Popular Science Monthly/Volume 80/May 1912/University Education in China




ANY account of modern university education in China must necessarily be prefaced by a brief outline of that ancient system of education which has exerted perhaps the most powerful single influence of any that have made themselves felt in the development of a civilization more ancient than any other that now survives. For the forces which are shaping the new educational ideals have roots that strike down into the old, therefore, some consideration must be devoted to the past if we hope to regard the present with clear eyes.

The year 1902 makes an epoch in the educational history of China, for it was signalized by the promulgation of edicts by the Emperor Kuang Hsü which did away with the ancient educational system and created a modern one in its stead. It need scarcely be added that so radical a change was preceded by a period of preparation and followed by a period of adjustment; this latter indeed can scarcely be said to have yet been outgrown. For it is no light task to recast an educational system so vast that it applied to the students of a nation of 350 million people, and so ancient that the academy which stood at its head has an unbroken history of twelve hundred years.

The ancient educational system of China has been described at length by many well-known writers and it will not be profitable to do more here than-draw attention to some of its salient features and briefly allude to some popular misconceptions regarding it. Lucidity requires brevity of statement, and the latter precludes the conveying of an accurate idea of any phase of oriental life, which is infinitely varied and complex. I shall attempt to adhere to brevity, in the hope that thereby the reader may not be led too far astray. The old official system was not one of education, but of examination; a modern analogue is perhaps seen in the University of the State of New York. The representatives of the official system were not concerned with the means by which the student obtained his education, their duty being to keep the examination standards so high that the number of successful candidates should not be excessive. Successful candidates were eligible for appointment to official positions, which were limited in number. So, emphasis was laid upon the wrong phase, the making difficult of successful achievement, rather than the easy attainment of an adequate education.

Elementary education was imparted to children in their homes by tutors, or in small private schools, seldom exceeding twenty pupils. There were no schools for girls, but a certain number were taught by members of their own family. In China, as in America, much of the teacher's reward had to be obtained from the dignity and honor of his occupation, for the fees generally paid were small. There were no requirements to be met by the teacher; any one might engage in the occupation, neither was any curriculum nor books prescribed, except by tradition. For the first four or five years the child devoted himself to memorizing the classics, learning to recognize and pronounce the characters, but without knowing their meaning, much as if a modern child were required to commit the Iliad to memory without understanding one word of it. Toward the end of the period the child was given a translation of what he had learned, and taught a little writing and easy composition. In this connection I can scarcely do better than quote Père L. Richard:

The whole system labored under serious disadvantages, resulted in a considerable waste of time and had little educational value. The memory and imitative powers were marvelously developed, but the mind was not stored with valuable ideas nor trained in precision and accuracy, and there was an utter lack of originality.

Secondary education comprised the study of Chinese literature, and history, the writing of literary essays and stilted verses. When ready the student might go up for examination. The first examination was held yearly in the prefectural cities (which may be roughly likened to county-seats) throughout the empire. The successful candidates received the degree of hsiu-ts'ai, and were privileged to attend the second examination held every third year in the provincial capitals. The severity of the competition can be judged from the fact that where from twelve to twenty thousand were examined, only about one hundred would pass. These received the degree of chü-jên, and were allowed to attend the examination at Peking, also held once in three years. Here, out of 6,000 candidates about 300 would pass and receive the degree of chin-shih. These degrees are often compared to the B.A., M.A. and Ph.D., but the comparison is totally misleading. The Chinese idea of them is shown by the fact that in the modern system the first degree is given grammar-school graduates, the second to high school graduates, and the third upon the completion of professional courses, such as law or engineering. The criteria were skill in the composition of literary essays, in which adherence to prescribed form was desired rather than originality, and purely mechanical proficiency in writing the characters. It will be seen at once that this was a system of elimination rather than of education, and it is not remarkable that the educational results thus obtained were comparatively barren. Prom this cause, and others too complex to be discussed here, the intellectual life of China remained upon nearly a dead level, while the western world was advancing from medieval ignorance to twentieth-century enlightenment.

