The New Education in China

IN the past, the entire fabric of Chinese society has rested upon classical authority. Intellectual life was circumscribed by the belief that everything worth knowing had been reasoned out and settled by the ancients. Social custom was determined by the precepts of the sages, and political preferment came to those who had best mastered the classical lore. There had been created, in Chinese education, a unifying psychological force, which in itself was the bond that held the empire together by assimilating the various elements in its population. In the conduct and destiny of the Chinese nation, educational matters therefore had an importance far transcending the life of the schools. Accordingly, a change of system is by no means a matter of pure pedagogics, but it involves such fundamental permutations of social and political conduct. that, among all the changes progressing and impending in the Middle Kingdom, this reform of education is the most significant and far-reaching.

Those who knew China best were most apprehensive as to the difficulties which would attend any attempt to dislodge a system so long established, and so intimately connected with the power of officialdom. As late as 1898, the events of that turbulent epoch seemed to render hopeless any attempt at reform from within. The repeated humiliation of Chinese pride during the last decade has, however, brought about most suddenly a sweeping movement of change, supported by the common feeling among all thinking Chinamen that only a thorough renaissance of national life can save the country from continual inroads and humiliations. Nor can China take her time. She must become strong in a hurry. So, with all the retarding weight of tradition, with popular distrust and impatience, with official intrigues and counter-intrigues, with diplomatic embarrassment, the Chinese are still forging ahead in the work of reconstruction. Even the distant spectator cannot but be filled with concern when he realizes the risks to which the Chinese people are now subject. They are seeking a forward way, a road out of the stagnation into which their national life has fallen; but whether they will be able to accomplish this escape from the fetters of tradition without bloody sacrifice, is a question the answer to which the future still holds.

Changes in the educational system of China have been attempted before, notably in 1898; but the conservatism of the official classes has always succeeded in defeating any plan of thoroughgoing reform. After the Boxer troubles, however, even they could no longer escape the conclusion that changes were necessary, if China were to resist the inroads of foreign powers. A commission, appointed in 1904 to study the educational situation. submitted a complete plan for a national public-school system. Receiving the sanction of the imperial government, this plan became the authorized programme for educational changes throughout the empire. In September, 1905, an edict was issued which abolished the customs of two thousand years. The old literary examinations, by which men had obtained the right to official appointments, were entirely discontinued, and there were substituted for them examinations in which subjects of modern learning were given a prominent place. In December, 1905, the importance of educational matters was further recognized by the creation of a National Board of Education, charged with the duty of superintending the enforcement, of the imperial decrees on educational matters.

The two essential elements in the Chinese reform are the creation of a public-school system, and the introduction of Western subjects of study. Under the old régime, schools were almost entirely supported by private enterprise. Neighborhood school associations provided for elementary teaching, while in the larger towns educational bodies or officials backed the higher schools. The ambitious plan worked out and submitted by Chang Chih Tung, Pao Hsi, and their associates, provides for a complete system of educational institutions modeled upon those of Japan, which, in turn, were inspired chiefly by the educational practice of the United States and Germany. There is to be a kindergarten, followed by a lower and an upper primary school, with courses occupying five and four years respectively, in which the subjects taught are reading, history, mathematics, geography, elementary science, and gymnastics. It is the purpose of the law that every larger village shall have its primary school, and that there shall be at least one of these institutions for every four hundred families. Every district town is to have a higher primary school. The next grade in the educational system is the intermediate school, which would correspond roughly to the American high school or academy. There is to be at least one in each prefecture. In addition to a more advanced pursuit of the studies mentioned above, the study of foreign languages is also required in these institutions. Each provincial capital is to be supplied with a college, while the copingstone of the whole system is the University of Peking, with which universities in other important centres may be associated. The University of Peking is supplied with eight faculties and forty-six departments. Admission from lower schools to those of a higher grade will be obtained on the basis of strict examinations.

In addition to the schools enumerated, there have also been established a large number of agricultural and technical institutions of various grades, from the farming school, to which graduates of the primary school are admitted, to the technical colleges, which require a much longer preparation on the part of the students. There are also normal schools, and special schools for law and political science. The latter are intended especially for the supplementary training of government officials. The national board dealing with educational matters is under the headship of Jung Ching, a progressive Manchu official. The scope of its functions may be implied from the bureaus into which it is divided, namely, professional status, general affairs, secondary studies, technology, editing, investigation, and councilors. The board is assisted by over one hundred and eighty attachés, representing the learning of the Chinese classics, as well as that of Japan and of the West. Among them are a number of prominent specialists. The bureau of editing requires the largest staff, as it is intrusted with the work of translating and publishing foreign works suitable for purposes of instruction, as well as with the direct preparation of Chinese textbooks.

