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Exploring Cross-national Attraction in Education
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Oxford Studies in Comparative Education

Exploring Cross-national Attraction in Education

some historical comparisons of American and Chinese attraction to Japanese education


2007 paperback 92 pages, £30.00, ISBN 978-1-873927-16-8

However, it is still available immediately as an eBook: please click on the links below to Amazon Kindle and/or Google Books.

About the book

This book attempts to theorize cross-national attraction by comparing American and Chinese attraction to Japanese education. The study takes a long historical view - spanning roughly from the Meiji Restoration (1868) to today - to determine when and why Japanese education has become attractive to these two countries. It uses a combination of official reports and scholarly analysis as sources to evaluate attraction. The study is underpinned by recently developed models of educational transfer and it attempts to use a comparison of American and Chinese attraction to Japanese education as a means to further develop emerging theoretical understandings of cross-national attraction in education.
The research begins with the more familiar case of American attraction to Japanese education finding that the American case shows a long period of historical neglect punctuated by a short burst of feverish attraction to Japanese education in the 1980s. The reasons for this attraction - when it finally did occur - seemed to be partially driven by Japanese economic competitiveness and partially driven by domestic political agendas within the United States. The domestic impulses for attraction are given particular attention in the analysis because few studies have detailed this aspect of attraction.
The less familiar Chinese case shows a much longer educational relationship with not one, but two distinguishable periods of attraction to Japan. The first period- roughly occurring at the turn of the 20th century - was so feverish that it led to wholesale ‘borrowing’ of many aspects of the Japanese education system. A second period of Chinese attraction arguably began in the early 1990s continuing through today. The research investigates the reasons for this attraction again revealing a combination of external and internal developments that catalyze attraction. Perhaps because it is partially obscured by historical legacies and current political trends, little research has attempted to investigate Chinese attraction to Japanese education and thus the current attraction of Chinese observers to Japanese education is of particular note.By comparing these two stories of attraction (and neglect), it becomes apparent that cross-national attraction is as much a product of internal forces within these two countries, as it is a result of changes in Japanese education. The study finds that cross-national attraction is therefore best understood as a changing and malleable idea that arises as much from internal as external stimuli. This makes it vital to pay closer attention to the role of human actors in creating cross-national attraction in education. Further comparison of the two cases suggests the need to reorganize the existing theoretical models of cross-national attraction. In the final chapter, an attempt at reorganizing the models is attempted in the form of a Contextual Map of Cross-National Attraction.

Jeremy Rappleye is currently a researcher at the University of Oxford. His research interests include educational policymaking processes, the dynamics of educational transfer, and the educational dimensions of globalization with a particular focus on East Asia and the Pacific Rim. Prior to Oxford, he spent two years in mainland China as a Yale-China Teaching Fellow, followed by a further two years teaching in public schools in Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. He majored in History at Yale University and also earned a teaching credential as part of the Yale Teacher Preparation Program. He was recently awarded a prestigious Japanese Ministry of Education research fellowship to further pursue this line of research at the University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Education.



Theoretical Foundations and Research Design
Globalization and Comparative Education: a promising moment
New Models of Educational Policy Borrowing
Critiquing the New Models: definitions, relationships, and agency
Research Design: central questions, rational, limitations

American Views of Japanese Education Historically
A Century of Neglect, 1868 to early 1960s
Foundations of Attraction, 1960s to 1970s

Contemporary American Views of Japanese Education
A Note on Sources
Intense Attraction, late 1970s to early 1990s
Analysis of Attraction
Decline in Attraction, early 1990s to present

Chinese Views of Japanese Education Historically
‘Borrowing From Japan: China’s first modern education system’
Analysis of Attraction
Long Period of Neglect, 1922 to late 1970s

Contemporary Chinese Views of Japanese Education
A Note on Sources
‘Education for Modernization’, Japan as one of six
Emergence of the Cultural Frame, Attraction to Japan

Comparisons and New Theories of Cross-National Attraction
Cross-national Attraction: a brief review
Comparisons and New Insights about Cross-National Attraction
Evaluation of Existing Models of Policy Borrowing
Toward a new Contextual Map of Cross-National Attraction
Globalization and Comparative Education: Debates Revisited


Chinese Language Sources
Japanese Language Sources
English Language Sources


For comparative and international education to achieve its full potential, research in the field must not just keep pace with changes in the world, but anticipate these transformations. Comparative education has traditionally followed various paradigm shifts in other academic disciplines and tracked global changes ‘usually with a time lag of a half decade or so’ (Paulston, 1993, p. 923). Given the feverish pace of global change the field can no longer afford the luxury of following intellectual pathways trodden by others. Without anticipation the field is in danger of being left behind.

