Section C: Schools

Preliminary Report on the Trip Undertaken by Imperial Order Across Chinese Turkestan and the Northern Provinces of China to Peking in 1906–07 and 1908 by Col. Baron Mannerheim

Pages 135-145

An educational reform was begun by the Bogdakhan’s [Empress Dowager’s] decree of 1901 which stipulated “to transform all existing schools into colleges for teaching western sciences”; the management of the reform was entrusted to Zhang Zhidong who was considered a zealous follower of new educational methods and who developed detailed rules for educational establishments in 1901, after which their modification proceeded very rapidly.

As is the case with our country, all educational establishments can be divided into comprehensive and specialized ones, and the Chinese give preference to the latter. As to the former, China follows the Japanese system and divides them into three categories: primary school – xiao xuetang, secondary school – zhong xuetang and high school – gaodeng xuetang which trains students for admission to universities; at the same time there are teachers’ colleges of two categories, in addition to special ones. It was not only the love of the Chinese for proper order and consistency that determined the allocation of those specialized schools but also a purely formal attitude towards the matter which very often could be found in the latest reforms. Primary specialized schools will be launched in regional towns and higher ones in provincial towns. It is expected that no less than 100 schools of various types in provinces and no less than 40 schools in regions are to be opened, etc. Such a division is really being implemented though the totals are far from the figures mentions.

As has been stated, in its new education system, China follows the model of Japan. The latter plays a great role in school reform in the Middle Kingdom in general due to its geographical and racial similarity. Meeting the needs of China in education Japan opened its educational establishments for Chinese students and publishes many new publications intended for the Chinese market which familiarize the Chinese with modern science and ideas. Until recently, the Chinese Government has given preference to inviting Japanese as teachers but it seems to me it was done due to the fact that this was cheaper and that they had some theoretical knowledge of the Chinese language. In fact, at present the Japanese influence is greatest in public education in the northern provinces. The majority of school textbooks were printed in Japan, a lot of teachers visited the country, and in some localities the Japanese occupy positions as teachers. Walls of higher educational establishments, especially in military schools, are covered with Japanese gymnastics tables, maps and cheap popular prints, the contents of which are a regular panegyric of Japanese successes and victories. Some of them are quite curious, e.g., one of them pictures prominent people from around the world, the majority of whom coincidentally turn out to be Japanese. Six major figures are the most prominent against the background of all others; they are Confucius, two Japanese, one Chinese, Jesus and Napoleon. Their high sense of self-importance is due to their successes in the last wars, and it has even antagonized a great number of people who theoretically should be pro-Japan. Recently the Chinese authorities have been tending to replacing foreign teachers, including those from Japan by Chinese teachers; they also are publishing textbooks in China and perhaps that will slowly force out the Japanese scattered within the major cities of the northern provinces, but it cannot be doubted that for a long time the Japanese influence will be felt in education through the Chinese teachers who visited Japan as well as via textbooks, pictures and a lot of other things.

Primary educational establishments are subdivided into two categories: the lower one – chu-deng xiao xuetang and the higher one – gaodeng xiao xuetang. The first one has a course for six years and the second one for four years. The syllabus of both categories is similar to each other with the difference being that in gaodeng all subjects are studied in more detail and it has drawing as an additional subject and more attention is paid to the humanities.

The next step following gaodeng xiao xuetang is a secondary specialized school called zhong xuetang. According to the governmental proposal, each regional town should have at least one secondary specialized school. During a five-year course they study the same branches of science as in Russian gymnasia but some other subjects are added, viz. chemistry, botany, zoology, physiology, hygiene and mining. Of foreign languages the study of Japanese is obligatory and English and French are chosen at the discretion of the authorities. Law and political economy are studied during the last year of the course.

The next step following secondary schools is colleges – gaodeng xuetang meaning “higher schools.” They are intended to train student for admission to universities. Teaching lasts for three years. It is a specialized training in three departments: 1) classical, legal or philological; 2) natural science and 3) medical. Gaodeng xuetang is followed by universities but the reform has not produced the scale of changes stipulated by educational rules. Alongside higher schools there are teachers’ colleges of two categories and other special educational establishments, such as agricultural, mining, commercial, railway and others. Teachers’ colleges are most common in the northern provinces. Specialization in other educational establishments remains mostly on paper.