The imperial decree enjoins upon all viceroys, governors, and prefects the utmost diligence in the rapid building-up of the educational system in all its parts. Its realization, however, of course still depends upon the individual initiative and energy of governors and local officials. On account of the varying local conditions. considerable latitude must be allowed to these men — a broad discretion as to the specific methods which will be most conducive toward the realization of the general scheme. H. E. Yuan Shi Kai has given evidence of his serious purpose, in an ordinance issued in 1907 with respect to education. He makes very specific numerical requirements as to schools. In each provincial capital there are to be at least 100 primary schools with 5000 pupils. In each district, there shall be forty such schools, with at least 2000 pupils, and in each village at least one with an attendance of forty. The viceroy contemplates the requirement of compulsory education for a period of at least two years for all children. Together with H. E. Tuan Fang, and Chang Chih Tung, he has memorialized the throne to make primary education compulsory throughout the empire. The plan outlined above, as may be imagined, looms much larger on paper than in actual execution, and there is a long distance which still must be traveled before the system of Chinese education really becomes general and serviceable to all parts of the population.

When the Chinese government had issued its radical decrees on education, the spirit of the past seems to have loomed up before it in a threatening manner. To appease the national ancestors, almost divine honors were bestowed upon the great teacher Confucius. It was also decided that a Confucian University should be established at the birthplace of the sage, in the province of Shantung. Here the classic learning is to be preserved in all its purity. The present representative of the family of Confucius, the “ Holy Duke ” Yen, a descendant of the great teacher in the seventy-sixth generation, presented himself before the empress and emperor to render thanks for the great distinction bestowed upon his family. Being evidently touched with modern views, he proposed that, while the place of honor should be given to Confucian studies, the new university should also not neglect such branches as political and social science, foreign language, and other Western studies. This testimony to the importance of Western studies, coming from such a source, had a great influence upon the conservatives of China. Having become interested in education, Duke Yen Sheng memorialized the throne concerning four points: first, the character and behavior of students shall be carefully looked after; second, the color of the cloth used for drill shall be made uniform; third, teachers shall be selected from amongst persons who are of serious character; fourth, teachers shall be over forty years of age. By imperial order, the board of education has transmitted these views to all provincial authorities. With such wisdom to guide them, how can the Chinese go astray ?

One of the greatest difficulties occasioned by the new system of education lies in the heavy expense which it entails. Buildings have to be secured and furnished, teaching materials and text-books provided, and teachers of sufficient acquirements employed. The old-style teacher of the Chinese village school was satisfied with a paltry income, — some thirty or forty dollars, silver, a year, — supplemented as it was by kindly attentions from the neighbors. Men who are to teach the new branches expect a much larger salary; in fact, they demand many times as much as the old reading masters. The financing of the new system has consequently been a matter of extreme difficulty. In many localities, the question of securing a building equipment was solved by turning ancient Buddhist temples and monasteries into schools, and using pious funds for the purchase of maps, books, chairs, and desks. The Buddhist monks were not always willing benefactors of the public; in fact, they began to make frequent use of the subterfuge of transferring their property to Japanese Buddhists, in order to obtain diplomatic protection. The threatened increase of Japanese influence led the government to abandon the further conversion of Buddhist temples, except in cases where some sort of agreement could be arrived at with the bonzes.

Private munificence has been strongly appealed to by the officials. A person endowing a certain number of schools will be given the title of a Chairman of the Gentry, especially generous gifts are acknowledged by the Emperor in person. The public system has, of course, not superseded the system of private schools. The latter flourish and increase in number by the side of those established by authority of the government. It has also been proposed that the moneys heretofore spent in processions, in certain commemorative exercises and comedies, be applied to the more useful purpose of furthering the educational cause. The main source of funds for educational purposes should, of course, be general taxation. But on account, of the inflexibility of the Chinese revenue system, local officials often find it difficult to raise the additional income required to meet the new expenses. Some special sources have from time to time been utilized, such as the sale of public property, or the indemnity funds remitted by the United States.

