Ideas Shaping Practice: Philosophy of Home Economics/Human Sciences

Vol. 19, No. 1
ISSN: 1546-2676

Guest Editor:
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History and Potential of Home Economics in the People's Republic of China1:
Implications for Philosophy of Practice

Peng Chen PhD
Higher Vocational Education College, China Women's University
With Contributions from Sue L. T. McGregor PhD Professor Emerita, MSVU
March 25, 2015

Home Economics in the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) has experienced different stages of development from its introduction in the 1840s, to its cancellation in the 1950s, to its recent reconstruction in 1978 and onward. Home Economics' history in the P.R.C. is closely related to the nation's modernization process, and with the evolution of women's social status (Chen, 2012). This paper begins by describing the ongoing modernization process in China. This is a concern for Home Economics because political and economic reforms deeply shape daily life. Two theoretical frameworks inform this analysis, Chinese critical theory of daily life, and social gender theory. Following an historical overview of the evolution of Home Economics in China, pre-empted with a discussion of women's education in China, the paper turns to a conversation about the impact this historical context might have on the extant philosophy of Home Economics in China.

The Modernization Process in China

At the macro level, the modernization process of China began in 1840, with the First Opium War between Britain and China. This event marked the beginning of modern Chinese history, and the start of the Chinese people's break with imperialism and feudalism. This was a form of exogenous modernization (meaning China was responding to external forces instead of initiating change voluntarily); nonetheless, the seeds of modernization—Democracy and Rationality—started to germinate. When the people's republic of China was established in 1949, the nation began to choose a road with Chinese characteristics of modernization and national rejuvenation. Between 1949 and 1978, China formed the preliminary construction of a socialist economic system. Since 1978, China has experienced Chinese socialist reform, creating socialism with Chinese characteristics (Valentine, 2006). Zhao (2010) observed that the essence of the China Model is the insistence on basic principles of socialism, and the philosophical instinct to "walk your self's road" while also absorbing elements of other countries conducive to China's modernization. These elements include advanced technology, a market economy, democracy, and an advanced culture, in concert with continuously promoting reform, opening up, and scientific development.

At the micro level, the Chinese people also experienced a slower and deeper modernization process, which has mutual influence on the macro level. This micro modernization is the basis of macro social experiences; political and cultural modernization also is the final goal of modernization. Ye (1998) proposed that Chinese people must face two problems in the modernization process: one is the evaluation and discarding of Chinese traditional culture, and the other is the understanding and trade-offs of modern foreign culture. Thousands of years of feudal history and agricultural culture (over 5000 years), which shaped the unique cultural traits of the Chinese, remain very stable, even with the impact of foreign culture. It is hard to change the culture (daily life way) in a short period of time for the Chinese people. In the 1950s, the Chinese government proposed the four modernization strategy relative to the four fields of agriculture, industry, national defence, and science and technology. The main focus, however, is still economic development (focused on the material level). The four modernization strategy is not enough to address the overall progress of Chinese society; China also needs institutional and cultural innovation, especially the individual's modernization (i.e., the modernization of the human). This is where Home Economics comes into play.

With the modernization process came the transformation and development of contemporary Chinese society, and a bourgeoning criticism of resultant daily life (Li, 2013). Of interest to this paper on Home Economics philosophy is the attendant modernization of the human, and the impact on quality of life. Indeed, Wong (2013) recently observed that "the country's quality of life was sidelined during the outgoing administration's decade of breakneck economic growth" (p. 1). She claimed that the public is unhappy about the growing income gap, and people are experiencing problems with food safety, health care, and housing as well as with environmental degradation, and sluggish household consumption. She also recognized the challenges faced by rural migrant workers who face unequal status in the cities where they work and live. These factors all fall within the purview of Home Economics.