To give a general description of the syllabi of the types of educational establishments mentioned it should be borne in mind that teaching of new languages in primary schools of the second category is strictly forbidden; it must be done because of the goal of giving training in the mother tongue to pupils and to avoid overloading the students with too many subjects. Religious training taught at our educational establishments is replaced by moral teaching and this subject seems to be of more practical value. In general, the new educational program is characterized by a practical approach. The Chinese program does not even mention anything about ancient languages. In the districts close to our frontiers, studying the Russian language is compulsory, the Tibetan language is studied in one of the higher educational establishments in Lanzhou; special mining schools are being launched in highland provinces, etc. It is also interesting to note that along with gymnastics, military drills using rifles are compulsory at all educational establishments, and map drawing and military science are included in the curricula of the gaodeng xuetang schools. Young people take part in the gymnastics and drills with enthusiasm and wear a special military uniform. The military spirit is being raised among the people, which is necessary for China to raise its profile as a great military power.

Military schools of a lower category (lujun xiao xuetang) have been launched in the capitals of all the northern provinces. I was told that each of them would train 300 cadets; in fact there were 270-80 cadets in Lanzhou, 270 in Xi’an, 250 in Kaifeng and 240 cadets in Taiyuan. In Urumqi, the school was constructed in the summer of 1907 but the start of studies was scheduled only for the fall of the same year. Only a few dozen cadets were admitted to that school and the remaining schools I observed were already open in 1905. It is assumed that in the majority of towns with large Manchurian garrisons primary schools would be opened intended specifically for the Manchurians. I was told that in the towns of Xi’an, Kaifeng and Taiyuan, the implementation of the project has not yet started. This must be taken into account as some towns have already opened special Manchurian cadet schools, e.g., in Guihua [Hohhot] and Kalgan [Zhangjiakou] I found small Manchurian schools for 60 cadets each.

The school curriculum includes Chinese literature, foreign language including Japanese, French or German, mathematics (arithmetic, algebra and geometry), history, natural science, geography, drawing, gymnastics and drills. Senior students study shooting and have field exercise in topography. Admission exams include Chinese language and literature. Students are generally 14-18 years old but in some localities they had to make exceptions. I saw some cadets well over 25.

Schools are headed by daotais, teachers of various subjects who are civil servants, but gymnastics and drill exercises are conducted by officers. Teachers have the same drawbacks as those mentioned below characteristic of civil educational establishments. Drilling exercises on the grounds and gymnastics are taught well and they are given special attention. I managed to see only two Japanese teachers in one school, viz. in Taiyuan. The rest of the teaching staff is entirely Chinese but a lot of them spent an extended period of time in Japan.

Primary schools have a three-year program. Those who pass the exams can take a general exam to enter a secondary school (lujun zhong xuetang). It is intended to set up only four such schools, viz. in the cities of Baoding (for 1400 to 1500 students), Xi’an (680 students), Nanjing and Wuhan. Of them the first two will meet the needs of the northern provinces. The secondary school in Xi’an is intended for the provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu, Sichuan, and Shanxi. Cadets from the Shanxi and Henan provinces are to be sent to the secondary school in the town of Baoding. In the summer of 1908 this school was not yet open officially in Xi’an but the first “graduates” left for their schools in three of four provinces where they would serve. I was told that the best graduates would be ranked as officers and the rest of them would be used as teachers of gymnastics in various civil educational establishments. It is possible that for a certain period of time the provinces will be satisfied with these “graduates” to fill the existing shortage of teachers with more or less educated officers.

But even if one assumed the construction of the Xi’an secondary school is postponed for several years, it has to be considered as a temporary measure. The central government stressed its commitment to increase the level of education for officers and it cannot be doubted that in northern provinces education will be at the same level as that of the rest of the Empire in the nearest future.

The current national policy in provinces of Northern China is clearly seen in the field of education. The scope of setting up schools can be seen in the tables with statistical data concerning their number by 1908 in the provinces of Shanxi, Henan and Shanxi.

Schools launched in the province of Shaanxi (according to official data population 9 million):
Primary schools of two categories: 1,876
Secondary: 14
Teachers’ colleges:
Higher: 106
Schools of various specialization:
Total: 2,000

Education expenses paid by the administration for studies:
in Japan: 59 students
At their own expense:
in Japan: 12 students
in Europe: 3 students
Total number: 74 students

Schools opened in the province of Henan (population 35 million according to official Chinese data):
Primary schools of two categories: 1,752
Secondary: 22
Teachers’ colleges: 38
Higher: 2
Various specialized schools, viz. vocational, female,
commercial, silkworm breeding, daytime,
evening schools: 95
Total: 1,909

Schools launched in the province of Shanxi (population 12 million residents):
Primary schools of two categories: 533
Secondary: 25
Teachers’ colleges: 31
Higher: 2
Various specialized schools, viz. topographical, agriculture
and forestry, legal, female, medical, for travelers, etc: 14
Total: 576

In 1907 the following number of students was funded at the administration’s expense to:
Japan: 20
Europe: 25
Total: 45

A lot of students study abroad at their own expense; there are students among them who had been previously sent to Japan.

