Historical Background: Expansion of Public Education
The Republic (1911-1949)
In 1911, the bourgeois revolution overthrew the Qing Dynasty and set the stage for the establishment of a Republican form of government by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. In many respects, the revolution that made the change possible was a product of the ideals of Western democracy. In the area of education, the Nationalist reformers tended to favor the Western European model of centralized state control over all levels of the education system. The aim of education also shifted, from the emphasis on the reproduction of a scholar class to the desire to bring about needed social change while preserving the cultural/social unity.
The new Republic"s first Minister of Education, Cai Yuanpei4 proposed a system that advocated the unity of five types of education: military/citizenship, utilitarian, moral, world view, and aesthetic. He was greatly attracted to the pragmatic education theory of John Dewey, with its emphasis on experimental inquiry. He agreed with Dewey that the aims of education were to foster intelligence of mind, personal traits that contribute to culture and society, democratic mobility and educational growth. In order to guard against the use and abuse of education by those interested in using scientific knowledge for political power and economic profit, void of a national morality, Cai Yuanpei planned to place the responsibility for administrating the education system into the hands of independent educators who were not influenced by state, party or church.
Cai Yuanpei"s plan4 consisted of creating a university district system in which each district would have a university that would supervise all levels of district schooling and within that university, educational affairs would rest with a committee organized by that university"s professors. This plan was not realized because it was in direct conflict with the Nationalist"s goal to centralize all levels of the education system.
Various systems of education were tried and abandoned and eventually a system closely modeled after that of the United States was introduced.21, 23 Reform focused on constructing a system that could retain the Chinese identity, yet also have the flexibility to sustain the technological needs of the country that included the rural masses. In 1921, amid the chaos of the competitions for power between the warlords, the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party was proclaimed. Its birth was aided by the momentum of the 1919 May Fourth Movement which signified a period of intellectual discussion concerning the place of traditional Chinese culture, modern science and Western style democracy4, and Mao Zedong, the leader of the newly formed Communist Party, had specific ideas about the structure of the education system In 1921 he and his supporters established the Hunan-Self-Study University whose aim was to offer higher education to those who could otherwise not afford it.22 This experiment in accessible education, however, was put on hold in 1937 as a result of the Japanese invasion when most debates about reforms of the education system were suspended.