The financial administration of the schools has not escaped suspicion; in fact, it has incurred much criticism on the part of the public press. Such statements as the following (from the Shen-Chow-JihPao, or National Herald) are often encountered : —

“ When we first heard of the new schools, we believed that they embodied a healthy desire and honest wish to benefit the educational system. It was indeed a matter of remark that the notables and literati, who had hitherto considered the old schools as unexcelled, had over night become enthusiastic supporters of the new system. The cause of their sudden change appears more clearly at present. A look at the modern schools shows that they were founded chiefly through a desire for gain. The notables have become school managers. The funds intrusted to them they embezzle. For teachers, pupils, and objects of instruction they care not. In their hearts they are still followers of the old system.”

While this view is undoubtedly too cynical, if nevertheless indicates the difficulties in the road to reform, so long as official misuse of funds is not checked by an adequate system of accounting. The educational system itself suffers most from the scarcity of properly qualified teachers. The schoolmaster of the old type could at least scan the lines of the classics, but those who pretend a knowledge of modern branches have often acquired only a most superficial smattering from some Japanese instructor, who himself may have dipped from secondhand sources. In many localities, the entire spirit of the schools leaves much to be desired. The teachers themselves are prone to strike if their pay is not sufficient. Disputes between pupils and teachers are common. Should an unpopular teacher not be dismissed, a boycott is organized by the pupils, and they often go to the length of leaving the school in a body. Frequently they seem to carry their point to the extent that, in some localities, all discipline has been subverted; and students have gone so far as to dictate to the teachers what they want to be taught. The teachers sometimes have much to suffer from an obstinate insistence on the part of the students to do things in their own way. A custom once established will be adhered to with a stubbornness which can be described only as “ pigheadedness.”

News items like the following are common in the Chinese journals: —

Yangchow, 14th June, 1907. There are troubles in the middle school at Yangchow, caused by disagreement as to the amount of the teachers’ pay. The teachers have all resigned;” or —

Hankow, 13th May, 1907. Owing to a conflict between teachers and students in the middle school of Lin-haihsien, the latter have left the school.”

Under all these circumstances, it is not surprising that the attitude of the man in the street toward the schools is not always enthusiastic. The schoolboys parading about in their new uniforms are apt to be arrogant, and offend the susceptibilities of the people they meet. The new taxes imposed by the mandarins are burdensome to many. A system which seems to be utilizing the contributions of all for the benefit of a comparatively small number is easily made the object of popular opposition, especially when feelings have been embittered through petty bickerings. So, in some localities, the buildings occupied by the new schools have been torn down, and public violence has been aroused by any effort to develop the new system. But these are only difficulties and troubles which could naturally be foreseen when a reform of such reach and importance was undertaken.

In the majority of Chinese towns, however, the public feeling is of a quite different kind. Great things are expected of the new education. A new and strong national spirit has arisen from the many ills that threaten China. The new system is certainly given an eager reception by the young students themselves; it is so superior to the old in interest and in freedom from tedious tasks of memory work. They are especially fond of their uniforms, which mark them as young soldiers in the national army. Though the system was introduced at first against the will of the literati, they did not seriously oppose it, but soon came to acknowledge that the new education is necessary to China. It was supposed that there would be bitter opposition on the part of the teachers of the old school, who would be in danger of losing their livelihood. The result happily does not bear out these anticipations. Such subjects as Chinese literature, natural history, and philosophy, still offer a large field of activity to the old type of teachers, provided that they have put themselves in touch with modern ideas on their subjects through reading a few Western treatises. The zeal of the older teachers in trying to catch up with the foreign-trained men is at times almost pathetic. In most towns a “teachers’ discussion class ” has been organized. These classes were established by the initiative of the teachers themselves, in order that they might acquire the knowledge necessary for elementary instruction in the new branches. With great eagerness these men, varying in age from thirty to fifty-five years, will follow the instruction given by some youngster in the early twenties who has been fortunate enough to have had a course in Japan or the West. While the necessary superficiality of such a system must be deplored, the mere fact of this instruction being so eagerly sought by the teachers is the best proof that the old order, recognizing its inevitable fate, has abandoned the hope of regaining its former supremacy and is hurrying to adapt itself to the new conditions.

