Re: Intellectual disabilities in China
European language sources seem fairly scanty for obtaining an idea of
mental retardation within the historical cultures of China. Those that
exist give a picture that would hardly please the modern mind, though
perhaps no worse than comparable sources from much of the world. For
DIKÖTTER, F. (1992) The Discourse of Race in Modern China. London: Hurst.
(Chapter on the growth of Eugenics thinking 1915-1949 (pp. 164-190),
quotes many Chinese sources with highly prejudicial views about people with
mental retardation, and other disabilities, especially pp. 185-188.)
EBERHARD, Wolfram (1968) On some Chinese terms of abuse, Asian Folklore
Studies 27 (1) 25-40. (See pp. 36-37. Among unwanted traits, 'stupidity'
is most frequently the object of verbal abuse. (Cf comparative number of
pages with disability terms in MacGillivray's lexicon, see below. See also
Stone, 1999, in supplementary refs below).
LAMSON, Herbert D. (1935) Social Pathology in China. A source book for the
study of problems of livelihood, health, and the family. Shanghai:
Commercial Press. xviii + 607 pp. (Professor of sociology, Univ. Shanghai,
discussing leprosy (pp. 297-325); `mental deficiency' in China with some
case histories, but with European / American conceptualisation (pp. 379-
97); mental disease, pp. 408-41.)
MACGILLIVRAY, Donald (1930) A Mandarin-Romanized Dictionary of Chinese, 8th
edn. Shanghai. (A wide range of disability terms is given, some apparently
descriptive, some abusive. Page numbers on which one or more appear under
the following broad categories are: Fool, Blockhead, Weakminded, etc (1,
22, 83, 103, 117, 127, 130, 163, 193, 201, 233, 235, 277, 320, 365-6, 387,
390, 458, 485, 494, 501, 509, 529, 546, 566, 568, 571, 575, 591, 594, 596,
608, 611, 617, 633, 639, 643, 662-3, 688, 749, 825, 849, 854, 942, 982,
1024, 1026, 1041, 1076); Epilepsy, Fit, etc (168, 327, 896, 1036);
Disabled (96, 234, 259, 916, 1143); Lame, Crippled etc (226, 251, 378,
560, 562-3, 638, 710, 860, 898, 934, 1014); Deaf, Stammer, Dumb (98, 193,
231, 463, 469, 574, 648, 663, 909, 983, 1035); Goitre (cretinism?) (70,
277, 956, 1064); Dwarf (3, 950, 1021); Hunchback (214, 506, 917, 1003);
Blind (306, 326, 358, 427, 476, 584, 610, 744, 777, 811, 856). The
meanings of the clusters of symbols in which many of these terms occur give
some clue to the ways in which they may have been used. The Dic. is
archaic - but may nevertheless give a comparative glimpse of vocab and
clusters of meaning).
Anyone is at liberty to believe (as might indeed sometimes be, or have
been, the case), that for millions of Chinese who were a bit slow in
understanding there could have been a reasonable level of accommodation and
patience within families and neighbourhoods, and they may e.g. have learnt
simple agricultural tasks, and got by without an excessive amount of
teasing or bullying - as do many of their counterparts in Russia, India,
UK, USA etc, in 2004.
A sketch of PR China's educational and social/linguistic efforts with
children having learning difficulties, appeared in: C Miles & M Miles
(1993) Children with learning difficulties. In: P Mittler et al. (eds)
World Yearbook of Education 1993. Special Needs Education, 53-64. London:
Kogan Page, with slight update below. Some further references are appended.