Yet anticipation should not be understood to be an abandonment of the rich stock of theory and research that the field has accumulated since its inception. It is the special challenge of this generation of comparativists to take the lessons bequeathed from previous generations and reformulate them to anticipate the infinitely more fluid and dynamic world of today. Indeed, anticipation can be understood as foreseeing future developments while using the lessons of the past to contribute fresh perspectives on how the world works and how we might act upon it to create positive change.

It is in this spirit of anticipation that this thesis was conceived. It was designed on the premise that two parallel trends will challenge the field of comparative education well into the foreseeable future. One of these trends is the phenomenon of growing global interconnectedness. Although ‘globalization’ has already been addressed by a range of scholars in the field, much of this work fails to recognize that - despite its apparent novelty - ‘globalization’ returns our attention back to one of the fundamental themes of comparative education: ‘educational transfer’. Combining the lessons of the past with an understanding of the ways that transfer is and will change in the future is an urgent task for the field. Two prominent scholars put the task this way: ‘the question of educational transfer is a consistently distinctive theme for the field as a whole – and an issue that is becoming increasingly important and problematic with the intensification of the pace and scope of globalisation’ (Crossley & Watson, 2003, p. 60). This necessitates further theorizing of educational transfer with particular reference to cross-national attraction.

The other parallel trend is the emergence of the ‘Asian Century’ (Weiss, 1989) underpinned by the extraordinary rise of China. In a sense, this is the feature story of our moment in history: the explosive, sustained growth of the most populous nation on earth that will displace and reconfigure nearly every global relationship of consequence over the next century. It is only a matter of time before China’s enormous influence – already felt in economic and political spheres – will spill over into education. Is comparative education anticipating this and positioning itself accordingly? Consider a recent New York Times article entitled ‘China’s Super Kids’ that argues:

Americans who come to China tend to be most dazzled by glittering new skyscraperslike the 1,380 foot Jin Mao Tower, but the most awesome aspect of China’s modernization is the education that children are getting in the big cities. And the long run competitive challenge we Americans face from China will have less to do with its skylines, army, or industry than with its Super Kids. (Kristof, 2002)

This attraction to Chinese education sounds suspiciously familiar to the lavish praise Japanese education enjoyed in the 1980s. Thus the pressing questions become: what can comparative education contribute to the current debates and speculation about China and the ‘Asian Century’? How will research in comparative education be shaped by the rise of China? How must we as scholars position and develop ourselves today to anticipate the debates of tomorrow?

It was out of these concerns that this study was envisaged. While a limited study such as this one cannot hope to answer these questions, it can begin to engage with some of the underlying ideas and topics that may make those themes explicit and catalyze further research. Thus this study attempts to anticipate both of these increasingly salient themes by theorizing cross-national attraction and illuminating the educational relationship of the key players in the ‘Asian Century’ on a modest scale. The research is driven by a single research question that is at the core of studies of educational transfer:

Why is it that particular countries become interested in the education systems of particular other countries at particular times? (Phillips, 1989, p. 272)

Through a comparison of American and Chinese attraction to Japanese education historically, the research aims to contribute new insights to the existing literature on educational transfer with particular reference to cross-national attraction. The research also aims to investigate the educational influence of Japan on its two most important neighbors - America and China. These dual aims are apparent in each chapter as the analysis first relates the story of attraction (or non-attraction) to Japanese education, then analyzes that history with the analytical tools and conceptual frameworks developed by comparative scholars in recent years. Following this Introduction (Chapter One) the text is organized accordingly:

Chapter Two describes the theoretical foundations of this study including new models of policy borrowing. It then critiques those models before turning to the specifics of this study, including research design, rationale, and limitations.

Chapters Three and Four review American views of Japanese education with particular attention to deconstructing and analyzing America’s intense attraction to Japanese education in the 1980s.

Chapters Five and Six detail the lesser known story of Chinese attraction to Japanese education. The chapters devote special attention to unpacking little known episodes of Chinese attraction – one at the turn of the twentieth century and one occurring relatively ‘silently’ over the last decade and a half.

Chapter Seven juxtaposes these two histories and draws together the analysis portions of each of the preceding chapters to formulate new insights on cross-national attraction. It also suggests a new interpretive framework - a Contextual Map of Cross National Attraction - that may complement existing models and help researchers get at a deeper understanding of what drives attraction.

Chapter Eight reflects back upon the study and points out promising avenues for future research. Finally it returns the reader to the question of anticipation and the ways comparative education can achieve its full potential.


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