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Int Rev Educ (2013) 59:443468

DOI 10.1007/s11159-013-9372-2

Learning cities in East Asia: Japan, the Republic


of Korea and China
SoongHee Han Atsushi Makino

Published online: 12 September 2013


Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2013

Abstract Lifelong learning cities emerged in Japan in the 1980s and 1990s; in the
Republic of Korea in the 2000s and 2010s; and in China mostly from 2000 onwards.
They were a countermeasure to the increasing challenges of global as well as postindustrial uncertainties at the turn of the century, when cities were trying to find
governmental instruments to engage in cultural processes, community building and
personal development as the new way of urban life. Learning was perceived to be a
panacea to solve the social problems occurring in overwhelming processes of
modernisation and industrialisation. The authors of this paper assert that the practice
of and research on learning cities, especially in the East Asian region, need to go
beyond the technical rationalities which are guiding government tools, and explain
the realities to which they are meant to be applied. In order to do this, the authors
investigated three separate but inter-connected scenes found in Japan, the Republic
of Korea and China, revealing that the learning city is a phenomenon which reflects
complex social dynamics and the interaction of many minds. While the cases in this
region are distinctive, they do share some common characteristics. The authors
place these within what they term a community relations model, which they
contrast with the individual competence model which is usually found in initiatives of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and
schemes implemented in the area of the European Union (EU).

S. Han (&)
Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
e-mail: learn@snu.ac.kr
A. Makino
University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
e-mail: makino@p.u-tokyo.ac.jp

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Keywords Learning city Learning community Community education Adult


education in East Asia Kominkan Shequ education
Resume Les villes apprenantes en Asie orientale : Japon, Republique de Coree et
Chine Des villes dapprentissage tout au long de la vie sont apparues au Japon
dans les annees 1980 et 1990, en Republique de Coree entre 2000 et 2010, et en
Chine essentiellement a` partir de 2000. Elles constituaient une contre-mesure aux
defis croissants poses au debut du sie`cle par les incertitudes de la mondialisation et
de la post-industrialisation. Les villes tentaient alors de trouver des solutions
publiques pour sengager dans des processus culturels, la construction dune communaute et le developpement personnel, traits dun nouveau mode de vie urbain.
Lapprentissage etait percu comme une panacee pouvant resoudre les proble`mes
sociaux resultant des phenome`nes implacables de modernisation et dindustrialisation. Les auteurs de larticle avancent que la pratique et la recherche relatives aux
villes apprenantes, notamment dans la region dAsie orientale, doivent depasser les
rationalites techniques qui guident les instruments publics, et expliquent les realites
auxquelles ces derniers sont censes sappliquer. Dans ce but, les auteurs ont etudie
trois sce`nes distinctes mais interconnectees, selectionnees au Japon, en Republique
de Coree et en Chine; ils signalent que la ville apprenante est un phenome`ne
refletant une dynamique sociale complexe et linteraction de nombreux points de
vue. Si les differents cas de cette meme region sont specifiques, ils posse`dent aussi
des caracteristiques communes. Les auteurs classifient ces dernie`res selon ce quils
appellent un mode`le de relations communautaires , quils opposent au mode`le
de competences individuelles , ce dernier figurant couramment dans les initiatives
de lOrganisation de Cooperation et de Developpement Economiques (OCDE) et
dans les schemas appliques par lUnion Europeenne (UE).

Introduction
The concepts of the learning society and lifelong learning emerged in the 1970s and
1980s; a time when learning was considered a panacea which cured symptoms of
the post-industrial risk society. This is reflected in Norman Longworths definition
of a learning city:
A learning city, town or region recognizes and understands the key role of
learning in the development of basic prosperity, social stability and personal
fulfilment, and mobilizes all its human, physical, and financial resources
creatively and sensitively to develop the full human potential of all its citizens
(Longworth 1999, p. 4).
Learning cities in East Asia were the outcome of instrumental policies by
government bodies to mobilise citizens learning that enhanced personal development, economic prosperity and social inclusion. In Japan, the learning city policies
were boosted in the 1990s by the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of
Trade and Industry in the context of a bubble economy. In the Republic of Korea,
the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 suddenly called for the active role of lifelong

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learning and learning cities as a main policy instrument; to build a new concept of
regional self-governance, learning cities were designated in the 2000s and 2010s. In
China, rapidly growing metropolises and the shadow of social discrepancies in cities
stimulated the introduction of community rebuilding and adult education programmes to promote citizens participation in community activities, mainly in the
2000s and early 2010s.
Most of all, the experience of learning city programmes in this region had a clear
connection with placating the discontent of what citizens had perceived as the
outcomes of the process of industrialisation and post-industrialisation. Especially in
the Republic of Korea and in China, large metropolitan cities sought a new image to
become environmentally safe and culturally dignified. Learning was perceived as a
solution to the social problems occurring in overwhelming processes of modern
industrialisation that distorted the city image into merely a money-making machine.
With lifelong learning being the new concept of education in post-industrial, postmodern, post-welfare times (Griffin 2001, p. 48), linking up with the policies of
lifelong learning and learning cities seemed promising in efforts to replace the
distorted image of urbanisation, industrialisation, and modernisation in those cities.
On the other hand, rural communities and smaller cities also found strategies for
development in learning city concepts, especially in Japan. They wanted to attract
more incoming populations and create new community structures for living together
beyond merely increasing job opportunities and economic stability. More concepts
from the fields of culture, design and general creativity were adapted in city
planning to display the key icons of these new stages of city development.
We believe that the distinctive features of the Asian type of learning cities can be
characterised as a community relations model, which is different to the European
individual competence model. First of all, European learning cities have attributes
from the individual competency model in the sense that learning is fundamentally
an individual process, and learning city programmes aim to enhance individual
competence as their contribution to communities and workplaces. A typical
statement in a learning city strategy implemented by the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD) or by a European country is along the
following lines:
the coordination of work-oriented and general/leisure-oriented education and
training, in a way that allows all citizens easily to relate their development as
individuals to their development as workers (CERI/OECD 1993, p. 10).
By contrast, the Asian perspective in learning cities underlines the problems of social
conditions and identities, cultural discontent and conflicts within the cities, as well as
various intergenerational and gender tensions etc. Social exclusion and conflict in a
society are more focused here and, therefore, cultural and liberal learning dominates
the curriculum in the context of community activities. We call it a community relations
model, a unique Asian perspective on lifelong learning and learning cities, which
emphasises more of the mode of relations and group learning activities.
More or less, over time, the emphasis on social and collective aspects has always
been a part of the social history of Asian countries. The concept of individuality
and the modern sense of individual freedom only emerged in the Asian region

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after the Second World War, when Asians experienced a new sense of freedom,
individual responsibility and democracy. The Republic of Korea and Japan
experienced this immediately after the end of the Second World War, and China a
little later. Personal confidence and cultural manoeuvring in defining modern
personal identities were also established then to meet this modern culture and the
equivalent social structure.
In this paper, we discuss the characteristics of the Asian type of learning cities in
the sense that they are based upon a community relations model which aims to
tackle social problems rather than economic goals and employment.