Theoretical Frameworks

To gain deeper, contextual understandings about the development of Home Economics in China, its history in China is analysed in this paper using both the Chinese critical theory of daily life (Yi, 2005a), and social gender theory (Zhou, 2011). The critical theory of daily life draws a distinction between daily life and non-daily life, and between daily and non-daily thinking, thus providing a new perspective for cultural and philosophical studies in China. The critical theory of daily life helps us understand the significance and value of the Home Economics discipline in China as it focuses on the modernization of the human. Wang (2013) explained that the Chinese critical theory of daily life is germane to studying a society that is becoming a consumer society. Yong (2009) agreed, claiming that the Chinese critical theory of daily life allows us to focus on the importance of people's livelihood and harmony, which are the foundation of Chinese modern development. This theory provides critical insights into daily life in the Chinese modernization process.

Using social gender theory, we can view the development of Home Economics in China within different contexts, including gendered education. Social gender theory presumes there is inequality between men and women. This gender inequality is consolidated by religion, education, politics, law, and social mechanisms. It consequently becomes normalized and institutionalized, with women almost always the disadvantaged sex. Gender inequality is a product of society, and Chinese society and law tend to lack a gendered perspective (Feng, 2011).

Evolution of Home Economics in the People's Republic of China

This paper now traces the evolution of Home Economics in China, before and after the implementation of modern reforms, starting with its predecessor, women's education. Indeed, present-day Home Economics is being deeply challenged by the evolution of the status of women in China as well as the aforementioned modernization process. This powerful historical context will definitely shape the extant Home Economics philosophy of practice in the People's Republic of China.

The Predecessor of Home Economics: Women's Education in China (221B.C.-1840s)

Viewed through the macroscopic lens of a feudal society, China has attached great importance to families since ancient times. An important book on the institutional system in ancient China, "The Book of Rites" (about warring states to Qin Dynasty, about 475B.C.-221A.D.), outlined the relationship among individuals, society, and the nation. "To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our heart right" (Daxue, 2001). "The Book of Rites" had a great impact on the Chinese culture. Ancient kings in successive dynasties all thought highly of the relationship among the individual, the family, and the state, so they placed it at all levels of the official agenda, bringing it to the attention of all levels of people.

Viewed through the microcosmic lens of a feudal society, it can be said that the family played an important role in regulating the relationship between the sexes. There were very detailed rules about the relationship among family members. More specifically, men ruling women was seen to be an effective model. In the document titled "Liwei Hanwenjia" (n.d.) (about 25 A.D.-220A.D.), the author put forward, "the ruler guides the subject, the father guides the son, and the husband guides the wife." Under these rules, ancient women's education emerged as the times required. Women were asked to stay at home and learn their legal duty systematically as a requirement of the patriarchal society. Women were isolated from the public domain, accepting different education from that provided for men. Women's ideal role was to be an understanding wife and a loving mother.

At that time, the contents of women's education included sericulture and silk reeling, weaving, cooking, sweeping, the festival rite, and how to conduct oneself for all occasions. At the core of women's education were three obediences and four virtues. Regarding the former, a single woman obeys her father, a married woman obeys her husband, and a widowed lady obeys the deceased husband's son ("Yili Sangfu," 1996). The four virtues included the females' virtue, females' verbalism, females' visages, and females' handicrafts ("Zhouli Tiangong Jiubin," 1996).

In Chinese feudal society, education for women was gendered, and women were separated from men. The content of women's education was all about effective knowledge and skills accumulated by the ancestors under the guidance of Confucianism (emphasizing self-control, adherence to the social hierarchy, and adherence to the social and political order). Women were attached to men, and what they learned was deemed much less valuable than what men learned. Although all levels of people paid much attention to the family, men were asked to be far removed from household activities, considered to be the domain of women.

Western Modern Home Economics Introduced to China (1840s-1949)

After the opium war in the 1840s, China was forced into the modernization process due to constant invasions of Western powers. In the past one hundred-plus years, China, under the impact of modernization, has undergone its most significant change in the past 5,000 years.

As noted earlier, China experienced exogenous modernization, meaning that it was responding to external forces instead of initiating change voluntarily from within. For this reason, the traditional culture was still influential during China's modernization process (rather than being left behind or replaced with new traditions, as is often the case with endogenous modernization).