This enthusiasm also finds expression in great individual sacrifices, and even in martyrdom. Private gifts are made in large numbers, even without the solicitation of officials or the hope of rewards. Within the last few years, it has frequently happened that some person desirous of founding a school, and lacking the means to do so, has in truly Oriental fashion appealed to his or her townsmen by committing suicide, after writing out a touching request for aid in the new cause. A Tartar lady at Hankow who had founded a school for girls was unable to secure sufficient money for carrying on the work of the institution. In order to secure her object, she determined to commit suicide. In her farewell letter, she stated that she felt the need of the school so much that she would sacrifice her own life and thus impress the need upon those who were able to give money. Her act had the result desired, as after her death money came flowing in from many sources. In most cases, fortunately, the appeals for assistance are successful without going to such extremes. Thus, the wife of a district magistrate in Honan, having decided to establish a school for girls, wrote a circular setting forth that a girl, if uneducated, brings six kinds of injury to herself and three kinds to her relatives. The subtlety of her arguments fascinated the city folk, and sufficient funds for her purpose were soon provided.

The introduction of female education, which militates against the most deepseated prejudices of the Chinese race, has called for greater personal sacrifices than any other part of educational reform. Some powerful patrons have indeed arisen. H. E. Tuan Fang urged the importance of this reform upon the empress herself, with the result that, before her death, the great lady established a school for female education in the capital. Educated women are making a strong plea for the education of their sisters. Dr. King Ya Mei, herself educated in the West, points out that those who lament the superficial nature of the present reforms forget that “ half the nation, whose special function it is to put into practice the ideas governing the world in which she lives, has not yet been touched; that the strong impressions of childhood are the lasting ones, and that man is but an embodiment of the ideas of the mother.” But in the case of female education, it is not primarily the provision of funds that causes difficulties. The desire of women to share in the advantages of education is of itself looked upon by the majority of the Chinese as scandalous and not at all to be encouraged. Many heartrending tragedies have been brought about by insoluble conflicts of duty toward the old and the new. A short time ago, in an interior village in Kiang Su, a woman, ambitious to become educated, killed herself after bad treatment from her husband’s relatives. Her farewell letter was everywhere copied by the Chinese press. It has become a national document, and almost a charter of the new movement. In it occur the following sentences : —

“ I am about to die to-day because my husband’s parents, having found great fault with me for having unbound my feet, and declaring that I have been diffusing such an evil influence as to have injured the reputations of my ancestors, have determined to put me to death. Maintaining that they will be severely censured by their relatives, once I enter a school and receive instruction, they have been trying hard to deprive me of life, in order, as they say, to stop beforehand all the troubles that I may cause. At first they intended to starve me, but now they compel me to commit suicide by taking poison. I do not fear death at all, but how can I part from my children who are so young ? Indeed, there should be no sympathy for me, but the mere thought of the destruction of my ideals and of my young children, who will without doubt be compelled to live in the old way, makes my heart almost break.”

The blood of such martyrs is beginning to make its impression upon the Chinese people, and is turning them to favor more liberal popular customs. A nation in which a spirit of such ruthless self-sacrifice is still so common may bring forth things that will astonish the world. It has been said that “ China contains materials for a revolution, if she should start one, to which the horrors of the French Revolution would be a mere squib; ” but if turned into different channels, this spirit of self-sacrifice may, as it did in the case of Japan, bring about a quick regeneration of national life and national prestige, through the establishment of new institutions, that correspond to the currents of life thus striving to assert themselves.

The external organization of the Chinese educational system, important as it is, is but half the battle. In the struggle for a national renaissance, these forms will be of small advantage if the true spirit of modern scientific study is lacking. There is indeed a great amount of curiosity among the Chinese, such as inspired the Japanese when they were first confronted with Western civilization in all its prowess and varied interest. The youth of China are most eager to learn, but the direction given to their efforts has not always been judicious. The movement is too tremendous in scope to have reached perfection in detail. Many of the students see in Western learning an open sesame to wealth, a smooth highway to position and honors. Indeed, in the first educational edict, the government was careful to caution teachers and students not to look on education as the pathway to honor, rank, and preferment, but rather as a means of bringing strength to their country. But the idea which this edict gives of the spirit of the new education is itself very vague. It states the objects to be, “ loyalty to the Confucian spirit, public-mindedness, bravery, and truth.” Such general ideals are compatible with many different interpretations, and thus the all-important question will be, To whom will fall the privilege of guiding China in the paths of the new learning ? The prestige acquired by Japan through her successes in the last war gave her people for a time a decided ascendency of intellectual leadership in China. As a Hindoo writer has expressed it: “ Since Japan inflicted upon Russia a signal defeat, the entire Orient is pulsating with a new life. All Asia seems to be vibrant to follow in the wake of Japan.”

