History of education in China

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History of China
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2100 BCE
Xia dynasty c. 2100 – c. 1600 BCE
Shang dynasty c. 1600 – c. 1046 BCE
Zhou dynasty c. 1045 – 256 BCE
 Western Zhou
 Eastern Zhou
   Spring and Autumn
   Warring States
Qin dynasty 221–206 BCE
Han dynasty 206 BCE – 220 CE
  Western Han
  Xin dynasty
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin dynasty 265–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin Sixteen Kingdoms
Southern and Northern Dynasties
Sui dynasty 581–618
Tang dynasty 618–907
  (Second Zhou 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao dynasty
Song dynasty
  Northern Song W. Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan dynasty 1271–1368
Ming dynasty 1368–1644
Qing dynasty 1644–1911
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic
of China

Republic of
China on Taiwan


The history of education in China began with the birth of Chinese civilization. The nobles often set up the educational establishments for their offspring. Establishment of the civil service examinations (advocated in the Warring States period, originated in Han, founded in Tang) was instrumental in transition from the aristocratic to meritocratic government.

Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties[edit]

The schools to teach the youth nobles were divided into "lower" and upper. The government founded five national schools to educate Six Arts of junior nobles. It depended on the education of the person, not the wealth.

Hundred Schools of Thought[edit]

At that time, numerous different schools enrolled the students. The most famous one was the Confucianism and its leader Confucius was seen as the founder of education for the masses. One of his sayings was "Provide education for all people without discrimination". Another was "Teach according to the student's ability".

The different schools were often organized into political entities to gain social influence. The most strict system of education belonged to Mohists. Rival scholars were invited to courts; governmental sponsorship led to the development of the first Chinese academies. Importance of education and respect to the teachers was stressed in the Annals of Lü Buwei.

Han era[edit]

Emperor Wu of Han favored Confucianism and made it as the national educational doctrine. In 124 BC, The Origins of Statecraft in China was set up to turn out civil servant for the state, which taught the Five Classics of Confucianism. The traditional Chinese attitude towards education followed Mencius's advice that "Those who labor with their minds govern others; those who labor with their strength are governed by others." Students selected to gain a government post upon mastering a classic. By 25 CE, the Taixue had an enrollment of 30,000 students, 7,000 faculty, 240 buildings, and 1,850 rooms. Confucian scholars set up their private schools as well.

Meanwhile art school Pear Garden appeared in early 8th century, and in 1178 national military school was set up.

The First Separation Period[edit]

The Sui and Tang Dynasty[edit]

The Second Separation Period and The Song Dynasty[edit]

The Mongolian Dynasty[edit]

Ming Dynasty[edit]

Early modern period[edit]

Imperial examination began at 605, which required the competitors to pass their local cutting score before the final examination in the capital. So the private school prevailed. White Deer Grotto Academy and Donglin Academy were their models.

The invention of Paper and Movable type greatly boosted the educational industry.

Qing dynasty[edit]

Education during the Qing dynasty was dominated by provincial academies, which did not charge tuition fees and gave stipends to preselected students. They were dedicated to the pursuit of independent study of the classics and literature, rather than preparation for governance, as was the case with imperial academies. Professors rarely lectured students, instead offering advice and criticizing research.[1]

The near total neglect of engineering, mathematics, and other applied science education by the state contributed to a vast gap in military power between China and the European empires, as shown by the First and Second Opium Wars and the Sino–French War amongst others. In response, the Qing embarked on a self-strengthening movement, founding the Tongwen Guan in 1861, which hired foreign teachers to teach European languages, mathematics, astronomy and chemistry. In 1898, Peking University was founded, with a curriculum based on the Japanese system. In 1905, the imperial examinations were abolished.

Republican era[edit]

The New Culture Movement of 1919 was a reaction against the Chinese government's emphasis on technical knowledge, and resulted in a new enthusiasm for theoretical knowledge, but with a focus on Western philosophy rather than Confucianism. Education was mostly decentralized in this period, since China was politically disunited, with Chinese warlords and foreign imperialists, especially the Japanese, occupying significant chunks of Chinese territory.

