Education in Traditional China: A History

Education in Traditional China: A History

Education in Traditional China: A History

Education in Traditional China: A History


This is the first comprehensive study in English on the social, institutional and intellectual aspects of traditional Chinese education. The book introduces the Confucian ideal of studying for ones own sake, but argues that various intellectual traditions combined to create Chinas educational legacy. The book studies the development of schools and the examination system, the interaction between state, society and education, and the vicissitudes of the private academies. It examines family education, life of intellectuals, and the conventions of intellectual discourse. It also discusses the formation of the tradition of classical learning, and presents the first detailed account of student movements in traditional China, with an extensive bibliography. While a general survey, this book includes various new ideas and inquiries. It concludes with a critical evaluation of Chinas rich educational experiences.


Nobody disputes the fact that education occupied a central place in Confucian teaching and in China's intellectual history. Confucius' Analects starts with the word hsüeh that is best rendered into English as “learning.” Anyone who wishes to understand Chinese history cannot do so without first possessing an understanding of Chinese education. However, until today there has not been a comprehensive history in English of Chinese education, even though many general history works provide basic information about Confucian education.

It was a happy accident that I began my career as a historian by choosing to write on Sung education, although my training went back to earlier days when I studied with Cho-yun Hsu at National Taiwan University. If this book constantly refers to the social context of education, it is because I have since those days, more than thirty years ago, believed that all developments in history are intimately related and intertwined with the vicissitudes of social change.

It is exactly thirty years to this week that I arrived at Yale University to begin wrok with the late Arthur F. Wright. This was a time when the modernization theory was the rage, and Mr. Wright believed that Confucianism was the ultimate reason for China's failure to become a modern nation. I took up the challenge of looking into Neo-Confucian education to demonstrate how that education explained the uniqueness of the Chinese civilization preferring to take on a different course of development.

This was a time of extraordinary excitement for me as a young graduate student and the fact was palpable that China was failing miserably in becoming a modern country, in stark contrast to Japan. The prevailing belief among the intellectuals in Taiwan at the time did not much help in dispelling the myth that Confucianism was fundamentally responsible for this failure. My venture into the education of the Sung Dynasty, however, proved to be a tortuous experience. My dissertation, therefore, did not live up to the expectation that it would provide the evidence that Confucian conservatism was responsible for China's failure to modernize.

In fact, the more I studied the Sung and Neo-Confucianism, the more I realized that Chinese education was more than Confucian. This would lead me to a broader view of traditional Chinese educa-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.