Learning cities: governmental instrument and self-organising learning


complexity
The momentum of the learning city programme was directly ignited in 2007/2008
by the impact of global economic turmoil and local reflections of the social as well
as economic uncertainty. A scenario has been proposed elsewhere (Han 2007) in
which global capitalism might produce a neoliberal version of the lifelong learning
discourse which heavily influenced the shaping of local policies of learning cities in
East Asian countries. The author especially highlighted the social uncertainty
brought by the bubble economy and the Asian financial crisis, which put whole
Asian societies at risk; he focused on the fact that lifelong learning was adapted at
that time to heal these situations, with the learning city concept among the chosen
strategies.
Under these circumstances, cities in Japan, the Republic of Korea and China have
been carrying out bold experiments for two decades in implementing the idea of
learning cities, learning communities and learning towns, embedded in municipal
ordinances and city planning committees. The details, however, have been
somewhat different in the three countries. For example, Japan has a long history
of self-reliant community activities based upon the kominkan [community culture
centre] tradition1 before the learning city concept was introduced, though some
cities, such as Kakegawa, were later internationally referred to as the origin of the
self-declared learning city movement. The Republic of Korea, by contrast, had a
strong initiative by the central government, based upon the Lifelong Education
Law,2 in promoting the programme implemented at primary local government
(municipality) level. China, however, has carefully benchmarked the best practices
and ideas of the two other countries, and introduced a similar programme in large
metropolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou.
Broadly speaking, in all three countries the learning city programme and policy
were implemented as a governmental instrument to meet the global challenges
which increased local uncertainties in each country, by means of adapting the
peoples self-governing participation towards the emergence of civil society. The
1

For more background information on Japanese kominkan, see Iwasa (2010).

The Lifelong Education Law of the Republic of Korea (MOEHRD 1999) succeeded the Social
Education Law (MOEHRD 1982).

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instrument, however, in Thomas Popkewitzs terms, took on characteristics of a


utopian version and a cosmopolitan image (Popkewitz et al. 2007). It has
mobilised social engineering and technical rationalisation as a tool for upgrading the
social life structure of municipalities and provinces (Simons and Masschelein 2007,
p. 3).
From a governmental perspective, most of the tools reveal themselves as
technical instruments which bring the concept of a learning panacea to the fore,
supposedly curing all kinds of post-industrial social problems. Popkewitz et al. term
it cosmopolitanism that brings the European renaissance back to the present. They
write,
Cosmopolitanism is an historical tool to consider the transmogrifications of
European Enlightenment images of a universal reason, rationality, and
progress as a mode of living inscribed in the Learning Society. The learner of
this new society is a cosmopolitan guided by compassion for continual change
and innovation. It is a consuming project of life that regulates the present in
the name of the future action (Popkewitz et al. 2007, p. 18).
The focus here is to know how this cosmopolitanism (in this case the discourse of
the learning society) functions as an interpretive lens to explore the political objects
and social administration of people, and how the rules and standards of conditions
produce these self-governing actors (lifelong learners) as agents of social progress
and reformation (ibid., p. 18). Similar approaches with this technical rationality are
found in white papers of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation
(CERI/OECD) and in many European strategies (see, for example, Longworth
1998). Although some critics point out the limits of this approach, it has already
spread to whole global policy frameworks. Learning region programmes in Europe,
for example, are more instrumental and practical in terms of human capital
promotion, individual competence and life skills development, chiefly based upon
the OECDs Definition and Selection of Competencies (DeSeCo) framework
(Raven and Stephenson 2001).
In contrast with this, the learning city in East Asia, from our perspective, can only
be grasped within the contextual framework of self-organising and self-growing
complexities in communities and towns, as observed in the cases of three countries
in the latter part of this article. The learning city, in theory and practice, embodies
the whole complex dynamics of the modern city and human learning in various
ways underlying this scene, especially personal and political relations. Therefore, in
order to properly understand the East Asian learning city situation, the technical
rationalities of the European/OECD model need to be replaced by a more critical
and comprehensive social complexity perspective.
In the sections below, we present this discursive framework, illustrating it with
three different cases from Japan, the Republic of Korea and China. Asian lifelong
learning cities have emerged since 1979: in Japan in the 1980s and 1990s; in the
Republic of Korea in the 2000s and 2010s; and in China mostly from 2000 onwards.
The 1990s have a special significance in understanding the context and experiences
in all three East Asian countries. With the burst of the bubble economy in Japan in
1991, the state lost the character of ultimate omnipotence that had led its national

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growth and approach to social redistribution. Chinas open door policy,3 especially
after 1992, rapidly destabilised society and increased social inequality and
discontent. Korea, too, was hit by the Asian financial crisis in 1997 that brought
chaos to its economic and social system.

Lessons from Japan: community activities revisited


Up to 2010, a total of 86 municipalities in Japan had reportedly declared themselves
a lifelong learning city, a rate of only 5 per cent of all municipalities (Ogawa 2013,
p. 62). In 1979, only two municipalities had participated, by 1989 the number had
increased to 37(ibid.). However, this is only a small number of municipalities to
have been identified with the notion of the learning city compared to the Republic of
Korea, where already more than 40 per cent of all municipalities had been
designated as lifelong learning cities by 2010. How can this be interpreted?
In fact, many more communities in Japan had already been practising as a
learning community in the context of the Social Education Law4 and with
kominkan as centres of their activities since the mid-20th century, but they have not
been counted as a part of the learning city initiative in this context. Being
different in its origins from the notion of social education, the learning city is a
comparatively new phenomenon in Japan, brought with the stimulus of the
government-led lifelong learning campaign. The bubble economy, which lasted
roughly from 1986 to 1991, and community dissolution have accelerated the
adoption of lifelong learning into society.
Bubble economy and lifelong learning
The lifelong learning policy in Japan emerged and was legislated in the high bubble
period that lasted, with a number of versions, to the period of the long-term
depression. It is ironic that the idea of lifelong learning grew in the late 1980s with
the emergence of the bubble economy that expanded service markets, and in which
adult learning and education were perceived as a kind of commodity in the bubble
market frame, as something individualised and commercialised. It was 1991, when
the bubble burst, that the Lifelong Learning Promotion Law5 was enacted.
3

The term open door policy, in the context of modern China, refers to Deng Xiaopings policy of
opening up to the outside world, welcoming foreign investment in an effort to modernise Chinese industry
and boost Chinas economy.

The Japanese Social Education Law [sometimes also referred to in English as the Adult Education Act]
was ratified in 1949 (MEXT 1949). Iwasa remarks that the definition of social education, in Article 2 of
this Act, is quite similar to the concept of non-formal education (Iwasa 2010, p. 65).