Unfortunately I have incomplete statistical data about schools in the province of Gansu and I left Xinjiang before the reforms could properly be implemented there. It was only in Urumqi where I found schools of a new type that were launched prior to my arrival. The most remarkable feature of the school reform is undoubtedly the fact that it was possible to open 30,000 to 40,000 schools across the entire Empire within some two years, though it should also be taken into consideration that the school reform is only gradually reaching the northern provinces remote from Beijing. e.g., the first schools of the new system were opened in Lanzhou in 1904 or 1905 and in Urumqi only in 1906.

Social attitudes can be judged from the fact that during my visit monthly scholarships were given to students irrespective of their success and school attendance. Such scholarships were paid in some other towns of Gansu but it had been stopped in the major part of the province by 1907. Beginning in Shanxi students were not paid any scholarships and they were to pay a small fee for attendance of an educational establishment. The fee was greater in the provinces of Henan and Shanxi. In the majority of cases there were so many people who wanted to study that they had to introduce admission exams.

Expanding the educational reform the government incurred great expense. Now the majority of educational establishments have big and well-equipped buildings. Higher schools have various types of museums, laboratories, libraries, reading rooms and lecture rooms which meet modern requirements. There is good gymnastics equipment not only in cadet schools but in other educational establishments as well, evidence of the importance given to it. To install various types of gymnastics equipment, training grounds, etc., neither money nor space were spared. Schools of lower categories are quite common now in larger villages. In regional towns there are secondary schools, some primary schools and sometimes special schools for girls, but the latter are poorly attended. Farther to the east the number of schools increases significantly.

It is natural that as the new reform is being introduced in such a hasty way, the problem of adequate teaching staff is serious. For now the lack of specialists deprives some schools of their specific character and limits their specific syllabi to the syllabus of comprehensive educational establishments.

Differences in the majority if not in all specialized schools seen by me to the west of the town of Xi’an existed only on paper but the special names given to them demonstrate the commitment of the government and there will no doubt be an improvement in the quality of the teaching staff.

Aware of the need to improve the teaching personnel, the government is expanding teachers’ colleges and annually sends thousands of the best students for completion of their courses to Europe and especially to Japan. Dozens of teachers’ colleges can be found in the majority of provinces but their teaching manpower can hardly meet even minimum requirements. In provincial towns it is common practice for a teacher of French or English to visit a local missionary in the morning for knowledge which he passes on to his students. Now in northern provinces there are a lot of teachers who visited Japan but having spent only some months there the majority of them do not differ a lot from the average level of other teachers. A clear direction can be given to school education only after the 15,000 students studying abroad using state funds return, and even so, on the condition they are given an opportunity to complete their education.

As the number of schools increases new ideas and new requirements begin penetrating into the remotest districts of the great Empire. Teachers, especially those who have visited Japan, become disseminators of progressive ideas, though sometimes it may be done half-consciously. Among the uneducated masses of the northern provinces the thirst for knowledge can be seen clearly. Newspapers are spreading among the people, and they inevitably result in a national awakening which is being manifested especially in Southern China.

The brevity of this report does not allow me to describe the school reform in more detail, but what has been mentioned suffices to convince anyone of the fact that it has already taken root and it is impossible to stop. Although the government program is far from being completed and the number of schools will not meet the needs of the enormous population of the Chinese Empire for quite a long time, one should be fair and give the government its due for its persistence, decisiveness and foresight. A broad and rational school reform closely connected with practical needs should yield great results in the nearest future, achieved not by means of a slow evolution arising out of tradition, but through borrowing from abroad.

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CITATION: Mannerheim, Col. C.G.E. (transl. Eric Walberg and Anatoli Koroteyev, and ed. Eric Enno Tamm) “Preliminary Report on the Trip Undertaken by Imperial Order Across Chinese Turkestan and the Northern Provinces of China to Peking in 1906–07 and 1908.” In Collection of Geographical, Topographical and Statistical Materials for Asia 81. St. Petersburg: Military Publishing House, 1909.