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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Popular education in China 1904-1919 : new ideas and developments Bailey, Paul John


This study is an analysis of changing attitudes towards education in China from the turn of the twentieth century to the May Fourth Movement in 1919. The focus is primarily on popular education (e.g., public lectures, spare-time schools, libraries), although there is discussion of education in general, since an overall context is required in order to highlight changes of attitudes. With the abolition of the traditional civil service examinations, which had been designed to recruit government officials, in 1905 and the implementation of a modern, government school system designed to train a patriotic, loyal and hard-working citizenry, Chinese officials and educators began to stress the importance of general and popular education. In contrast to previous English-language studies that have tended to emphasize the "democratic" aspect of western educational influence on China (especially with relation to the philosophy of John Dewey), this study will seek to show that Chinese educators were attracted to quite different aspects of western educational practice. With regard to the formal school system, Chinese educators praised the centralisation, uniformity, discipline, strict supervision of textbooks and inculcation of patriotic ideals which characterized education in the West. Popular, or social, education, which "reformed" the lower classes by emphasizing hard work, patriotism and public hygiene, was also seen as an important factor explaining the strength of Japan and the West. There was much discussion, for example, of censorship in the West as a useful tool to "reform" popular culture and hence improve the quality of the people. Another development after 1905 was the change in attitudes towards vocational education. Chinese educators, in fact, argued for a closer link between education and economic development. In order to compete in the international arena, they argued, education had to train people who could "earn a livelihood," thus benefitting themselves and the country. The promotion of vocational education was also accompanied by changes in attitudes towards manual labour. Such a trend was fully evident in the work-study movement, which was promoted among Chinese workers and students in France. Another feature of discussions on popular education during these years was the idea that formal school education was not fulfilling its required task, that of training a united and patriotic citizenry. Schools were criticized for fostering elitism, division and individualism. Thus it was hoped that public lectures, for example, would stress the virtues of cooperation, unity and concern for the public good. The work-study movement was designed, amongst other things, to break down the traditional social barrier between intellectuals and workers. This study also helps to place educational debate in China during these years within a wider context—in two ways. Firstly, reference is made to educational debates in the West which were often very similar to the discussions being carried out in China. The debate on vocational versus a humanist education, for example, which raged in Germany at the turn of the century was occurring in China at the same time. In other features of Chinese educational practice at this time, such as the elimination of the Confucian Classics from the primary and middle school curricula and the overriding importance Chinese educators placed on a single-track system in order to preserve a certain egalitarianism in education, China was in advance of countries such as England or France. Secondly, this study will show that the issues debated in China at this time were to have a crucial relevance for educational debates in post-49 China. Such issues included the relative merits of a well-structured, formal school system versus a wider network of less well-equipped spare-time schools, and the importance of intellectuals participating in manual labour. The primary sources used in this study comprise contemporary educational journals, the writings of educators at the time, and educational laws and regulations. In 1909 the first Chinese journal specifically devoted to education—"The Educational Review" (Jiaoyu Zazhi)—was published. During the early years of the Republic, a number of journals on education appeared, most of them only lasting a few years. Such journals contained essays on educational topics, the texts of educational laws and regulations and educational news from individual provinces. These journals, in addition to the 5-volume and 4-volume collections of documents on education edited by Taga Akigoro and Shu Xincheng respectively have proved indispensable to this study.

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