While the war was in progress, Buddhist monks from Japan were carrying on a propaganda for a revival of their religion in China, and Japanese teachers poured into the provinces of the empire in great numbers. Though there were among them many of insufficient training, they still acted as a vanguard of progress and education, and were eagerly received by the progressive young China. Thousands of Chinese students, moreover, went to Japan for study. The movement was fostered on the part of Japan by such associations as the Toa Dobunkai (“ Society of the countries having the same script ”) who favored a strong educational propaganda. But in the end, the military success of Japan in Manchuria was somewhat too great not to fill the Chinese themselves with misgivings as to their own political safety. These fears have been accentuated through the manner in which the Japanese have maintained their foothold in Manchuria, through the treaties between Japan and various European powers by which they mutually guarantee their interests, and through the action of Japan in the Tatsu Maru incident. A certain conflict of interests could not be concealed, and the nationalist feeling of China was directed against any further expansion of Japanese influence in that empire. China is at present not turning to any particular nation for guidance, but is seeking, as did Japan thirty years ago, to learn the best methods wherever they may be found.

A great technical difficulty which confronts the workers in the cause of education and scientific reform lies in the character of Chinese literary expression. The classical written language which has been taught in the schools from time immemorial is less of a living vernacular in China than Latin is with us. The spoken language is divided into numerous dialects, with extreme varieties of expression and of pronunciation. According to the educational decree of the government, an effort is to be made to give all instruction in the public schools in the so-called Mandarin dialect, that is, the dialect spoken in most of the interior provinces of China. If in this manner the adoption of a universal spoken language can be brought about, the new educational system will have subserved a very important purpose towards the creation of political unity. But another serious difficulty lies in the translation of scientific terms. The Chinese literary language, being concise in the extreme and subject to much misunderstanding in its spoken form, is as yet an imperfect vehicle for the purpose of imparting accurate scientific ideas, though its potential efficiency is great. Dr. Yen Fu has performed a heroic intellectual task by creating for himself an entire code of philosophical expressions in his translations of Spencer and Huxley. But so far there is little uniformity in such usage; every writer does as best he can, and much confusion and uncertainty of thought results. In order to avoid misunderstanding, Chinese writers often add the foreign term to the expression into which they have translated it in their works. But the genius of the Chinese language is opposed to the introduction of foreign words, and a way must be found, even at the cost of immense intellectual labor, of developing a concise and accurate technical vocabulary in the various sciences.

In providing educational materials, the Japanese and the Germans have been most active. Tons of schoolbooks, histories, geographies, and scientific apparatus have been prepared by the Japanese for the Chinese market. The German government recently fitted out a traveling exhibition of school supplies, such as maps, models, chairs, scientific instruments, etc., which was sent through the provinces of China, and which everywhere excited the interest of persons engaged in education. It is hardly necessary to say anything about the importance, to any nation, of leadership in the matter of Chinese scientific training. No civilizing aim of wider bearing can be subserved at the present time by any country than to attract Chinese students and to give them a thorough training in scientific methods of investigation; nor will the country that accomplishes this task lack a liberal recompense in the way of cultural and ethical influence of a thoroughly legitimate kind.

When we consider the entire educational movement in contemporary China, we are forced to admit that, with all the daring innovations that have been made, the great battle is yet to come. The first enthusiasm must be turned into the sustained energy of daily effort on the part of millions of students and hundreds of thousands of instructors. The substitution of the attitude of scientific work for the old literary amateurism cannot be the matter of a few years. For a long time, China will have to suffer from the ravages of pseudo-science. A distinctive and promising feature of the “ young China ” spirit is the emphasis of scientific and historical training. But while the prime desideratum ought to be rigid training in scientific methods of observation, yet, in the selection of courses, the cultural subjects should not be entirely neglected in favor of the branches which, on the surface, are more practical. One of the greatest friends of Chinese education, Mr. Tong Kai Son, has expressed regret that so many of the men going to the West are intent upon technical subjects alone. There is so great a need in China for transmitters of modern culture, for true national teachers who have mastered the philosophy and history of the West, and who can combat the superficial conclusions of immature minds. The attitude of the government itself is more favorable to purely technical studies, like engineering, physical science, and jurisprudence. So it may be that the larger number of students who are sent abroad through government assistance will continue to devote themselves to those subjects, and that the more general cultural branches will be pursued more generally by those who provide their own means and who therefore, in many instances, will not get farther than Japan. This would seem to indicate that in the general interpretation of cultural and philosophical ideas, Japan will continue to hold a prominent position in the Orient.