Starting in the 1840s, foreign missionaries began to establish missionary schools and to recruit female students, teaching them the knowledge and abilities of housekeeping, and of character formation. More importantly, the missionaries intended for female students to have careers and to live independently in society. With growing Western cultural influences and the awakening of people's consciousness, several Chinese reformers started female schools and advocated for women to attend at the end of 19th century. In 1907, under pressure from Chinese society, the Qing government (China's last feudal dynasty) established the women's normal school (teachers college) around the goal of creating an understanding wife and a loving mother. Consequently, women's education was formally incorporated into the school system. Although the content of women's education did not essentially change, the normal school altered the long established home school pattern.

After the Revolution of 1911 overthrew the feudal monarchy, the Republic of China was established. The new government continued the women's education policy of the Qing dynasty. To solve the problem of a lack of teachers, the government sent some girls, who excelled, overseas to learn Home Economics, beginning in 1914. It also began to offer women's higher education. In 1919, the Ministry of Education released the "Women's Higher Normal School Regulations." The curriculum in these Regulations included a division for Home Economics, providing for sewing, craftwork, housekeeping, et cetera (Wang, 2006). In 1920, the Beijing Women's Higher Normal School began to offer Home Economics education. Following this initiative, some missionary universities introduced Home Economics from the U.S., training many professionals for China, such as dieticians and early childhood teachers.

During the same period, several social movements broke out in China, including the New Culture Movement in 1915, and the May 4th Movement in 1919. The spirit of democracy and science began to be transmitted amongst the Chinese intellectual elite. The leaders of these movements opposed the traditional virtues mentioned earlier and advocated equity between women and men. Many educated women became supporters of this idea, separating from their families and throwing themselves into the battle against the old, oppressed culture.Not surprisingly, traditional female roles began to change, which means perceptions of Home Economics began to change too.

In 1938, the Ministry of Education formulated the "Home Economics Education Extension Methods below the Secondary Education," which promoted the spread of Home Economics education in many elementary and secondary schools. However, there was another noticeable phenomenon at this time: many young ladies who accepted the progressive idea refused to take Home Economics at universities. This boycott reflected their resolute rupture from tradition.

The ancient state in China was filled with war and social movements. The exogenous cultural crisis increased the number of critics and accelerated their doubts about traditional culture. A spirit of modern rationality began to brew in China. Chinese women started to challenge traditional gender roles and called for gender equity. But this kind of rebellion only occurred in the small, intellectually elite group. Meanwhile, the masses' lives were still greatly influenced by traditional culture. Therefore, although the government introduced foreign-informed Home Economics, the discipline looked quite different in China than it did in the Western world. The state of enlightenment originating in Western Home Economics did not grow in China.

During the war era (the 1940s), the core of Home Economics was maternalism, which emphasized the relationship among women and children, the nation, and the country. Although gender equity thought began to spread in China, the ideal model of women's education -an understanding wife and a loving mother- did not, in essence, change. The dual-track, gendered approach to education between the sexes still existed. But, this kind of gendered education did not receive general recognition and implementation, and continued to suffer resistance from some female students in the universities.

With the deepening of national crises, more and more female students threw themselves into the social movement for liberation. Most women considered learning Home Economics as a sign of backward thinking, so they began to learn from men as role models. Gender differences became reduced, even disappeared. Many women believed they would not get true equity until they escaped the confines of the family. Although this kind of understanding was very radical, it became an inevitable process in women's liberation all over the world, not just in China. Around the globe, Home Economics was affected by the women's movement.

The Cancellation of Home Economics after the P.R.C. was Established (1949-1977)

In 1949, the People's Republic of China was established under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. They obeyed Marxism's women's liberation principle, incorporating the gender equity principle into the system's construction and into social practices. Gender equity became a basic national policy. The government advocated that women go outside of the family and take part in all kinds of activities, just like men. Like in other countries, most women undertook household duties when they returned from working outside the home.

