Massive educational expansion has been a precondition for explosive economic growth and technical development, but at the same time it provides sites where the new meets the old in the experiences, practices and developing self-identities of students and future generations of workers and citizens. In the closed walls of the school and the inescapability of its scores , an astonishing drama plays out between the new and the old with a tapestry of intricate human meanings woven of small tragedies and triumphs, secret promises and felt betrayals, helping to produce not only exam results but cultural orientations and occupational destinies. Willis presents the human stories, the everyday human habitations and facilitations of how vast change comes about in local registers and feelings. The conformists and educational achievers have a particular way of relating to modernity that involves duty, delay and sacrifice - perhaps without end. Those failing or rebelling in school find their own more immediate ways of relating to modernity but it is a different and more brutal kind of modernity, arrived at with apparent enthusiasm but great cost.
By exploring the cultural dimension of everyday experience as it is lived out in the school, this book sheds new light on the enormous transformations that have swept through China and created the kind of society that it is today, a society that is obsessed with the future and at the same time structured by and in continuous dialogue with its past.