The Japanese Lifelong Learning Promotion Law of 1991 (MEXT 1991) was complemented by the Basic
Law on Education (MEXT 2006), which included an amendment in which the philosophy of lifelong
learning was clarified. The Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (MEXT 2008) included the
measure of creating an environment for lifelong learning for each basic direction of education
measures. And the first section of the Second Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (MEXT 2013)
comprises four basic policy directions to build a lifelong-learning society based on autonomy,
collaboration and creation (all quotations taken from the provisional translations provided on the website

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The legislation for this law was first proposed as early as 1987 by the Ad-hoc
Education Council Report as a transition of Japanese education to the new platform
of the lifelong education system, then reaffirmed by the Central Education
Council Report in 1990, stating that lifelong learning is the activity that targets
personal satisfaction, according to personal needs and reasons,6 mostly focusing
on individuality, with new concepts like individual decision making and autonomy.
The notion of lifelong learning was converted into actual policies by both the
Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and
Technology (MEXT). The term lifelong learning was recognised as covering both
individuals as agents of their own learning, from a commodity consumers
viewpoint, as well as the governments role of fostering the platform for learning as
commodity production and distribution.
Before long, the bubble economy burst and Japan fell into a prolonged recession.
Now the pendulum of the historic clock swung from individual self-reliance back to
social integration. Markets were shrinking, so that the re-integration of the
individualised Japanese society became the top issue with this community
breakdown and the isolation of individuals, rising unemployment and the
breakdown of the welfare system, the need for environmental protection, and
foreign worker issues. A new role for lifelong learning was expected to reintegrate
the broken society by way of independent citizens voluntary participation. The
ideas of learning communities, learning cities or learning villages were adopted in
this context.
This stream of transition in the lifelong learning framework and identity was
clearly recognised when the Lifelong Learning Council submitted a report in 1998,
entitled The agenda for future social education administration to cope with the social
changes, The report suggested that the former kominkan-based social education
policies needed to be connected with new policies of lifelong learning by mobilising
and re-engineering the previous social education administrative structures to
activate community building by more participation of citizens. Here, the term
kominkan implies a community learning centre, based upon the Social Education
Law, relatively small and located within walking distance to promote community
activities and citizens active participation.
Linked with the Heisei merge,7 a historical period of mergers and restructuring
of local government units that lasted from 1999 to 2010, the logic of government
was to disconnect people from the previous social welfare system that was based
Footnote 5 continued
of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology at http://www.mext.go.jp/
english/a05.htm [accessed 14 August 2013]).
6

Translations of quotations from sources which are unavailable in English such as this one were made by
the authors of this article for the purpose of its publication in English. The page references (if any) given
refer to the Asian-language source (Japanese, Korean or Chinese) listed in the reference section.

Heisei is the current era in Japan; the reign of Emperor Akihito, who acceded to the throne in 1989.
The term Heisei merge (sometimes also referred to as the Heisei mergers) refers to an initiative of the
Japanese central government which significantly reduced the number of cities/towns/villages by way of
merging them. The measure was implemented due to demographic developments (overaging in
combination with low birthrates, resulting in shrinking communities) in conjunction with problems of
government funding allocation.

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upon an egalitarian and security-oriented image of society, and instead make them
take part in the pain-sharing process. Under these circumstances, the 2004 Report
of the Lifelong Learning Committee of the Central Education Council states, [i]t is
important to raise public consciousness so every citizen becomes an agent of
building community and participating voluntarily in this process, Lifelong learning
policy at this stage appeared to encourage citizens to draw on voluntary
participation in self-reliant supportive families, neighbourhoods and communities.
Decentralisation and self-responsibility were the key values in this process
(Makino 2012).
The social service role of lifelong learning as a means to restructure society
turned out to be an important factor in this context. However, despite these efforts,
government policies aiming to link lifelong learning and community building had
little evidence to prove their impact. It was obvious that the individualised and
consumer-oriented character of learning was not adequate to coping with the social
reintegration agenda. More fundamentally, policy makers lacked understanding of
the core mechanisms available to it. They simply failed to recognise what bonds
individuals together in sustaining the core identity of a community or what the key
mechanisms are which support a community in being a real functioning society.
The following two case studies from Iida City and Toyota City show how a
community reproduced a collective identity in which individuals fit into the whole
process of community building, long before the idea of the learning city was put on
the policy table.
New ideas in the old cases: two city stories
The case of Iida City, Nagano Prefecture, reveals how a community sustains its
social organising power and how human learning is related to this process. Iida City
is a typical rural community with approximately 100,000 inhabitants. The city has
20 kominkan, centres for community activities and learning. Additionally, there are
103 bunkan [branches] of the kominkan established at the sub-district level. To put it
simply, the city life runs through the web of the kominkan and bunkan.
To the citizens, the kominkan and the bunkan have a specific concept of engagement
with a specific mode of relations reflected in specific activities and lived experience.
Interestingly, Iida citizens use the expression we do the kominkan or we do the
bunkan. Kominkan or bunkan, in this context, are identified with a sort of activity, or
their own life itself. People say you will understand the community if you do the
bunkan. They believe community life resides in the notion of bunkan activities, both
of which reproduce citizens community relations. In an interview conducted by
Makino Atsushi, an interviewee said:
At first, my wife was saying, Honey, promise you wont ever take that role of
director! You know thatll give us tons of trouble! But actually, it was she
who was first to be persuaded in the family. She started to say, Say yes to
them, darling. They are so nice and begging, dont you see you dont have a
choice? That switched the family into the bunkan mode. And when I took the
post, my seniors [] supported me in many ways. And then, I had already

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worked in various groups in the bunkan, so I had ideas of my own about how
we might better run the bunkan. I also knew who was good at what kind of
work, so, when I became the director, I went to see each of them and asked
them to work with me. This way, many people in the sub-district helped me
and thats how I made some of my ideas happen. Thats exciting to be able
to see your ideas happen It really was! Now, inspiration keeps popping up.
Youre always thinking this and that. Before long, youre addicted to the
bunkan (male interviewee).
The Japanese philosopher Yoshimoto Takaaki once said Human beings are an
existence capable of often creating various burdens to suppress themselves, urged
by an inevitability beyond their control and knowing well that they would be
suppressed doing so, and added that communal illusion is one of these kinds of
burdens (Yoshimoto 2012, p. 37). Participation in branches of the kominkan, in
this case, brings the communal illusion or community identity into reality. The
communal illusion is in some sense an expansive self, in which a person is being
pressed to accept the identity of as well as an obligation to the community that goes
beyond ones personal life space. Here, something that bridges the communal
identity and the self-identity and connects society and the individual is, according to
Yoshimotos theory, the inter-pair illusion that mostly occurs between partners
like a husband and a wife, in which one mirrors the other (ibid.). The inter-pair
illusion delivers and projects an image of the communal illusion through the
otherness among the pair, then stabilises it to the level of individual illusion as
ones ultimate form of existence. The interview response above shows how the
process of taking the director position in the bunkan can be explained by this
process, e.g. how a man accepts the role of community via the interaction with his
wife. It is an exemplary model that illustrates the mechanism of how individuals are
mutually connected with society.
The communal illusion of kominkan branches in this case, namely the communal
consciousness, has a structure that becomes visible and verbalised by various events
arranged in the activities of the kominkan and bunkan. They initiate various
community activities such as flower festivals, athletic meetings, conferences and
road maintenance, which help community members perform in their everyday lives
with mutual understanding and recognition that builds communication and
interactive relationships. The meaning of we do bunkan, as seen above, is in
fact identified with we do activities at the lived experience level.
In these activities, people expand their identity up to the level of the whole
community. They associate, participate and understand certain activities in the
mode of the kominkan and the bunkan. Local leaders are nurtured and selected in
this context. Leaders work for local citizens, appreciating their merits, and citizens
support the leader by engaging themselves in the improvement and development of
local life. Citizens are closely engaged in others lives and develop caring
relationships in this process. Thus a self-governing and living relationship gathers
momentum. It is verbalised through the dialogues between citizens and improved in
verbal recognition. Thus a mutual relationship is constructed. It is the power to
propel this self-management of local citizens as a hidden driving force that makes