Regardless of the difficulties China met, several universities were recognized for keeping academic and education excellence during this time period. The so-called Famous four universities were especially well documented during war period, namely the National Central University, the Wuhan University, the Zhejiang University, and the National Southwestern Associated University.[2]

Islamic education[edit]

Jingtang Jiaoyu was a system of Islamic education developed during the Ming dynasty among the Hui, centered around Mosques. The Arabic and Persian language Thirteen Classics were part of the main curriculum.[3] In the madrassas, some Chinese Muslim literature like the Han Kitab were used for educational purposes.[4] Liu Zhi (scholar) wrote texts to help Hui learn Arabic.[5] Persian was the main Islamic foreign language used by Chinese Muslims, followed by Arabic.[6]

Hui Muslim Generals like Ma Fuxiang, Ma Hongkui, and Ma Bufang funded schools or sponsored students studying abroad. Imam Hu Songshan and Ma Linyi were involved in reforming Islamic education inside China.

Muslim Kuomintang officials in the Republic of China government supported the Chengda Teachers Academy, which helped usher in a new era of Islamic education in China, promoting nationalism and Chinese language among Muslims, and fully incorporating them into the main aspects of Chinese society.[7] The Ministry of Education provided funds to the Chinese Islamic National Salvation Federation for Chinese Muslim's education.[8][9] The President of the federation was General Bai Chongxi (Pai Chung-hsi) and the vice president was Tang Kesan (Tang Ko-san).[10] 40 Sino-Arabic primary schools were founded in Ningxia by its Governor Ma Hongkui.[11]

Imam Wang Jingzhai studied at Al-Azhar University in Egypt along with several other Chinese Muslim students, the first Chinese students in modern times to study in the Middle East.[12] Wang recalled his experience teaching at madrassas in the provinces of Henan (Yu), Hebei (Ji), and Shandong (Lu) which were outside of the traditional stronghold of Muslim education in northwest China, and where the living conditions were poorer and the students had a much tougher time than the northwestern students.[13] In 1931 China sent five students to study at Al-Azhar in Egypt, among them was Muhammad Ma Jian and they were the first Chinese to study at Al-Azhar.[14][15][16][17] Na Zhong, a descendant of Nasr al-Din (Yunnan) was another one of the students sent to Al-Azhar in 1931, along with Zhang Ziren, Ma Jian, and Lin Zhongming.[18]

Hui Muslims from the Central Plains (Zhongyuan) differed in their view of women's education than Hui Muslims from the northwestern provinces, with the Hui from the Central Plains provinces like Henan having a history of women's Mosques and religious schooling for women, while Hui women in northwestern provinces were kept in the house. However in northwestern China reformers started bringing female education in the 1920s. In Linxia, Gansu, a secular school for Hui girls was founded by the Muslim warlord Ma Bufang, the school was named Shuada Suqin Wmen's Primary School after his wife Ma Suqin who was also involved in its founding.[19] Hui Muslim refugees fled to northwest China from the central plains after the Japanese invasion of China, where they continued to practice women's education and build women's mosque communities, while women's education was not adopted by the local northwestern Hui Muslims and the two different communities continued to differ in this practice.[20]

General Ma Fuxiang donated funds to promote education for Hui Muslims and help build a class of intellectuals among the Hui and promote the Hui role in developing the nation's strength.[21]

After secondary education is completed, Chinese law then allows students who are willing to embark on religious studies under an Imam.[22]

People's Republic[edit]

After the 1949 Chinese Revolution, the Communist authorities condemned excessive study of the humanities and social sciences, considering them wasteful and deleterious to China's industrialization. The Chinese Academy of Sciences was set up the same year that the Communists came into power. Education was reformed on the Soviet model, and small engineering departments were amalgamated into giant polytechnic institutes, such as Tsinghua University and Tianjin University. Education became highly specialized, with students studying subjects like "railway bridge construction".[1]

Since 1990s the Soviet model was largely abolished in China and many universities expanded or merged with others to provide more comprehensive education than specialized technical training.[23][24]

See also[edit]


References and further reading[edit]