In that context, gendered education, such as Home Economics, was criticised in China. The political tension between socialism and capitalism further meant that Home Economics education was considered rotten, hedonic, and as adhering to capitalism. It was seen as not meeting the needs of the times in China in the middle of the 20th century. As a result, it was cancelled in all levels of education in the 1950s, when the government adjusted all national colleges and universities. The teachers and equipment in Home Economics departments were merged into the related apartments. For example, foods and nutrition was incorporated into the medical college, early childhood into the education college, and textile and interior design into the art college (Jin, 2006).

During this same period, the archetypes for outstanding women were "iron girls" in the smelting, machinery, chemical, construction, transportation and other industries, who could do anything as well as men (Jin, 2006). The essence of the iron girl was to deny the different physical fitness levels between the two sexes. This idea was rooted in women's education in the national liberation practices of the 1940s. The emotional characteristics and lifestyles related to the private area (family and home) were denied and decried as humanism, and to find them appealing was considered small, bourgeois, and emotional. This masculinism trend in women's education resulted from the national crises and from class struggles (Jin, 2006).

Women's education during this time was called gender neutral education. Women and men accepted non-gendered education in the schools. Government officials thought it was an effective way to liberate women; hence, they cancelled gendered education, which was considered a hindrance to the growth of female students (Zhou, 2011). In this context, learning Home Economics was equated to being housewives at home; such women were seen as lagging behind the times. Even today, this idea influences women in China, remaining an important obstacle to rebuilding Home Economics.

The Reconstruction of Home Economics Since 1978

In 1978, China implemented a policy of reform and opened up to welcome Western culture, objectively and dialectically. In1994, China began working towards establishing the socialist market economy system, succeeding at the end of the 20th century. China has witnessed unprecedented rapid economic development during the last 30 years, which has attracted attention from the entire world.

However, the Chinese people's experiences during modernization are quite different from the Western world. Modernization always refers to the transition of a traditional society to a modern society. There are many symbols of modernization, the first being the transition from an agricultural society to an industrial society (Yi, 2005b). China is in a drastic social transition from an agricultural society to an industrial society, still in the process of comprehensive modernization.

The second key symbol of modernization is the modernization of the human, which refers to the fundamental transition of one way of being or behaviour pattern to another. In traditional society, most people were accustomed to living in a space limited by the habits, traditions, customs, experiences, unrestrained regulations, conventions, common sense, and emotions that are natural cultural components. The modernization of China means Chinese citizens will have to be convinced to change from natural, traditional conditions to free, conscious conditions. Each citizen will have to become a creative individual who can adapt to the needs of science, technology, and socialized mass production. Such people have the advantage of subjective consciousness, critical consciousness, and a technical, rational, humanistic spirit (Yi, 2005b).

The third symbol of human modernization is cultural transition, which means being critical of traditional daily life world . Daily life refers to: (a) daily consumption activities, such as food, clothing, shelter, and means of travel; (b) daily communicating activities; and, (c) daily concept activities, or those that are repeated and non-creative, emerging in the daily consumption and communicating activities (Yi, 2005a). Therefore, human modernization is a process of stepping out of the traditional daily life world (Yi, 2005b). It does not mean living without daily life; rather, it means getting rid of the old way of being (again intimating a role for Home Economics, with its focus on well-being and daily living).

China's traditional culture is still so very powerful. It is the most ancient, longest living civilization in the world, and the only one without interruption since its origination. Although the Chinese people have begun to welcome the cultural spirit of reason and legal contracts, and to appreciate subjectivity, personality, freedom, self-awareness, creativeness, social participation awareness,, and critical spirit, the leading cultural type in China is still used to living by experiences and worldly wisdom rather than by reason, legal systems, and contracts.

This situation is mainly reflected in two aspects of Chinese life. First, in the institutional dimension, China is farthest from modernity. Second, in the spiritual dimension, the rational spirit is not rooted in human survival, public life, social operation, or system arrangement as an essential mechanism or with any regularity in China. The intrinsic mechanism of the society, or the cultural spirit of the daily life world, is still in the pre-modernization stage (Yi, 2005a). There is still great tension between the exogenous modernization culture and the traditional culture, and this tension spills over into people's daily lives, the focal point of Home Economics.