The beginning of modern education in China must be ascribed to missionary influence. As soon as the first missionaries had learned something of the Chinese language and civilization they set about teaching those whom they were able to reach something of western knowledge as a necessary preliminary to evangelical work. Thus missionary bodies were sending out educational pseudopodia throughout the nation which could not be without effect in its mental life. The more astute statesmen engaged for their children foreign tutors, some of whom were later prominent in influencing progress, and many young men were sent abroad to study.

But perhaps the most powerful factor in encouraging the introduction of modern education into China was the Chino-Japanese war of 1895. The lesson of that conflict was a plain one, and the meaning was brought home to his countrymen by Chang Chih-tung in his "Chuen Hioh Pien," which, translated into English as "China's Only Hope," is widely known. This epoch-making treatise received the sanction of the emperor and was ordered to be published and circulated throughout the empire. In 1898 the emperor, influenced by Kang Yu-Wei and others, among other radical reforms, ordered the establishment of modern schools in all unused temples. The Empress Dowager's coup d'état followed, and soon after the volcanic upheaval of 1900. The lesson of this, added to that of 1895, was painful but convincing. In 1902 the present educational system was established by imperial decree, and in 1905 the old system was similarly abolished.

Chang Chih-tung had strongly urged the advisability of making use of all that the Japanese had done to adapt western culture to oriental needs, and it naturally followed that the scheme for a national system of education was largely modeled after that of Japan, of which a full discussion by H. Foster Bain may be found in an earlier number of this journal. The system now in force may be briefly summarized as follows:

Primary schools (a five-year course) are to be opened everywhere throughout the empire. Higher primary schools (four-year course) are to be established in the district towns the graduates of these receive the hsiu-ts'ai degree. Middle schools (five-year course) are to be established in prefectural cities. High schools (often called provincial colleges) (a three-year course) are to be opened in every provincial capital, their graduates receive the degree of Chü-jên. A university at Peking completes this scheme, awarding the degree of Chin-shih. Advanced technical schools are apparently not to be included in the university, but are separately established. The courses of study to be followed are largely modeled upon Japanese practise, Chang Chih-tung having been a member of the board which drew up the plan of a national system of education. For example, the course of study prescribed for students of mining is exactly that of the University of Kyoto as given on p. 251 of this Journal for March.

The plan of organization for the Imperial University at Peking, as translated by F. Hawkes Pott, is as follows:

1. Faculty of Classics; 10 courses, among which are: (a) The Book of Changes; (b) The Book of Annals; (c) The Book of Poetry; (d) Spring and Autumn Annals; (e) Rites; (f) Confucian Analects, and the Books of Mencius, with commentaries; (g) Philosophy.
2. Faculty of Jurisprudence; 2 courses: (a) Administration; (b) Legislation.
3. Faculty of Arts; 9 courses: (a) History of China; (b) Universal history; (c) General geography; (d) Geography of China; (e) Geography of England; (f) Geography of France; (g) Geography of Germany; (h) Geography of Russia; (i) Geography of Japan.
4. Faculty of Medicine; 2 courses: (a) Medicine; (b) Pharmacy.
5. Faculty of Science; 6 courses: (a) Mathematics; (b) Astronomy; (c) Physics; (d) Chemistry; (e) Natural history; (f) Geology.
6. Faculty of Agronomy; 4 courses: (a) Agriculture; (b) Chemistry relating to agriculture; (c) Forestry; (d) Veterinary science.
7. Faculty of Engineering; 6 courses: (a) Civil engineering; (b) Mechanical engineering; (c) Electrical engineering; (d) Architecture; (e) Industrial chemistry; (f) Mining engineering and metallurgy.
8. Faculty of Commerce; 3 courses: (a) Banking and insurance; (b) Commerce and transportation; (c) Customs.

All these courses are expected to be covered in 3 years, except medicine and law, for which 4 years is allowed. It is allowable for provinces to establish universities, which must conform to this scheme. At the Pei-Yang University, of Chili Province, the courses 2(a), 7(a), and 7(f) have been organized and in other provinces more or less effective universities have been founded. The University at Peking is still in course of development and I do not know the exact stage reached at the date of writing. It is evident that Faculty 1 and Faculty 3 are sops thrown to the former literati of the old school. The best work under this scheme has been done by the Pei-Yang University, referred to again later, which has for some years had an adequate staff of American professors.