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the local community work. Such a hidden driving force makes citizens lives stable
and sustainable in a community. Although the local community seems conservative
and monotonous at a glance, it actually drives the mechanism that makes the mutual
relationship in the organisation sustainable among citizens in that way (University
of Tokyo 2012).
This provides the following images: a local community and the individual share a
common platform to produce, based on reciprocity, relationships of diversity and
multiplicity, which can be seen as expansive reality (Uno 2011). The vitality of
the local community is activated by citizens themselves, who embody and cause
each layer of this multiplicity to communicate with each other.
A second good example of this issue is the case of Toyota City, Aichi
Prefecture.8 The ruralurban interlinkage project Young people, lets go to the
countryside! selects young city-dwellers to settle in rural areas and enables them to
practise an agriculture-based life to discover the accumulated local culture and to
develop new values. It also fosters a new value system in rural areas by enhancing
communication opportunities between urban and rural communities. A leader of the
programme says:
I like summer festivals. Though the village got smaller and mostly elderly
people remained, the summer festival is still passed down to welcome young
people. An interesting point here is that the festival looks clumsy when
prepared in village meetings, then it suddenly turns out to be a perfect
coordination and goes hand in glove to complete the building of a festival
tower and the opening of the festival. Everyone enjoys the festival. I can feel
the potential of this community. It is the experience of the summer festival that
enables us to live a life all year round with communal support and fantastic
cooperation. I feel the vitality of the fantastic cooperation that enables our
grandmothers and grandfathers living here to undertake heavy burdens easily
together.
The summer festival provides a crucial momentum, especially at the level of
physical collaboration, and a collective operation of the community, which makes
for harmony and cooperation in peoples everyday lives. Participants share
experiences that correspond to their bonding and communication during the festival
and this mood remains to support their collective life throughout the rest of the year.
These scenes expose the other side of rural life, with entirely different dynamics.
It overturns our prejudice that rural villages are conservative with static and closed
minds. The hidden dimension of peoples collective experiences, seen in the case
above, is being connected with new cultural discoveries, and is surely what has
never been exposed to outsiders. This traditional mode of life has been stacked
neatly on whole layers of history, waiting to be re-discovered by future generations.
This community life has long been forgotten, and has failed to be captured in the
perspective of urban modernity or lifelong learning. Now, the administrative
8

In 2012, Toyota City, a regional urban centre in the north of Aichi Prefecture, had a population of
422,830; for more information see http://jscp.nepc.or.jp/en/toyota/index.shtml [accessed 12 August
2013].

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expediency of the Japanese government has tried to merge and restructure the units
of the cities without considering what really constitutes a community with a
revitalised sense of community. The Heisei merge and the Lifelong Learning
Promotion Law forgot these lessons and the result was the destruction and abandon
of local communities.

From community to city


Modern industrial society has created a monotonous society with flat values in the
framework of the nation state. People are both part of a mass labour force and
themselves mass consumers, who fit into this standardised production and
consumption environment as a single value. In such a society, peoples lives are
homogenised, equalised, and secured by the government, in that the peoples rights
are identified with the wealth distributed and privatised evenly, in what we call the
national welfare system. This uniform system of flat values, however, has been
rapidly dismantled, and replaced by reciprocal multilayers of diversity. This change
is now widely recognised from inside the system.
The discovery of multiplicity leads the transition of the images of a society, from
what replicates itself monolithically to what creates new forms of interpretation in
steric (three-dimensional) formation. A good example is a practice called sumibiraki
[the lifestyle movement or activity that opens a private space, such as private offices
or houses, to the public while also sustaining the original private functions and
uses].9 A space of this kind, for example, can overcome the confined restrictions of
the property concept, up to the point where mutual and reciprocal forms of
communication evolve. Coined by the Japanese artist Wataru Asada in 2008,
sumibiraki in practical terms means something like this:
A corner of a personal house space, once exclusively private, can possibly be
open to neighbours to share ones favourite interests with others where a
small community is created to share the influence of ones work or hobby
activities with others, slowly but steadily (Asada 2012, p. 14).
The idea of sumibiraki denies the way in which a dominant social pattern of values
is dispersed to replicate the surface horizontally. Rather, it creates new niches of
communication between the prevailing structures while making the best use of the
existing conditions of the structure.
The renewal of a city or a local organisation is possible by the connections
between the communities of mutual interest, not the administration, as the locus of
control and protection. People can produce constructive power to organise the rich
networks of communities. This power can change the logic and colour of the
learning market. The exchange of learning in a community also reflects the unique
locality, the structure of various and multiple local economies, and employment,
by networking. The state or nation is nothing other than the interconnection of
multiple complex layers of such relationships. In the era of globalisation (with
9

The literal meaning of sumibiraki is open living.

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cosmopolitan internationalisation), new markets, as dynamic networks of


community, seem to have the potential to comprise a new form of a nation
state and reorganise the given market-dominant social order. The basis is
learning and learned social existence. Japanese society has now arrived at this
point. The way in which the living existence of citizens organises this society is
indeed a learning society.

Lessons from the Republic of Korea: government engagement and the


emergence of the civil self
Similarly to the Japanese experience above, the lifelong learning city in the
Republic of Korea also has two faces; it has in principle both government initiative
and community empowerment. Kim Shinil defined it as follows:
The lifelong learning city is a supporting system for lifelong learning in a
community of city, county, and district, which has been promoted by the
Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development since 2001.
Lifelong learning city means an integrative community empowerment project
for enhancing competences of individuals as well as community by utilizing a
variety of educational institutes and informal learning opportunities (Kim
2004, p. 1).
Since 2001, however, the governments social engineering has dominated the whole
process in practices other than the aspect of civil society participation and
community self-organisation. First of all, it has a strong legal foundation in the
Lifelong Education Law (MOEHRD 1999), an administrative structure at ministerial
level, and a top-down managerial framework conducted by the National Institute for
Lifelong Education (NILE).10 Overall, a series of social engineering policies, such
as social planning, execution by an inputoutput model, and monitoring feedback
systems were established for learning cities to function by.
While a considerable number of how-to models prevail in the relevant
academic journals, it is not easy to find research that reveals why, or the nature of
what the lifelong learning city policies and programmes in the Republic of Korea
have been. Mostly the articles on this subject have tried to develop practical models
or know-how manuals for implementation, rather than trying to understand the
factors behind this development.
In this section, we argue that the phenomenon of the learning city goes far
beyond simple social engineering and government planning; rather it is a co-product
of the programme within this socio-historical context, which is deeply interlinked
with the social changes in the 1990s2000s of Korean society as a whole.

10
The Korean National Institute for Lifelong Learning (NILE) was established in 2008. Its purpose is to
motivate lifelong education for the people by performing the tasks related to the promotion of lifelong
education in accordance with Article 19 of the Lifelong Education Law (MOEHRD 1999).