In this cultural context, people in China resisted the utopian idealism doctrine under the planned economy from 1950s to 1970s, and embraced the commercialization wave and utilitarian thinking (Yi, 2005a). People gave up their traditional, ideal, elite culture of reasoning, the value of life, and the ultimate concern for history, and regressed to the basic necessities of daily living and the natural instincts of man. And, they accepted the consumerism culture, consciously or unconsciously.

With the enhancement of living standards, Chinese people now pay more attention to their daily life and to individuals' well-being, which are the key focus of Home Economics. One would think that Home Economics would attract attention from all kinds of communities. Unfortunately, it is severely despised in China and is equated with the nanny service, discussed in the next section. Although some scholars are calling for the reestablishment of Home Economics in China, their weak voices have not been brought to the forefront. Why is this happening? On one hand, the historical factors noted in the previous discussion make it hard to re-establish Home Economics in China. Home Economics as gendered education has depreciated under severe attacks over the last 30 years, and is seen as a stumbling block to women's development. On the other hand, although people have begun to enjoy the material life of consumerism, they have not internalized the rational spirit in their daily life. They rely instead on the habits, traditions, customs, experiences, unrestrained regulations, conventions, common sense, and emotions of daily life, and these things are not considered worthy of formal study. Therefore, the development of Home Economics in China still typically encounters great difficulties because it is a discipline that focuses on daily life.

The Potential of Home Economics in China (Education, Research and Extension)

The potential of Home Economics in China is inherently linked to the process of human modernization (a process that runs parallel to the four modernization strategies for agriculture, industry, national defence, and science and technology). People are struggling to find a path between traditional culture and the exogenous modernization culture. Our role as Home Economics professionals in China is tied to ensuring that people's well-being, quality of life, standard of living, and daily living are protected and enhanced in this modernization era. In particular, Home Economics would stand a better chance of gaining new respect and legitimization in China if were to focus on the rural area, which is feeling the brunt of the modernization process.

In more detail, the rural social security level is low; rural living conditions and the living environment have deteriorated; and the population's quality of life generally lags behind that of the urban areas. All of these factors are key barriers to modernization in China. Rural education is needed. What can Home Economics do in this process? Enlightening insights from Home Economics in the United States intimate that the profession in China could contribute to modernization through a cooperative system of education, research, and extension service (see next sections).

The value and significance of Home Economics is greatly overlooked by Chinese mainstream thinkers. The current situation and developmental possibilities of Home Economics in China will now be analysed from three perspectives: education, scientific research, and extension. Insights from this analysis can inform a future philosophy for Home Economics in China.


Home Economics education is not appropriately positioned in the Chinese education system. In the Chinese Classification of Instructional Programs, Home Economics belongs to Sociology, making it difficult to find and even more difficult to justify. At first glance, it might make sense to house Home Economics within Sociology, except that Home Economics is a well-established discipline in its own right, and has been so for over a century. Furthermore, Sociology places special emphasis on societies while Home Economics places special emphasis on the individuals, families, and communities that comprise societies.

In more detail, as a discipline, Home Economics is essentially characterized by interdisciplinarity and pragmatism. Home Economics research and practice is unique, with its focus on people's daily life. Compared to a purely theoretical approach, it teaches people how to live for a better life, including technical knowhow (coping), managing relationships and inner feelings, and thinking and taking action. Home Economics draws on many different disciplines, weaving together relevant insights from many disciplines to help individuals and families solve their particular problems. This intellectual synergy strengthens and authenticates Home Economics practice.

In contrast, sociology is mono-disciplinary, and is a strong theoretical discipline, drawing only on its own narrow (but legitimate) body of knowledge. It solves the problems of the what and the why of society. Sociology is the study of social reality, including the objective facts related to social behavior, social structure, and social problems, and the subjective facts of humanity, social psychology, et cetera.

The differences between the two disciplines are not subtle. The two disciplines have different developmental paths. Each discipline focuses on two totally different entities, albeit closely tied to each other, society and members of society. If Home Economics continues to be seen as part of Sociology in China, it will be difficult for it to complete its final mission-improving everyone's well-being. Given the emergent complexity of Chinese daily life, Home Economics deserves its own category in the Chinese Classification of Instructional Programs.