So much for the plan; what of its fulfillment? From the viewpoint of the difficulty of the task it is remarkable that so much has already been done, in the face of so many unfavorable circumstances as have developed. The progress in Chihli province is shown by the following figures, taken from the report of the provincial board of education for 1907. If later reports were at hand they would undoubtedly show a

Total Attendance in Chihli Province

Year Number of
1902 2,000 ———
1903 8,000 6,000
1904 46,254 38,254
1905 88,000 41,746
1906 135,416 47,416
1907 173,352 37,936

Schools in Chihli Province, 1907

Schools Number of
Number of
Number of
University 1 13 98
Provincial college 1 9 205
Industrial and special (middle grade) schools 13 118 1,612
Industrial and special (lower grade) schools 17 40 446
Upper normal schools 2 46 395
Lower normal schools 98 165 3,448
Middle schools 32 157 2,125
Upper primary schools 220 521 10,559
Lower primary schools 8,675 8,969 148,397
Half-day (or night) classes 121 133 2,971
Girls' schools 121 163 2,625

continuous growth. In all fairness it should be noted that, compared with Chihli, the other provinces would make but a sorry showing, though those which have within their borders large treaty ports, such as Hongkong, Shanghai, Hankow, Ningpo, Amoy and Foochow, have also done well, and the remote province of Ssu-ch'uan, especially so, considering its remote geographical position. It will be perceived that support of the new system is almost proportional to acquaintance with the foreigner, and in developing this support the educational work of the missionaries, both protestant and catholic, has had a preponderating influence, though the material rewards derived from the foreigners' superior knowledge are not unperceived and unappreciated.

A false impression may easily be obtained from figures such as these, by inferring that the results accomplished in these schools are comparable to those of similar foreign schools, which is far from true as yet. This results from a number of causes. Perhaps the chief of these is that the control of the national and provincial educational boards has remained largely in the hands of the officials of the old system, who naturally are rather ineffective in putting the new in force. This has already begun to change for the better, and young men who have studied abroad have been appointed to minor positions on the Peking board, as well as to provincial and local boards. Another drawback is the lack of properly qualified teachers—the pay of teachers in the lower schools is naturally small and the demand for educated Chinese in commercial positions so great that in many of the lower schools it is almost a case of the blind leading the blind. This, too, is gradually righting itself as the number of graduates of the new system increase. A third disadvantage is the coordinate of the second; the students entering a school are seldom properly prepared to undertake the work prescribed for them. These early defects of adjustment will gradually be outgrown—rapidly outgrown when the control of educational affairs comes into the hands of really competent officials. The hampering effect of these officials is well seen in the case of the Imperial University of Peking (which must not be confused with Peking University, an American Methodist institution). This has, in some sense, been the outgrowth of the Tung-wên-Kuan, established under the scholarly Dr. W. A. P. Martin many years ago. Like an unsuccessful corporation, it has gone through a series of reorganizations and at last seems firmly established with a large staff of foreign and Chinese professors and, with modern buildings in course of erection, should do effective work.

A marked feature of the situation is that the most effective educational work is now being done by schools that are not a regular part of the system and have, therefore, to some degree at least, escaped official control. The number of such institutions is remarkably great, some of them having been in existence before 1902, and others having sprung up to meet real or fancied special needs since that time. Of these easily the first is the Imperial Pei-Yang University at Tientsin, which was founded by Dr. Charles D. Tenney (who had been tutor to the family of H. E. Li Hung-chang) before 1900 and was reorganized by him in 1902, after its destruction in the Boxer outbreak. This remarkably able man, who is now Chinese Secretary to the American Legation in Peking, also organized the school system of the entire province of Chihli, and it is to his effective work that the great growth of modern education in Chihli shown in the preceding table is largely due. The effective work of the Pei-Yang University has been due to its having been almost free from official control during development, at first under the administration of Dr. Tenney and later under Wang Shoh-lien, an equally able Chinese, who, though educated in England for the naval service, has done the most effective work of any Chinese in the development of the new system. When the national and provincial boards of education are composed of men of this calibre, educational progress will be rapid. Graduation from this institution is recognized by American universities as equivalent to attaining the B.S. degree; it thus enjoys the unique distinction of being the only Chinese institution of learning whose degree (Chin-shih) is recognized abroad. It should be added here that this, and all other schools, can not grant a degree per se; the school devotes itself to the work of instruction; degrees are granted upon examination by an official board created for the purpose. This school is now practically a part of the regular system.