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A decade of uncertainty
In the Republic of Korea, the learning city initiative was launched in 2001 and has
grown up in the last two decades. In order to understand this development, it is
necessary to understand the complex background of this phenomenon. During the
1990s, Korean society experienced a crucial momentum that changed society as a
whole at a deeper level.
First, the learning city was a scheme for developing the notion of a civil society.
The 1987 June Democracy Movement ignited the events of the 1990s,11 a decade of
the emergence of civil society and various new social movements in the Republic
of Korea. The destruction of the Berlin Wall and the downfall of the Eastern bloc
had a considerable impact on mainstream politics in the Republic of Korea, and
dramatically widened the space for free speech and the participation of civil society
organisations. Knowledge and information were at the core of these civil politics.
Second, from 1995 the axle of politics moved from the central to the local level,
and this became the decade of the restoration of local self-governance or the return
of the cities. Local self-governance and elections that had been suspended by the
authoritarian regimes since the 1961 military coup came back to restore and direct
elections for mayors and governors. The future of the cities was moved to the
hands of the residents. Each municipality became a balance between the governing
bodies and the people who now had autonomy to vote. Local autonomy and city
politics brought uncertainty, and various experiments were undertaken to create a
new future.
Third, the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 disarmed trade unions and labour
market safety mechanisms, and an increase in unemployment endangered social
stability. The changes deconstructed the traditional stability in families, neighbourhoods, the labour market, and social classes and generations. As a result,
communities were exposed to risk. On the one hand, the economic turmoil directly
hit the younger generation who had barely finished college. At the other end there
was the older generation, rushing towards an aged society in a rapid tempo. The
aged unemployed were not equipped for a second chance in a job or in life. They
were never trained or educated to meet those kinds of changes. Finding a solution
was not only about providing skills and knowledge for job mobility; a more
immediate and urgent need was to heal peoples wounded self-esteem, and reestablish confidence by promoting humanities classes, literature and history courses
for the homeless which provided chances to restore their wounded dignity (Han and
Yang 2007).
In retrospective, society as a whole was facing critical uncertainty, with much
anger and frustration in the face of the coming risks. To make this situation worse,
peoples discontent was mostly expressed at the local level, while the cities had
just regained self-governance and were not ready to deal with such considerable
uncertainties. What the cities had done so far was mostly of a civil engineering and
11

The June Democracy Movement, also known as the June Uprising, was a nationwide democracy
movement in the Republic of Korea that generated mass protests from 10 June to 29 June 1987. The
demonstrations forced the ruling government to hold elections and institute other democratic reforms
which led to the establishment of the Sixth Republic.

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building infrastructure nature; social welfare policies at the local level only began in
the late 1980s; little attention had been given to a cultural and intellectual support
system in a city paid for by the local government. Something was needed to deal
with this situation.
Centrally planned, locally implemented
The first three learning cities appeared in 200112 with official recognition, financial
subsidies, and policy guidelines from the Ministry of Education and Human
Resources Development (MOEHRD). Up to now (2013), 118 out of 227
municipalities have been designated as learning cities, which constitutes 52 per
cent of all cities nationwide. Major characteristics in the ideas of learning cities can
be summarised as follows.
First, what learning cities have done initially was to set up an administrative
structure, an organisation and professional staff to plan, implement and provide
services. Academic scholars and researchers provided papers to help them conduct
needs assessments, design educational programmes and build networks.
Second, in so doing, lifelong educators, certified experts in lifelong learning
practice, made a large contribution. Learning city was a specialised area of public
policy and programmes supported by these professionals.
Third, the ultimate goal was to create a learning city atmosphere, by not just
providing separate educational programmes, but rather nurturing a whole city
environment where provision and participation are organically interconnected
across the entire social ecosystem of learning, including learning circles and
networks, interlinked with various civil society organisations. However, in many
cities this did not actually happen. While the number of programmes increased, they
did not always lead to change.
As already mentioned earlier, while in Japan the number of municipalities in
2010 that were declared learning cities was just about 5 per cent in total, the
proportion of learning cities in the Republic of Korea in the same year had reached
40 per cent. The question is why there was such a considerable difference between
the two countries. A few possible reasons come to mind. For example, while the
cities in Japan declared themselves as learning cities on a voluntary basis, the cities
in the Republic of Korea were officially designated and financially subsidised by the
Ministry of Education; while Japan already had a long tradition of self-government
in local communities, so that the impact of the learning city programme was
minimal, the Republic of Korea had only just restored local autonomy and elections,
and the learning city programme was very useful in educating residents of cities to
construct local citizenship. In Japan, the tradition of the kominkan had played a key
role in fostering learning communities, long before the learning city initiative had
emerged, while in the Republic of Korea community development in terms of

12
The first three officially recognised learning cities/learning regions in the Republic of Korea were
Gwangmyeng city, Jinan-gun and Yuseong-gu.

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culture, knowledge and civil participation was a rather recent phenomenon.


Building communities with a vision of lifelong learning and a learning society in
the Republic of Korea was, in this sense, well-timed and topical.
Since the main goal was to build communities, social inclusion in programme
provisions was broader than raising employability, despite the programme being
implemented right after the shock of the Asian Financial Crisis. The learning city
was a government instrument to promote local initiative and civil participation, to
increase social inclusion by having marginalised people participate in adult learning
and community activities. Another factor was that there was a social division of
labour between lifelong education programmes and regional human resources
development programmes: The social dimension of integration and inclusion,
community rebuilding and caring for crisis victims was addressed through lifelong
education and learning city programmes, while the policies for raising employability were initiated by regional human resource development programmes.
But the learning cities programme did also help deliver subsidiary educational
qualifications, especially in rural communities. Korean society is by and large a
credential society, where obtaining higher education degrees and certificates, even
in the adult stages, has greater value and merit in breaking barriers towards
obtaining decent jobs. The Lifelong Education Law (MOEHRD 1999) was one of
the education laws aiming to provide various qualifications outside schools and
universities, from basic literacies up to higher education, through the credit bank
system, corporate universities and cyber colleges.13 Education at a Glance,
published by the OECD, shows that in 2010 the percentage of adults (aged 2534
and 5564) in Korea who had attained tertiary education was considerable: 65 per
cent in the 2534 age cohort and 13 per cent in the 5564 age cohort (OECD 2012,
Chart A1.1, p. 26). The learning city was a policy instrument that delivered various
levels of formal education to local adult residents.
Broadly speaking, lifelong learning programmes in the Republic of Korea have
been centrally designed and locally implemented. First, the governmental initiatives
for the programme include the Lifelong Education Law that underpinned the
programme with a legal basis, by stating in Article 15 that the government can
designate and support selected municipalities (cities, districts and counties) as
lifelong learning cities (MOEHRD 1999). Policy guidelines conducted by NILE
provided a comprehensive design and monitoring system, based upon the five-year
General Plan for Lifelong Learning Promotion. However, the learning city
programme is, by its nature, in large part each citys own local business, to cope
with their own problems, based upon their own regulations and financial support.
An immediate consequence of the learning city policy was the increase in adult
education programme provision through public institutions like lifelong learning

13
The credit bank system (CBS) is an open education system which recognises diverse learning
experiences gained not only in school but also out of school. When a student accumulates the necessary
CBS-approved credits, that student can obtain an associate or bachelors degree. Cyber colleges are
institutions offering distance learning courses, a mode of learning which already existed before private
homes had computers, but is now growing exponentially.