And, although Home Economics as a major has come back into a few colleges and universities in China, the intent of its reintroduction was career-oriented. A powerful example affecting the future of Home Economics in China is the family service industry (the nanny example used above). Family services refers to the family as the main object of service, run by a business operator providing for-profit family-related activities for those women who are in the labour force (e.g., cleaning, washing clothes, cooking, home care, infant care). The gap between supply and demand of family service providers is huge in large cities. Because there are not enough to go around, the Chinese State Council released a policy in 2010 regarding accelerating the family services industry ("Wenjiabao," 2010). The policy recognized that the family services industry has an important role in creating more jobs, improving people's livelihood, expanding domestic consumer demand, and adjusting the industrial structure.

Some scholars in China consider this to be a good opportunity for the Home Economics discipline. Indeed, some university administrative staff members think Home Economics programs may be a good way to relieve college employment and career-oriented pressure, and meet the huge demand of the family service industry. This opinion is short sighted, however, because the government policy only focuses on the family services industry, rather than the full scope of Home Economics as an interdisciplinary, pragmatic, long-established discipline. This policy may seem like an opportunity to expand training and employment-related work with Home Economics extension service, but the effect seems so limited. What is worse, given the lack of theoretical clarification around the mission of Home Economics in China, more people will regard Home Economics as a component of the family services industry. This may further confuse people's understandings of Home Economics, made worse again because is housed within Sociology in higher education: Is it Sociology? Is it family services industry? Is it a discipline in its own right?

On another front, although Home Economics is a new term in elementary and secondary education in China, it has great potential in on-going educational reform, which has been unfolding since the end of 20th century. The educational reform in China is called "Quality Education," and emphasizes students' moral quality (character), human ability, and physical and mental health. It reflects humanistic thought, and pays special attention to the students' daily life experiences. Home Economics could find exciting opportunities in primary schools. It could be the best source of applied knowledge as an independent, stand-alone subject, like in United States and other Western nations, or it could be incorporated into other subjects to help students understand abstract knowledge related to daily living. Either way, its purpose would be to help students make close links between education and their daily life. In secondary education in China, with big college entrance pressure, exam-oriented education is in vogue. This pressure takes a toll on students' and parents' well-being and quality of life, while in school and after graduation. Home Economics has a lot to offer adolescents in secondary education. In this phase of their lives, the students' physical and psychological development is experiencing huge changes, and they need various kinds of correct guidance about life and career, a strength of Home Economics.


Research on Home Economics and by home economists is still in the initial stages in China, for several reasons:

  1. Home Economics research lacks social recognition or legitimacy. Home Economics bears so many prejudices, and it is often classified into skills training rather than academic research.
  2. Home Economics research forces are scattered. The different dimensions or aspects of Home Economics (e.g., clothing, food, housing, consumer, family) are no longer together in one department, but are spread over several departments. This fragmentation makes it difficult for Home Economics to be whole again, to be seen by others as whole, even to see itself as whole.
  3. Existing Home Economics research lacks deep analysis. Strictly speaking, there are few professional Home Economists in China; the scholars who are interested in the discipline mostly put forward suggestions based on their own disciplinary background, such as sociology, economics, education, and history, rather than the conventional interdisciplinary approach associated with Home Economics.
  4. Resources for research are limited and repeated, mainly focusing on the present situation in China and achievements overseas, which has less value for revelations about individuals' and families' daily life in China.
  5. Research forces are less powerful. The Home Economics researchers and institutions are mostly from open university or vocational and technical college. There are few first class universities in China paying attention to Home Economics.
  6. Research achievements are poor. There are few published Home Economics papers, books, conference papers, monographs et cetera, and those that are published are featured in low level, poor quality, and marginalized venues.

Above all, Home Economics research in China does not have the right position within the academy, which hinders its professional development. The current, awkward position (fragmented and spread over many departments) does not match the importance and value of Home Economics in China.