Among other irregular institutions is the Shansi University at Tai-yuen-fu, now under foreign control, but which will soon be turned over to the provincial government. This is doing effective work, as is the Tongshan Engineering College, of which S. S. Yung, a graduate of the University of California, is president. This school is under the control of the Board of Posts and Communications. Kan-Yang College at Shanghai, Nanking University at Nanking, and a host of others make up a list which it would take too long to enumerate, and as the relationships of many of them are somewhat vague it would in many cases be difficult to decide whether a given school were really a part of the regular system or not. Among these are five naval colleges already established, and six additional ones proposed, numerous medical schools, for training surgeons for the army and navy, training school for officials, and other special schools. In many of these, in order to secure students, the tuition, books, and board were not only free, but the students actually received a stipend of a few dollars per month. The instruction in many of the schools was at first of little account, and they were derisively cermed chih fan hsueh t'ang ("eat-food schools"). These also are now much improved in effectiveness, and the ability of Chinese physicians, notably Dr. Wu Lien-teh, formerly vice-director of one of these schools, was conclusively shown in the handling of the outbreak of the plague in northern China in the autumn of 1910.

From this brief review it will be seen that university work in China lies in the future rather than the present, as the most advanced work at present, that of the Pei-Yang University, is little better than of college grade, While this and all the other advanced secondary schools are largely technical in character. University work, in the ordinary sense of the word, is not yet being done, the demand for vocationally trained men being greatest. The difficulties of higher secondary educational work are numerous, among them the necessity of conducting it in some foreign language, usually English. This is not due, as might be at first supposed, to the necessity of employing foreign instructors, but is rather because, for a number of reasons which would require too lengthy explanation, it is not practicable to translate text-books of university grade into Chinese; to teach the students the foreign language being at once easier and better. This is one of the problems of the future; foreign instructors are expensive; the use of foreign language by native instructors will present many difficulties, while those encountered in the preparation of advanced text-books in the" Chinese language are almost insuperable. Another problem is the insurgent spirit of the student body in many institutions. Though a proverb similar to that regarding the teaching of one's grandmother to suck eggs is well known in China, its full force is not always appreciated by the students, though in extenuation of their oftentimes insubordinate conduct it must be admitted that the administration and even the instruction in the new schools is sometimes woefully ineffective. As in Russia, the student body throughout the empire is filled with a revolutionary spirit and tinged with idealism. . But it must not be inferred from this that the outlook is other than hopeful, for to one who realizes the strength of Chinese conservatism the progress already made is tremendous and the possibilities of the future illimitable.

Many will ask why the introduction of modern education in Japan was so much more rapid than in China, a proverbially scholarly nation. The reason is just that in Japan there was no old system to clear away; the nation began with a clean slate and an immense desire to learn, while in China the value of modern education was but tardily recognized and the new had to establish itself in the face of the opposition of the old. Some of the men who have had a prominent part in this have already been mentioned, but I can not forbear to speak of the great body of other Americans who are, far in excess of all other nationalities, taking a prominent part in the present work. Of the educational work under missionary auspices that of the Jesuit fathers was early prominent and is still important. Missionary bodies of every nationality are carrying on important educational work, chiefly primary, though secondary work is not neglected, as the American Methodist Peking University, the American Episcopal St. John's College at Shanghai, the Jesuit College at Sicawei, the English Episcopal Anglo-Chinese College at Tientsin, the Christian College at Canton, the Soochow University, the Union College at Wei-hsien in Shantung, and many others, serve to testify. These, like denominational colleges in America, held a dominant position at first, and like them can not hope to long hold a leading position in a national system of education. In these, as in the secular schools, Americans are most prominent and, paraphrasing the epigram as to the songs of a country, it seems clear that, with American influences predominating in the schools of China, the future development of that country, now in the throes of political readjustment, can not escape being profoundly influenced by American ideals.