[p. 56-57] "...Ideological factors in China may work more positively for
casually integrated children with learning difficulties. Robinson (1978)
found a reticence about 'mental retardation' as such. Her sources admitted
individual differences in school readiness and in learning speed, but not
fundamental differences of intelligence, which would be inconsistent with
socialist doctrine. Robinson noted that many school activities were of a
practical nature that easily accommodated the mildly retarded child, who
were observably present in primary schools. There was also an emphasis on
mutual help, on smoothing out differences of individual performance and on
the needs of the group rather than the individual. During the 1970s,
official recognition of mental retardation grew, spurred by various surveys
(Kuo Tai, 1988). Yongxin (1986) suggests there are some two million school-
aged children with learning disabilities. The first formal 'special classes
for mentally retarded children' began in Shanghai in 1979, catering mainly
for mildly retarded children. By 1986 education of these children was said
to be a widely identified priority need among Chinese educators (Stevens et
"The early special needs work in Shanghai emphasized the building of a
friendly teacher-pupil relationship, growth of pupils' self-respect though
positive reinforcement, flexible curriculum and timetable, close school-
family cooperation, and some mother-tongue teaching for children of
linguistic minorities (Shih, 1979). Such emphases appear to match the
politically correct picture of Wenhsing Street Primary School (Anon, 1973),
where a somewhat idealised teacher does not merely impart knowledge to the
pupils but cares for them and is their wise, older comrade, showing them
how to think and solve problems. It contrasts with the competitive
atmosphere of the later ordinary primary school portrayed by Juemin (1987).
Here entrants are swept on to a tread-mill of achieving high marks, aiming
by colossal feats of memorisation to gain entry to one of the 'fast-track'
high schools, with great loss of self-esteem for those who fail in the rat-
"Contrasts are not surprising. In China, as in many smaller countries,
there are great variations between the ambience and achievements of schools
in any one area, between urban and rural schools, between schools with more
or less children from ethnic minorities or backward classes, between
schools with more or less funding and resources, between schools as they
appear in official reports and as they might be found by unnotified visit,
plus variation across the time span from 1970 to 1990. Undoubtedly, appeals
for an early, liberal, child-centred education, in which children with
learning difficulties can blossom in their own good time, have been heard
since the 1920s (Hsing-chih, 1928) or earlier, and continue to the present.
Weber (1979), Potts (1989), and Stevens et al (1990) report features of
such an approach. However, Unger (1977) notes the ease with which schools
shown to foreign visitors can give a false impression. The more typical
rural school has very modest facilities. There, education remains
traditional, with an emphasis on direct instruction and unison chanting to
assist memorisation. Students are not expected to work at their own
"There is evidence of this vast nation mobilising resources towards goals
that are impressive in scope. Plans for children with learning difficulties
extend to remote and 'culturally impoverished' areas, with practical
research on socio-cultural cognitive delay (Menglan, 1983), and some use of
minority mother-tongue teaching to ease entry to the normal curriculum.
Education of the children of scattered, nomadic tribes herding sheep in
mountain areas is being tackled by putting teachers on horseback and
organising peer tutoring between the visits of these peripatetic teachers
(Joint Investigation, 1975). The cultural and geographical 'learning
difficulties' of such children appear substantial. The efforts to reach
them, even if described in politicised jargon, suggest an admirable spirit
among the teachers and local organisers."
[ Later, after a national drive for integrating such children in ordinary
schools, the school entrance rate of children with disabilities is claimed
to have risen from 6% to 60% (1987-1996), most being in their nearest
ordinary school. This rise has generated considerable problems, with few
resources to address them. Many children in regular classrooms are
reportedly learning nothing. Some are on the register only - the child
remains at home (Meng Deng & Manset, 2000). However, they have at least
come to official attention, as a category of children for whom some
provision must be made, since they are now recognised to exist. The (re-)
entry of Hong Kong to the PRC also adds considerable local resources that
can introduce and explain modern, evidence-based methods for accommodating
the learning needs of not-entirely-standard children. ]
Anon (1973) A model elementary school. China Reconstructs June 7-12.
Hsing-Chih, T'ao (1928, tr. 1974/5) How is kindergarten education to be
made available to all? (tr. L Harris) Chinese Education 7: 77-80.
Joint Investigation Group of the Education and Health Division, Ma-to Hsien
(1975) Strongly popularise pastoral-area primary school education. Chinese
Education 8: 44-52, tr. P Brainin, from Hung-ch'i 5: 83-86 (1974).
Juemin, Z (1987) Thought-provoking and worrisome aspects of our primary and
secondary education. Chinese Education 20: 40-47.
Kuo Tai, T (1988) Mentally retarded persons in the People's Republic of
China: review of epidemiological studies and services. Am. J. Mental
Retardation 93: 193-199.
Menglan, Z (1983) The effect of cultural education on children's cognitive
development: a study of conservation development with six- to eleven-year-
old Jinuo tribe children. Chinese Education 16: 124-139.
Potts, P (1989) Working report: educating children and young people with
disabilities or difficulties in learning in the People's Republic of China.