Extension service

A cooperative extension system is a non-formal educational program designed to help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives. Educational offerings tend to be in the areas of agriculture and food, home and family, the environment, community economic development, and youth. Home Economics in China has not become a well-recognized discipline with a strong research tradition, so extension services are not carried out in large scale in the name of Home Economics. Recently, some governmental departments and non-governmental sections have launched several rural extension projects on women's literacy, practical technical training, and other aspects of rural education. But these are far from enough. We need a strong Home Economics social extension system like the well-established one in the United States. Home Economics extension training could be an effective way to further human modernization, especially in the rural area.

In more detail, under the impact of urbanization, many Chinese peasants moved out of the countryside to the urban area. A large number of the members of the rural labour force (most of them are men) go to non-agricultural industries (including long-term and seasonal), leaving women to do the agricultural work. In 2010, the number of Chinese migrant workers in the big cities totalled more than 240 million ("Woguo," 2011). They are engaged in all kinds of jobs and make great contributions to the modernization movement. The agricultural tasks in the countryside become the main work of the rural women staying in the hometown. However, women in the rural area are poorly educated. They are relatively conservative and their lack of technology, concepts, operation ability, and decision-making skills in the market economy has serious impacts on the rural modernization process in China.

Home Economics extension, closely linked with daily life, could contribute to the modernization process, especially in the rural area. The mission of rural Home Economics extension in China could be to (a) introduce new knowledge, new skills, and new ideas about family life and production to the peasants (especially women staying in rural areas); (b) enable them to fully understand and accept the new ideas; and, (c) change the old way of daily life and production style so they can make family management, production, and child-rearing more effective and scientific. Rural Home Economics extension, as an important part of agricultural extension, could play an important role in modern agriculture and rural development. The ultimate goal of Home Economics extension in China could be the development of all individuals (especially rural women), helping them gain higher self-esteem, self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-improvement, thereby further promoting the modernization of the human. This Home Economics contribution could promote the comprehensive modernization of China.

Home economists could be like seeds rooted in the daily life of China. Home Economics could help rational values (e.g., reason, contracts, law and the modernization paradigm) to grow in daily life, which could deepen the modernization process and transfer it from the grand narrative structure into the microscopic world of family life. Modernization can be fully realized only if humans get used to the new lifestyle to the extent that they live it unconsciously.

An Emergent Chinese Home Economics Philosophy of Practice

To the best of my knowledge, there is no formally articulated Home Economics philosophy for the discipline or profession in China. But a philosophy of practice is necessary if the fledgling and inadequately respected profession is to continue to emerge. Indeed, Ma and Pendergast (2011) shared a similar analysis of home economics in Hong Kong, China. They identified aligned problems with (a) practitioners choosing to not identify with the field; (b) practice connoting a narrow, technical interpretation of home economics; (c) the low status and devaluing of home economics; (d) political changes; and, (e) the gender imbalance. In the face of such far-reaching political, economic, social, and cultural transitions (and their attendant challenges and opportunities), Chinese home economists can benefit from clarifying where they stand in relation to the modernization process in China, and how this will shape their philosophy of practice.

McGregor highlighted the philosophical nuances of Home Economics in several different countries (McGregor, 2009, 2012; McGregor & Dišlere, 2012). This final section follows that example. Future philosophical initiatives around Home Economics in China could benefit from the following collection of principles, theoretical orientations, and beliefs, a collage of ideas gleaned from analysing the information shared in this paper. Home Economics in China: 

