Chinese Pedagogical Tradition

In the same way that the history of Chinese civilization stands out, the pedagogical tradition of China
also has elements that are unique: It’s unusual state examination system, two contradictory pedagogical philosophies - Taoism and Confucianism, Secular education,  Amazing Confusious' didactics, Chinese dialectic vs. Aristoteltian logic...

Read on for a glimpse of what's in my upcoming book!


Ancient China before Confucious

The Chinese script is estimated to be over 3000 years old and thus is the longest unbroken tradition in East Asia. The first schools in China appeared in 3000 BC. They were called Xiao and Xu. Xiao developed at the place of refuge for the elderly, who were trying to educate young people.

In Xu, at first they gave military affairs training. Later, in 1600-900 BC the first educational institutions called Xue (“to study”) were created for the children of the elite.

The curriculum consisted of six subjects: music, archery, horseback riding, writing, counting, and knowledge of ancient rituals and ceremonies.

Tortoise plastron with divination inscription dating to the reign of King Wu Ding ca.1324–1266 BC image: commons.wikimedia

​​ Confucious (551–479 BC) - Teacher, Philosopher, Mastermind of Pedagogy
Confucius believed that reflected learning fed a desire for perfectionism, and distinguished a truly "noble" person as one who practiced the five virtues of righteousness, conscientiousness, reciprocity, sincerity and philanthropy.
Confucius established the four pillars of Chinese education: moral education de yu, intellectual education zhi yu, physical education ti yu and aesthetic education mei yu. Confucius’ pedagogy was based on such tools as a dialogue between the teacher and student, classification and comparison of facts and phenomena, and imitation of role models.
Confucius’ is known for his brilliant quotes. On the subject of learning, he said:
"Learning and repeating the learned again and again - is not it pleasant?" 
"Learning and not thinking about the learned - is a pointless loss of time. Thinking without learning is deadly ." 
"If you can not perfect yourself, how can you help others?" 
“Only when you start to study do you notice your own imperfections.” 
"Remember to be constantly in the process of learning. "
Confucius suggested that teachers and their disciples work together towards self-improvement.
Confucius was the first known teacher to develop and implement an individualized learning approach. Today this approach, of acknowledging that students are individuals with unique aptitudes, is one of the top pedagogical trends..
A Western Han (202 BC – 9 AD) fresco depicting Confucius, from a tomb of Dongping County, Shandong province, China
image: wikimedia

"Learning and not thinking about the learned - is a pointless loss of time.”

Chinese Imperial Examination System

Chinese Examination Cells at the South River School (Nanjiangxue) Nanjing (China). This structure prevents cheating in exams.

image: commons.wikipedia
As the Chinese have historically been innovative thinkers, it is not surprising that they created the State Examination System gaokao.

In dynastic China the path to wealth and respect was through appointment to a well-paid government post as a civil service official. Unlike in all other civilizations, until recently it gave a chance to everyone who was able to pass the State Exam to climb the social ladder.

Competition between Imperial examination candidates was extremely tough and it was famous for its brutal strictness.

Twice a year, 2 to 3 million people were tested at the local level - and only about 150,000 would progress to the provincial level examination. About 6,000 would then take the final top-level examination.

Taoism in Pedagogy
Lao Zi (6th-century BC) is considered the founder of Taoism. The Taoistic approach is very similar to, what became known as Progressive Education, in the West.

Contrary to Confucianism, Taoism rejected the Confucian "five virtues" as they provided for the observance of pedagogical rules instead of distinguishing between right and wrong through knowledge and self-perfection.

Taoism believed:

· The individual should not place any value on the regulations of society
· In the absolute freedom of the Self
· „Do-nothing” (wu-wei)
· Match the Dao ("Without Action")
· In openness for other life and learning paths and new approaches
· The teacher gives his knowledge and learns from the student
Confucius meets Laozi, Shih Kang, Yuan dynasty, iamge: commons.wikipedia

Wu wei (無爲), literally "non-action" or "not acting", is a central concept of the Taoism.
It can mean "not doing anything",
"not forcing", "not acting" in the theatrical sense, "creating nothingness",
"acting spontaneously", and "flowing with the moment.”

Modern China

Dedicated learning has a millennia-old tradition in the history of Chinese education. Even today Chinese schoolchildren may surprise us with their passion for self-education.

The  favorite word of the Chinese student, zi xue, (Ji Xue) appeared in the vocabulary of boys and girls long before the university came about.

Zi xue is not just doing homework, it is self-education, self-improvement in the field of knowledge.

After returning home after school, children repeat the hieroglyphs, learn new ones, read books, and try to learn English.