade (The Chinese Ministry of Education, 2004, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c).2 Although the State Ministry of Education allows the various provinces to develop different versions of citizenship education textbooks, the contents must follow the guidelines faithfully. It is worth noting that Hong Kong and Macao are not included in this study as they have separate education systems and also different curriculum guidelines. In Australia the curriculum guideline counterpart was the Civics and Citizenship Draft Shape Paper (the Shape Paper thereafter), a document developed and released by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) for the purpose of guiding the final writing of the national Civics and Citizenship curriculum (ACARA, 2013). The edition under the analysis in this chapter was publicized by the ACARA for public consultation in October, 2012 (ACARA, 2012).1

This chapter will present the study in four sections. The first provides an overview of the two curriculum guidelines to identify the general similarities and differences

M. Print & C. Tan (Eds.), Educating “Good” Citizens in a Globalising World for the Twenty-First Century, 177-192.

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between the two nations’ approaches. Section two will review theoretical literature about development of the ‘critical mind’ in citizenship education, primarily using studies published in the English-speaking world. The next section will present the main findings of this study’s comparative analysis of China and Australia’s civics and citizenship curriculum guidelines. Finally, the chapter will offer some conclusions about how, in these two countries, the task of developing “critical citizens” is negotiated alongside the aim of developing “good citizens”.

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