  • is interdisciplinary and respects the need for cross-disciplinary dialogue as the profession gains new footholds in higher education;
  • is grounded in the evolving context of China;
  • is committed to the modernization process (which brings new elements to Chinese daily life: the cultural spirit of reason and contracts, as well as subjectivity, personality, freedom, self-awareness, creativeness, social participation awareness, and critical spirit);
  • is particularly focused on the modernization of the human;
  • remains aware of the deep interconnections between traditions and modernization;
  • values "Quality Education," which emphasizes moral quality (character), human ability, and physical and mental health;
  • is cognizant of the influence of the patriarchal ideology;
  • respects the country's longstanding focus on the relationships among the individual, the family, and the state;
  • is aware of the historical and contemporary significance of gender equity in China;
  • appreciates the insights into life in China that can be gained from Chinese critical theory of daily life, and from social gender theory;
  • embraces a definition of daily life grounded in cultural transition (i.e., daily consumption activities, daily communicating activities, and daily concept activities);
  • must help citizens become creative individuals who can consciously adapt to the needs of science, technology, and socialized mass production (aspects of modernization) with the advantage of subjective consciousness, critical consciousness, and a technical, rational, humanistic spirit;
  • appreciates the necessity of empowering rural citizens, especially through extension services informed by rigorous and respected Home Economics research and education; and,
  • needs to be whole, needs to be seen as whole, and needs to be able to see itself as whole (necessitating a mission statement for Home Economics in China as well as formal recognition and respect within the higher education system, the public school system, the government, and society at large).

On a closing note, to reinterpret Bryua's (2015) recent musings about gaining insights from the Chinese philosophical tradition, other home economists' engagement with Chinese history and philosophy (as articulated in this paper) can enrich our philosophical discussions, bring insights to bear on current Home Economics philosophical issues, and shift the ongoing dialogue in meaningful ways.


Bruya, B. (Ed.). (2015). The philosophical challenge from China. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chen, P. (2012). History and potential of home economics in the People's Republic of China. In D. Pendergast, S. L. T. McGregor, & K. Turkki (Eds.), Creating home economics futures: The next 100 years (pp.62-74). Queensland, Australia: Australian Academic Press.

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1 A slightly different version of this paper was recently published as a chapter in a book at Chen, P. (2012). History and potential of home economics in the People's Republic of China. In D. Pendergast, S. L. T. McGregor, & K. Turkki (Eds.), Creating home economics futures: The next 100 years (pp.62-74). Queensland, Australia: Australian Academic Press.

2 A note about referencing the Chinese Classics. Many Chinese books have been lost in the long history of China. For example, the Western Zhou Dynasty (about 1046B.C.-771B.C) was more than 3000 years ago. Nonetheless, copies of many documents still exist, but their authors are often unknown or estimated by historians. When this sort of material is cited in China, we just list the name of the old source, the name of the book it came from (if relevant), and the most recent modern publisher and publishing date. Each Chinese reference is this paper is presented in this order: Pin Yin (the official system to transcribe Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet), the English translation and then Chinese.

3 The author of Yili Sangfu  is allegedly supposed to be Gongdan Zhou in the Xi Zhou Dynasty (about1046 B.C.- 771 B.C.)

4 The author of Zhouli Tiangong Jiubin is allegedly supposed to be Zi Xia in the Spring and Autumn Period (about 770 B.C.-403 B.C.). Zi Xia is one of  Confucius's famous disciples.


Kappa Omicron Nu Forum Volume 19 No. 1

Home Economics Philosophy in Latvia: An Exploratory Study

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University

Vija Dišlere, Latvia University of Agriculture

Everyday Life: A Home Economics Concept

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University

The Role of Philosophy in Home Economics

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University

Marjorie Brown's Philosophical Legacy: Contemporary Relevance

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University

Abductive Reasoning in Everyday Life: Implications for Home Economics

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University

Enriching Home Economics Philosophy with Phenomenological Insights:

Aesthetic Experiences, Bodily Being, and Enfolded Everyday Life

Henna Heinilä

Postmodernism and Home Economics: Revitalizing the Conversation

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University

History and Potential of Home Economics in the People's Republic of China:
Implications for Philosophy of Practice

Peng Chen PhD, Higher Vocational Education College, China Women's University

History and Potential of Home Economics in the People's Republic of China:
Implications for Philosophy of Practice

Peng Chen PhD, Higher Vocational Education College, China Women's University

Existentialism and Home Economics

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University

Can Home Economics Practice be Informed by Bakhtinian Themes?

Dr. Mary Gale Smith

Conceptualizing Home and Household

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University