In: L Barton (ed) Integration: Myth or Reality, 168-181. London: Falmer.
Robinson, NM (1978) Mild mental retardation: does it exist in the People's
Republic of China? Mental Retardation 16: 295?298.
Shih, Chung (1979) Helping mentally handicapped children to learn. Intl
Child Welfare Review 42: 31-34.
Stevens, R, Bowen, J, Dila, K, O'Shaughnessy, R (1990) Chinese priorities
in special education. Intl J. Special Education 5: 324-334.
Unger, J (1977) Post-cultural revolution primary-school education: selected
texts. Chinese Education 10 (2) 4-29.
Weber, L (1978-79) Early childhood education. Chinese Education 11 (4) 86-
Yongxin, Pu (1986) Special ed comes of age. Women of China (Dec., No.12),
SOME FURTHER REFERENCES (and more can of course be found with Google, etc)
Achievement of Education in China. Statistics 1949-1983. Ministry of
Education, Deptt of Planning, PRC. 1985 [Spec. ed. data, pp.235-6]
Achievement of Education in China. Statistics 1980-1985. State Education
Commission, Deptt of Planning, PRC. 1986. [Spec. ed. data, p.92]
Alban-Metcalfe, J, Cheng-Lai, A & Ma, T (2002) Teacher and student teacher
ratings of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder in three cultural
settings. Intl. J. Disability, Development and Education 49: 281-299.
Ashman, AF (1995) The education of students with an intellectual disability
in the People's Republic of China: some observations. European J. Special
Needs Education 10: 47-57.
Dai-Hua Shen (1993) Special education in cross-cultural perspective:
People's Republic of China. In S Peters (ed) Education and Disability in
Cross-Cultural Perspective, pp.237-58. New York: Garland.
Kegel, T (1991) Das Behindertenwesen in der Volksrepublik China.
Strukuraspekte und Entwicklungen. Frankfurt: Verlag für Interkulturelle
Kleinmann, A, Wen-Zhi Wang, Shi-Chuo Li, Xue-Ming Cheng, Xiu-Ying Dai, Kunt-
Tun Li & Kleinmann, J (1995) The social course of epilepsy: chronic illness
as social experience in interior China. Social Science and Medicine 40:
Meng Deng & Manset G (2000). Analysis of the "Learning in Regular
Classrooms" movement in China. Mental Retardation 38: 124-130.
Pearson, V & Chan, TWL (1993) The relationship between parenting stress and
social support in mothers of children with learning disabilities: a Chinese
experience. Social Science & Medicine 37: 267-274.
Pearson, V, Yu-Cheung Wong & Pierini, J (2002) The structure and content of
social inclusion: voices of young adults with learning difficulties in
Guangzhou. Disability & Society 17: 365-382.
Semmel, MI & Gao Xiaohong (1992) Teacher perceptions of the classroom
behaviors of nominated handicapped and nonhandicapped students in China. J.
Special Education 25: 415-430.
Stone, E (1996) A law to protect, a law to prevent: contextualising
disability legislation in China. Disability & Society 11: 469-484.
Stone, E (1997) From the research notes of a foreign devil: disability
research in China. In: C Barnes & G Mercer (eds) Doing Disability Research.
Leeds: Disability Press.
Stone, E (1999) Modern slogan, ancient script: disability in the Chinese
language. In: M Corker & S French (eds) Disability Discourse. Buckingham:
Open University Press.
Stone, E (1999) Making connections: using stories from China as an example.
In: E Stone (ed) Disability & Development. Leeds: Disability Press.
Tse, JWL (1995) Community-based social services for people with learning
difficulties in the People's Republic of China. British J. Learning
Disabilities 23: 28-32.
Wang, Hong Bo & Rule, S (1994) Mainstreaming: increasing services in China
to young children with disabilities. Intl J. Special Education 9: 287-95.
Wang, Y, Shen, Y, Gu, B, Jia, M-X, & Zhang, AL (1989) An epidemiological
study of behaviour problems in school children in urban areas of Beijing.
J. Child Psychology and Psychiatry 30: 907-912.
[Switching this over via the 'New Message' board, there's a lot of junk
that has appeared in the space below the message box -- some quirk of the
machine. It should not appear with the message - but if in fact anything
appears below these lines, it's just repeat junk.]
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