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centres,14 libraries and art centres. A survey confirmed that learners participation
rates and time spent at adult education programmes were higher in the participating
cities than other cities (Ko 2009). The adult learning participation rate in Korea has
steadily increased from 26.4 per cent (2008) to 35.6 per cent (2012), which in part
owes much to the sustained programme initiatives of learning cities (ibid.).
The most popular programmes were not for improving vocational skills and
workplace competencies but rather programmes dedicated to liberal arts, culture and
sports. In Ulsan Metropolitan city, 92.6 per cent of adult learners have chosen
liberal arts and culture programmes, which shows a clear distinction from
vocational and skills development programmes in the region (Ulsan Institute for
Lifelong Learning 2013). The preference shown in this phenomenon seems rooted
in the East Asian Confucian tradition, where learning was about human
development and social cultivation based upon Confucian classics, which were
replaced by Western liberal arts subjects when the modern education system had
been implemented. The experience that humanities learning tended to pay off in
higher social positions also motivated people to share a preference for learning in
humanities and cultural arts education, not only in formal education but also in nonformal settings. This feature of the East Asian scene clearly contrasts with the
European competence-based learning city experiences (Han 2013).
A fundamental limitation of the policy, though, is that the total amount of
funding was insufficient to make a significant impact on the learning culture of a
city as a whole. The total budget of the government was extremely small, and the
additional required funding relied on the municipalities. Financial support as well as
learning infrastructure were insufficient to facilitate full implementation of these
ideas. While the ideas were ambitious, the learning city programmes, in reality,
were second-rate.
From learning divide to territorial divide
The Republic of Korea has experienced a cultural change from the monotonous and
mono-layered colours of industrial urban life to the culturally coded full colours of
symbolic identities of post-industrial societies. Material production and lifesupporting mechanisms of a city no longer satisfy residents. The localities
accommodating the various parts of communities have developed their own
distinctive characters, thus revealing their own particular consumption style, living
patterns, ideas and identities. Gangnam Style,15 the famous YouTube song that
swept the whole world last year, satirises how a community is now reshaped by new
cultural codes in contemporary Korea. The hierarchies of living standards between

14
Lifelong learning centres in the Republic of Korea are a kind of local learning centres that deliver adult
education programmes and learning circle platforms. They are established, financed and managed by
local municipalities. Currently 395 lifelong learning centres are operated nationwide (MOEST 2012).
15

Gangnam is the richest district of Seoul, with financial centres and business towns, where the fashion
and lifestyle represent the way in which the rich live. Gangnam Style, a K-pop song with dance moves
by the South Korean musician Psy, sarcastically mocks this way of life. Its YouTube video version, which
was shot in the Gangnam district, reached a record number of downloads in 2012.

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individuals are reflected in the hierarchies between communities: Korean communities are divided between Gangnam versus non-Gangnam.
Historically, education has been perceived as a method to realise democratic,
equal opportunities for those who have been structurally excluded from
participation and life chances. The reality in lifelong learning, however, is quite
the opposite. The haves participate more in learning activities than the have-nots.
Learning has in fact been distributed unequally according to age, jobs, and
regions: Younger generations participate more; college graduates participate more
than those with less education; high-income earners learn more than low-income
earners; urban dwellers have more opportunities than rural residents. Chances are
not even, and this pattern sometimes causes various side-effects. So far, not
enough evidence is available to show whether the learning city programme has
improved this situation.
There is actually reason to suspect that the learning city programmes, run
individually by each municipality, have augmented the discrepancies between rich
cities and poor cities, which are larger than ever. Since the programmes rely
heavily on municipalities financial capabilities and professional expertise, some
towns or communities suffer from lack of expertise and facilities, while others
enjoy a full provision of programmes. Some municipalities in metropolitan cities
have been able to find highly professional lecturers, while most rural cities are
deprived of these chances. For example, Ulsan Metropolitan Citys statistics show
that the number of education programmes in urban districts is twelve times higher
than the number in rural areas (Ulsan Institute for Lifelong Learning 2013).
Learners in some cities have proven capable of participating in higher level
cultural programmes, while others have been less capable. Some high brand
programmes have attained prestige status in some cities, while mediocre copies
exist in other cities.
Considering the full context, the focus of the learning city programme lies in
enlarging the share of public provision and creating a balance between private
public ecosystems, by providing more programmes for the socially deprived which
private provision would not take responsibility for. Public monitoring systems to
re-direct the way in which programmes are provided and participated in are being
set up at central and metropolitan city levels. However, the cultural inequality
between cities cannot be easily removed. While learning cities have created a
public subsidised market for residents, the learning of upper-class citizens is
supplied by high-end private learning programmes with a limited membership,
while the majority of working-class citizens obtain knowledge from mass media
or public adult education provision. Post-industrial cities and communities are
establishing a new map of high-end learning cities, which reflect the differences
of lifestyle and cultural heritage, and are slowly, but significantly, drawing
cultural borders between municipalities, associated with traditional socioeconomic barriers. Some communities in this sense serve as a unit of prestige that
differentiates some residents from others. Learning now defines who the people in
these areas are, privileged by what kinds of lifestyles and cultural codes. The
provision of learning, depending on municipalities, now ranges from premium
class to economy class.

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Lessons from China: self-reliant communities and shequ education


Recently China has written a new chapter in the history of the learning city in a
global sense. Not only the speed of adaptation but also the enormous scale of the
programme are incommensurate with those of other countries. Most of the learning
cities in China were launched in the 2000s. As a pioneer, Shanghai launched in
1999, and Beijing followed in 2001. As Arne Carlsen and Jin Yang stated,
During 20022005, Beijing Municipality participated in the PALLACE
(Promoting Active Lifelong Learning in Australia, Canada, China and Europe)
project Since then, more than 60 cities have set up their goals for
constructing a learning city, that include Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangzhou,
Wuhan, Hangzhou, Jinan, Changzhou, Nanjing and Dalian, to name but a few.
The development of learning cities has become a burgeoning phenomenon in
the whole country (Carlsen and Yang 2013, p. 4).
In a short period of time, the programme has expanded very quickly and
significantly. More than 100 national pilot programmes with 4,000 provincial
initiatives are now changing the picture of city life. Carlsen and Yang give a further
portrait on the current trend:
According to a survey by the Department of Vocational and Adult Education
of the MoE [Ministry of Education], 114 national experimental or pilot
learning communities have been organised in 30 provinces, autonomous
regions and municipalities. The number of pilot learning communities
organised by provincial authorities exceeds 4,000. In Beijing, for example,
every downtown area has established a community education network, led by
community colleges and adult education centres, and 80% of streets have
established community education and learning centres. In the majority of
districts and counties, school teachers were asked to go into communities,
participating in the development of the communities (ibid., p. 4).
Policies, however, are not implemented in a vacuum; they unavoidably come with
social problems and issues. If the problems are urgent, then the policies that follow
are prompt and extensive. So what factor made the learning city programme
implementation so quick and extensive? What really changed urban life in China?
How are the changes structurally interlinked with the emergence of shequ
education?16 We address these questions below.
Metropolitan communities at risk
Since 1978, China has adopted the open door policy. Foreign capital flew into
domestic markets, which propelled a market economy in coastal cities like
Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Beijing. These changes resulted in some key
16
The term shequ designates a sub-district-sized community unit and its administrative branch office,
now reformed into a new kind of community service unit. Shequ education, as we explain in a later
section of this article, is provided in local community culture activity centres.