General Studies
  • Suzanne Pepper, Radicalism and Education Reform in 20th-Century China: The Search for an Ideal Development Model (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996). History of social and political reform using schools.
  • John F. Cleverley, The Schooling of China: Tradition and Modernity in Chinese Education (North Sydney, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin; 2nd, 1991)
Traditional China
  • Benjamin A. Elman,Alexander Woodside, eds., Education and Society in Late Imperial China, 1600-1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). Scholarly articles.
  • Thomas H. C. Lee, Education in Traditional China: A History (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2000) Google Books view on WorldCat ISBN 90-04-10363-5.
  • Martin, William Alexander Parsons (1898). The Chinese: Their education, philosophy and letters. Fleming H. Revell Co. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  • Evelyn Sakakida Rawski, Education and Popular Literacy in Ch'ing China (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1979). Shows that rates of literacy in the Qing dynasty were far higher than had been thought.
Modernization and Westernization, 1860-1949
  • Charles W. Hayford, "Literacy Movements in Modern China," in Harvey Graff and Robert Arnove, ed., Literacy Movements in Historical Perspective (New York; London, 1987), 147-171
  • Ruth Hayhoe Marianne Bastid, China's Education and the Industrialized World: Studies in Cultural Transfer (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1987).
  • Ruth Hayhoe, Education and Modernization: The Chinese Experience (Oxford; New York: Pergamon Press; 1st, 1992)
  • Hayhoe, Ruth (1995). China's Universities, 1895-1995: A Century of Cultural Conflict. Routledge. ISBN 1135582149. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  • Lee, Yan Phou (1887). When I was a Boy in China. D. Lothrop Company. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  • Jessie Gregory Lutz, China and the Christian Colleges, 1850-1950 (Ithaca,: Cornell University Press, 1971). The growth and influence of thirteen colleges founded by Protestant missionaries.
  • Suzanne Pepper, Radicalism and Education Reform in 20th-Century China: The Search for an Ideal Development Model (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • James Riordan, Robin Jones. Sport and Physical Education in China (London ; New York: E & FN Spon, 1999).
Educational Exchange
  • Cheng Li, Bridging Minds across the Pacific: U.S.-China Educational Exchanges, 1978-2003 (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005)
  • Hongshan Li, U.S. - China Educational Exchange: State, Society, and Intercultural Relations, 1905-1950 (Piscataway: Rutgers University Press, 2007).
  • Edward J.M. Rhoads, Stepping Forth into the World the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872-81. (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Univ Pr, 2011). In depth study of the Chinese Educational Mission led by Yung Wing.
  • The World's Chinese Students' Journal, Volume 2. Contributor World's Chinese Students' Federation. World's Chinese Students' Federation. 1907. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
The People’s Republic, 1949-
  • Howard Gardner, To Open Minds: Chinese Clues to the Dilemma of Contemporary American Education (New York: Basic Books, 1989). The observations of a leading American educationist who visited China in the 1980s and ascribed the effectiveness of Chinese education to underlying cultural attitudes and political choices.
  • Emily Hannum and Albert Par, eds.,. Education and Reform in China. London ; New York: Routledge, Critical Asian Scholarship, 2007. xx, 282 p.p. ISBN 0-415-77095-5 Google Book view on WorldCat. Comprehensive collection of articles on finance and access under reform; schools, teachers, literacy, and educational quality under market reforms after the death of Mao in 1976.
  • Shi Ming Hu Eli Seifman, eds. Toward a New World Outlook: A Documentary History of Education in the People's Republic of China, 1949-1976 (New York: AMS Press, 1976)
  • Xiufang Wang. Education in China since 1976. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2003. ISBN 0-7864-1394-8. ISBN 978-0-7864-1394-2. Google Book view on WorldCat
  • Xiulan Zhang, ed.,. China's Education Development and Policy, 1978-2008. Leiden; Boston: Brill, Social Scientific Studies in Reform Era China, 2011. xix, 480 pp. ISBN 978-90-04-18815-0 Google Book view on WorldCat Translations of articles by specialists in the PRC on policy making; early childhood education; basic education; special education; vocational education; ethnic minority education; private education.
  • Ruth Hayhoe, China's Universities and the Open Door (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1989)
  • Julia Kwong, Chinese Education in Transition: Prelude to the Cultural Revolution (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1979)
  • Heidi A. Ross, China Learns English: Language Teaching and Social Change in the People's Republic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993)
  • Jonathan Unger, Education under Mao: Class and Competition in Canton Schools, 1960-1980 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982)
  • Jing Lin, Education in Post-Mao China (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1993)
  • Chinese Education M.E. Sharpe. A journal of translations from Chinese sources.