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Keywords:

  • China;
  • youth;
  • identity;
  • education;
  • socioeconomic stratification

The term “quality” (suzhi) has become a ubiquitous part of Chinese popular discourses and the focus of Chinese educational campaigns. Amorphous, multivalent, and widely used, the term “high quality” represents a kind of ideal personhood associated with urban modernity. Based on 32 months of participant observation conducted in schools and homes in a Chinese city between 1997 and 2006, this paper examines how and why urban Chinese only-children with various different strengths in morality, cosmopolitanism, and academic attainment chose, defended, and promoted definitions of quality that favored their own strengths.