Educating New Generations for Republican China: Scholars, Western Ideologies and Political Conflicts

Title: 1278 | Educating New Generations for Republican China: Scholars, Western Ideologies and Political Conflicts
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Ziqi Wu, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (organizer, presenter)
Siu Ping Sammantha Ho, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Zhen Zhang, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Yiqiao Yan, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (chair)


There have been continuous and diverse debates on the reform of the Chinese educational system among the elites from the late 19th century. To foster new generations for the modern nation-building, some scholars and social activists introduced western ideologies and educational philosophies in their practices during their services in universities in the first two decades of Republican China. Cai Yuanpei, the eminent president of Peking University, proposed the “aesthetic education” to realize his ideas of humanism from Europe. By contrast, Kuo Ping Wen, the founder of National Southeastern University, with the adoption of American education model, emphasized the real-world application of knowledge and ideas. On the other hand, Liang Shuming became a pioneer of mass education in rural areas after his career at Peking University. Similarly, all of them received western education in their early years and got involved in political conflicts such as student movements and civil wars launched by the Nationalist. Their active participations in public affairs reflect that the rapid changes in the 20th century Chinese society and closer connections to the world. The three papers take these educators as case studies, which aim at discussing their initiatives in modern Chinese education with the employment of western ideologies and traditional culture in Chinese context. In the commitment of new generations for Republican China, what are their reactions to the nation-state and how they negotiate with government interventions in their professional spheres?

Panel Abstracts:
In the Name of "Chinese Painting Reform": Practicing Aesthetic Education in Arts Institutions in Republican China, 1910s-1930s
“Aesthetic education”, proposed by Cai Yuanpei, a reputable educator in early 1910s, became a brand-new topic in higher education, especially in the discipline of fine arts. By convention, the training of fine arts was embedded in the rich tradition of Chinese literati painting. Cai fiercely criticized Chinese traditional painting; instead he appreciated western oil painting. Cai believed that aesthetic education introduced from western civilization is crucial for citizen’s conscience at the dawn of the establishment of the Republic of China. To promote his idea of modernization, Cai suggested that citizens including laymen should receive aesthetics education through visiting museums and other public spaces. Therefore, he needs numerous young colleagues who are professionally trained in the field of western fine arts to produce knowledge of western oil paintings. After their oversea studies in France and other European countries, Cai, together with Lin Fengmian, Xu Beihong and Pan Yuliang started their careers in various national arts intuitions in Shanghai and Hangzhou. In the role of artists, they initiated distinct personal style of paintings with the ambition of combining western techniques and the essence of Chinese culture. In the role of teachers, they brought their students to field trips and exhibitions so that nature and public opinions became inspiration. Behind such endeavours, it is an ongoing process of nation building, in which the Nanjing Nationalist Government put forward a reform in aesthetic education. Before long, the young colleagues of Cai were entangled in the incompatibility of political controls and freedom of creation.

National Southeastern University: Kuo Ping Wen and American education model in Republican China (1921-1925)
This research paper revolves around three domains in the history of education: reformist, ideology and institute, to understand how modern educational ideas were disseminated and applied in tertiary education in China. Kuo Ping Wen (1879-1969) was the first Chinese to receive a doctorate from Teachers College of Columbia University. During his studies in the U.S., Kuo was inspired by American education model, in particular, pragmatism which stressed real-world applications of knowledge. Establishing National Southeastern University (Dongda), Kuo embodied his aspiration for modernization of Chinese education. During his presidency in Dongda, Kuo brought a series of pioneering and exploratory attempts to reform Chinese tertiary education system by introducing the board of directors, promoting balanced education between arts and sciences and emphasizing social service functions of university. With the efforts of Kuo and many prominent U.S.-educated scholars, Dongda emerged as a prestigious university which could rival Peking University for academic reputation. However, the glory of Dongda was short-lived when Kuo was discharged from his presidency in 1925. The dismissal signified a watershed of the development of Dongda and his experimental application of American education model in China. The dramatic changes also indicated that education was never independent of politics. Instead, it was entangled in the struggle of power between scholars, political parties and elites in society during the high tide of New Culture Movement and Warlord Period. This research will fill in the lacunae of our understanding of Dongda by shedding lights on the crux of tertiary education in Republican Era.

Psyche and Politics: Re-examining the Shift in Liang Shuming's Thinking and Its Political Implication Before and After the "Debate Between Science and Metaphysics"
Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, The Chinese University of Hong kongAs an important philosopher and social activist, Liang Shuming [梁漱溟] was closely involved in modern Chinese history. A critical shift in Liang’s thinking in the mid-1920s, that was, the shift in his thinking about the human psyche and its political implication, has not received sufficient attention from scholars for a long time. However, it was after this shift that Liang’s core concepts, such as “lixing” [理性] and “rural reconstruction,” could finally form. This article analyses Liang’s philosophical thinking, its connection with Liang’s political reflection about the modern western civilization after WWI, and its connection with the important intellectual debate in 1923 in China, the “Debate between Science and Metaphysics.” This article argues that Liang’s shift was motivated by the inner contradictions of the above-mentioned intellectual debate and also by the inner contradictions of his previous philosophical theory; with the help of Wang Yangming’s idea of “innate knowing” [良知], Liang restructured Bergson’s philosophy of life and formed a new philosophy of “lixing”; this new philosophy prompted Liang to embark on mass education and the rural reconstruction movement; Liang conceived “lixing” as not only the foundation of China’s national liberation, but also a way to overcome the modern crisis of the West after WWI and recreate a new world civilization. Liang’s thinking indicates the synchronic interaction between eastern and western thinkers at the time on the critique of both rationalism and modern European civilization

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