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social issues: one concerns the regional discrepancies and social inequality between
rural and urban areas, and between coastal cities and inland areas. The other is the
changing nature of the large cities which are managed by the traditional top-down
socialist administrative system. Some kind of a new concept of cities was emerging.
In our view, the Chinese learning city programme was an evolution of a new city
management system to cope with these changes. But before getting into details, we
would like to sketch out some key social changes in larger cities which are mostly
related to the job market mechanism, education competition and increasing social
instability, especially apparent in larger cities.
When Deng Xiaoping resumed the open door policy in 1992, he emphasised the
revolution with productive power. He claimed that socialism needed markets just
as capitalism needed planning. Now markets came to be a core principle along with
socialism, pervasive in everyday lives, and changing the city ecosystem. In the same
year, the government abandoned the states planned job placement policy for
college graduates. To allocate jobs to college graduates had long been an iconic
policy to support the socialist system, since a socialist economy, in principle, cannot
admit the existence of unemployment. The change in this regard was a signal of the
systems fundamental transformation. Now, job allocation was handed over entirely
to labour market competition.
Education, among many instruments, was a key to win the labour market
competition. It once was a faithful social tool that led China to the gates of an
industrial society; it now became a sensitive tool for social mobility. The dramatic
economic development of China over the last twenty years was accompanied by the
expansion of basic education and the peoples desire to access higher education.
While the expansion of education provided a better-trained workforce for economic
development, it now turned into academic credentialism that profoundly changed
the rules of the game. The school certificate was a passport to prestige job markets,
to which individual schools adapted themselves to attain advantages in the
competition (Makino 2006). As a result, increasing numbers of colleges and
universities produced many overqualified college graduates with less job security
(Makino 2010).
Indeed, the previous government policy of planned job allocations for college
graduates had been a useful lever for intervening in school-to-work transition
programmes and for balancing the free labour market competition. After its
abolition in 1992, however, the concept of unemployment did appear in the
national statistics yearbook. The concept of dai ye () or those who are not
employed yet and waiting for governments job allocation was now replaced by
unemployment instead. With the concept of market prevailing in the job
allocation process, the urban life of salaried workers also became market-driven.
Now, cities are operated by the two principles of socialism and market.
Cities in China were gradually experiencing new problems that had never existed
before, for which new kinds of solutions had to be found. Let us give some
examples. Recently two million out of a total six million college graduates failed to
get jobs in a year (Makino 2010). Unemployed college graduates are highly
intelligent and seek jobs in groups, which people call the ant tribe, living in the
outskirts of major cities. Cities like Beijing and Shanghai have some border

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shantytowns where unemployed college graduates live in groups, while dreaming of


finding jobs or opening small offices. Their discontent about their situation, despite
the high amount of investment, often grows to the level of political unrest and
confrontation (Lian 2009).
Not only the younger generations, but also the aged are facing a new phase.
Ageing populations have grown rapidly and the proportion of the elderly in
Shanghai have reached up to 20 per cent, equivalent in average to the proportion of
the aged population in Japan. In the meantime, cities have become full of underskilled and poorly educated workers, who came in from inland areas. The inflow of
domestic immigrants not only made the cities vast in terms of population, but also
too heterogeneous to cohere into a unified entity of a community. The population
officially registered in Shanghai in 2010 was about 14 million, while the actual
population, either registered or not, is estimated to have reached up to 21 million
around 2010. A third of the population in Shanghai is constituted by workers from
inland areas and their families. These cities need to find solutions to handle
increasing discontent, in a balanced mode of socialism and a market economy.
Markets did not simply mean profit-making by supply and demand; rather, they
also required general values, such as service, choice and rationale, all of
which have never existed in former socialist city planning. From our viewpoint, the
introduction of Chinese learning city programmes and the concrete action of shequ
education were the implementation of the new values of a market economy. To put
it differently, it was a city service programme based on citizens choice a whole
new concept that the market economy had influenced. The details will be explained
in the following section.
The shequ and shequ education outlined
To meet these increasing social problems, the Government of China developed two
policy responses. One was the propaganda policy, which shifts the causes of the
problems to the major external factors, threatening the government to remedy the
gap and unequal opportunities. The other was the adaptation of the new community
management policy since the year 2000.
The previous community management system had been based upon direct
supervision by the government agencies located in local communities to manage
community activities (which are called unit activities). But now the units were
replaced by shequ, or sub-district-sized communities, as a residential service agency,
permitting more autonomy and service functions for the residents, who were
encouraged to participate more in community activities. This transition has been
termed from the unit socialism to individual marketism elsewhere (Makino 2006).
Community education (shequ education), associated with the policy of a learning
city, was a key service programme that applied individual market orientation at
community level. The term shequ designates a sub-district community and its office,
which had been a branch of the former administration system, and was now reformed
to be the community service unit. The purpose was to unite residents for welfare
benefits and to stabilise the society. The community [shequ] is expected to enable
residents to participate in learning activities through voluntary services and clubs.

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Shequ education is a two-sided coin. On the one hand, it is the governments


community management tool for increasing social integration by mobilising people
who have prestige and community ownership. It helps increase the collectivity of
local government. On the other hand, people use the available learning opportunities
to develop a sense of ownership in the community and use it as a chance to raise the
quality of life in the community. In this development stream, local governments
changed their identity from being controlling bodies to being service units which
mainly listen to the needs and voices of the residents who actually manage and
evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of the leadership of towns and cities.
The concept of community in this respect vividly demonstrates the reversed
relations between the governing bodies and the people who have more autonomy.
The degree of peoples satisfaction with community services comes as an ultimate
indicator to measure the citys success in administration and management;
consequently the community administration depends upon the voices of residents.
Cultural activities and community education, in this respect, gain more attention in
representing the opinions of residents. It is what the shequ education centres were
established for.
These establishments, called Community Culture Activity Centres, are where
shequ education is provided. They are located in major metropolitan cities and
rich rural towns all over China. Residents participate in diverse learning, pastime
activity and meetings. These centres usually have facilities in independent
buildings, in several locations close in distance to provide one-stop community
administration services. Here is a description of an example of this structure, seen
in Shanghai:
When stepping inside the building, the 1st floor consists of a one-stop service
desk for community administration. The 2nd floor includes a theatre, lecture halls,
internet services, galleries and a cafe. The 3rd floor has a table tennis room, go game
and chess room, fitness centre, health check room and a youth activity room. The
4th floor holds classrooms, computer classrooms, piano practice rooms, art clubs, a
counselling room and a voluntary service room. The 5th floor has a library and elibrary, reading room, a parents and a childrens activity room and a youth library.
The 6th floor includes a painting club, a multimedia classroom, a practice room for
ballet dance and an administrative office.
Educational programmes provided at such centres can be illustrated as follows:
traditional painting, oil painting, knitting, English conversation, calligraphy, choir
singing, Chinese literacy, creative writing class and a computer class (elementary
level, intermediate level etc.). Some activities like fitness classes (including
training, sauna, shower) and internet services (including computer, consulting
service) are offered at a small fee, others are provided with no charge such as the
library services (including more than 100 kinds of magazines and 40,000 books),
and ping-pong. Some drinks are served free of charge. These activities make
everyday life rich and enhance understanding and cooperation among residents.
In sum, community education has two different aspects in Chinese society. First,
it consolidates the status of local government by increasing the communitys role to
ensure social integrity and also strengthens the residents sense of ownership in
community activities. Second, it raises residents self-esteem and gives them an

