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  • Print publication year: 1996
  • Online publication date: August 2010

4 - The modern school system


It was the sudden new demand for change, rather than the continuing pull of tradition, that struck veteran China watchers and made headlines during the decade between the Boxer Rebellion and the 1911 revolution. In their delight over the reality of change, however, observers failed to gauge its depth, for no sooner had China's first modern school system received imperial approval in 1903 than “there arose a loud outcry for the preservation of the ancient classics.” As a result, the classics dominated the approved curriculum at all levels.

In fact, key trends were already evident during the first decade of the century that would have a lasting impact on the development of China's modern school system. Those trends were: the continuing undercurrent of conservative opposition; the assumption that Western learning would bring China wealth and power; the assumption that study abroad and foreign degrees could be substituted for classical learning and the examination system; a consequent voluntary dependence on foreign education systems as models for development; and the paradox of the reform mentality, or constant change as one of the few constants in a society struggling to reconstruct itself but unable to agree on what course to take.

With the unified structure of power and learning broken, diverse sectoral interests emerged to pull the society in a multiplicity of directions. As the empire disintegrated into the feuding politics of the warlord era, political, military, intellectual, and regional leaders went their separate ways, unable to find a consensus upon which to build a new order.

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Radicalism and Education Reform in 20th-Century China
  • Online ISBN: 9780511584725
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