We have described literacy in terms of the task, as well as social and cultural identity.
The three areas are interrelated, that is (a) the standard norms of writing carry the most
prestige, (b) the standard spoken language is used in the acquisition of literacy to insureJohn E. Ingulsrud & Kate Allen
114 May 12, 2003
that speaking Putonghua will be learned and finally, (c) participating in the literacy is
seen as an act of national identity. At the same time, since a roman alphabet (Hanyu
Pinyin) is used to learn Putonghua and Chinese characters, children have noticed that
studying the letters of Hanyu Pinyin is similar to learning the letters of foreign
languages. In this process, the children begin to acquire an identity in the global
context. This identity is further strengthened by the popularization of learning English,
which is already part of the curriculum in many urban schools.
The media also play a role in shaping identity. In our study of textbook illustrations,
urban living is promoted and traditional gender roles are reinforced. These images are
in stark contrast to the social realities of the majority of the population that lives in rural
areas. We also raised the issue that not all identities are learned or freely chosen. Some
are imposed through an intricate system of household registration. As long as people
remain where they are registered, children can have access to varying levels of
education and healthcare. Migration for economic purposes is unofficially condoned,
but right of abode is not granted and thus access to schooling is denied. Therefore, a
person’s identity in terms of household registration can affect even access to literacy.
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