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incentive for improving their quality of life by participating in various cultural


activities and educational programmes.
The merging of these two different aspects local government and the residents
under a new concept of community represents a clear transformation of the status
and role of local government into a form of service centre that caters to the
customers livelihood and desires. By consequence, the situation turns in the
residents favour so that local governments seek to avoid failing to satisfy the
desires of residents. This reversed relationship between local government and
residents empowers the community to achieve more autonomy from higher-level
bodies in the system of government. As residents strengthen their pivotal role in
community decision making, the community administration provides services more
geared to the desires of residents. Certainly it is interesting to see that cultural
activities and community education are the key aspect which mobilises the peoples
participation and eventually strengthens the administrative autonomy of communities despite their inferior position in the hierarchy of local administrative
structure: city (), borough or district (), community (
).
Communities leverage their fiscal self-reliance in strengthening their autonomy
by attracting donations from local companies. This policy is also welcomed by the
superior borough governments, since it reduces their obligations. Another change in
the mode of administration is that some non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
and non-profit organisations (NPOs) now also participate in the consigned
management of the community centres or other institutions, which has a
considerable influence on the way in which the community is managed and
governed. Although the government still directs communities in principle, the main
characteristics are gradually changed to a sort of social welfare institution combined
with resident organisations like NPOs and NGOs in strengthening communities as
independent organisations for people.

Shequ education: the new edge of Chinas education


By introducing shequ education, Chinese communities have started to move in the
direction of securing local self-direction. Considering that the mismatch between
the top organisations and the bottom ones cannot be avoided in the mixed situation
of socialist politics and the market system, the self-determining capability of the
bottom organisations is crucial in coping with consequent uncertainties. As a
Chinese saying puts it, if there are policies at the top, there are countermeasures at
the bottom [shng yu zhng c, xi yu du c]. It has dual meanings: On the one
hand it shows a situation where the bottom does not follow what the top directs; on
the other hand it can also be understood that the policies from the top can have
practical mismatches to the situations of the bottom, so that the people are
investigating the countermeasures to the policy from the top. Indeed China is such a
vast country that it is hardly possible for all communities to act in a common way,
and local problems are met with local countermeasures. It is for this reason that
community activities and education assume importance in providing fundamentals
for establishing a strong basis of self-reliance in communities.

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So is there hope for a new educational edge in community activities and


community education? Non-formal community educational provision absorbs the
young unemployed and unskilled as well as the retired who need a decent life and
leisure. In these activities, residents share their personal competencies and cultural
collective intelligence to produce a new value system that can lead the community
to create a new vision. In effect, this framework provides a good model for the
learning city in China.

Discussion
The image of a city, in terms of cultural vitality, can be likened to a living organism.
Learning in a city is like breathing in a body: it is a core activity that brings a city to
life. As the French sociologist Emile Durkheim stated, a society is robustly
maintained by human learning and socialisation. Given that a city consists of
people, activities and infrastructure, learning is an indispensable mechanism. In the
same way that a human body is alive with the activities of respiration, digestion
and circulation, a city is alive with various activities, including learning, which
cause a city to be changed, renovated, and always young in adapting to new ways
(Han 2011).
In terms of cultural heritage, learning is brought to the fore, since culture cannot
be built like architecture, but needs to be acquired or learned. Cultural heritage
comprises what humans have learned to understand and reflect in behaviour in lived
experiences. What the cities need is not only museums, libraries and art centres, but
the cultivation of new modes of life that are incessantly learned, un-learned and relearned. In this regard, a learning city is not a simple tool, like a hammer or a
screwdriver, handy to fix something and then put on a shelf again. It is, rather, a
complex social phenomenon that awaits further investigation with scientific
methods of measurement.
In this paper, we have investigated three countries different experiences of a
learning society, community education, and the profiles of the people who
participate in programmes. The three cases of East Asian learning city experiences
show distinctive as well as collective characteristics: Japanese experience shows
that the concept of learning cities needs to incorporate the previous tradition of
learning communities run by the kominkan. With some contrast, Korean learning
city experience shows that it can be ignited by state leadership, allied with active
reformation of individual cities with local autonomy and supporting politics. This
has resulted in a variety of local characteristics of education provision which has in
some cases amplified borders between communities of uneven qualities of
provision. The rapid adaptation of learning city policies in contemporary China
shows new possibilities of developing the learning city as a cultural tool in
managing urban administration and recovering social stability. Four main characteristics can be derived from these cases.
First, the ideas and implementation of Asian learning cities have been triggered
by global circumstances and uncertainties which threatened and dismantled the
traditional social stability and cohesion of each society.

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Second, it was social rather than economic drivers that made the cities cope with
their own circumstances. The policies of learning cities in the East Asian region
have been shaped to meet the challenge of increasing instability. The metaphors of
the knowledge society and personal competency development, major icons of
learning city policies in Europe, have been less obvious than the issues of social
inclusion and community rebuilding.
Third, East Asian learning cities are built based upon a community relations
model which focuses more on activities to heal and stabilise social issues and foster
cultural unity. The Japanese kominkan, in this respect, can be considered a core
learning city programme; the Chinese shequ education contributes to the
empowerment of the autonomy of community groups, and the Korean lifelong
learning centres help local government build social capital among residents.
Fourth, major educational programme provision is mostly non-vocational, such
as liberal arts and cultural learning. Culture and art education with liberal learning
have proven to be the most popular programmes. The autonomous self and
community identity were the key learning outcomes in this vein.
In sum, a city is by nature a place for those who continuously learn. A city is an
accomplishment of civilization that conceptually implies something cultivated
and learned inside. Urban life is possible through letters, symbols and abstract
rules and regulations. Living without knowledge is a kind of basic problem in cities,
and the consequence is proven to be poverty; illiterates do not easily survive city
life.
The recent rediscovery of learning cities in Asian countries, especially in Japan,
the Republic of Korea and China, has restored the value of understanding how a
society reproduces itself in a collective way by virtue of human learning and
education. The history of the Confucian tradition, for example, adds a new
dimension to understanding the East Asian phenomena with roots originating long
before modern times.
The Confucian tradition, in this sense, can be reconsidered as linking the modern
experience to the historical heritage. In the Confucian tradition, learning has been
especially defined as a main social device for weaving the social texture and life of
the people. Learning by its nature was not solely for individuals who learn, but was
also seen to reside in the nature of the social modes and relationships that learning
creates. Early modern Korean cities were built in accordance with the principles of
Confucian Classics. Living is learning to realise the Way of Heaven on earth, where
the principles of living should be learned. This is the role of education.

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The authors
SoongHee Han is a professor of lifelong learning at Seoul National University, Korea. His research has
focused on the theoretical and philosophical construction of a learning society from a perspective of
complex learning ecology. His research projects are mostly conducted in comparative and global
contexts. He is also deeply involved in studies of popular education, critical theories in adult education,
and human rights education in the Korean context.
Atsushi Makino is a professor of lifelong learning in the Graduate School of Education, the University of
Tokyo, Japan. He is one of executive directors of Japan Education Research Association and the Japanese
Society for Studies in Adult and Community Education. He has been involved in reforming the
administrative system and educational system, especially lifelong learning systems in local-level
governments of Japan. He is interested in the development of lifelong learning in the context of Japans
social change and the emergence of the concept of key competences or core competences in the decentralising and diversifying Japanese society.

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