YCH Workshop YCH Workshop
Papers Abstracts

Youth in Chinese History
Education and Representations of Young People
in Chinese Sources between Tradition and Modernity

September 14-15, 2023
University of Oxford, China Centre, Lucina Ho room

1. Jingyi Jenny Zhao (Needham Research Institute/University of Cambridge), Learning from the cradle: Philosophical perspectives on children in early China and ancient Greece

This paper explores philosophical representations of children in early China from a cross-cultural comparative perspective. While early Chinese philosophers were generally not interested in studying children for their own sake, much like their ancient Greek counterparts, children, in particular infants, often served as paradigms in thinking about an array of philosophical questions. Philosophers’ ideas about children and children’s education are greatly shaped by their conceptions of what might constitute the good life for adults. In such a way, exploring such accounts of children and childhood allows us to probe into fundamental questions relating to human potential. For example, the Daodejing attributes many positive features to infancy and values it as the ultimate form of attainment, while the Mencius uses the babe that loves its parents as evidence that all humans have an inborn basis for ren, humaneness. As for the Greeks, Epicurean and Stoic philosophers employed ‘cradle arguments’ that involved drawing on the psychology and behaviour of infants and young animals to justify certain moral doctrines. This paper compares and contrasts the ways that children served as a topos in early Chinese and ancient Greek philosophy. For different philosophers, children represented different qualities; however, what united many of them is the use of non-adult members of society in advancing their moral agenda, particularly with regards to explaining human tendencies and providing justification for certain forms of moral self-cultivation.

2. Li Hao (Ludwig Maximilians University), Xu Heng 许衡 and his theories of Elementary Learning (Xiaoxue) in practice during the early period of Yuan dynasty

Since the Mongols overthrew the government of the Southern Song dynasty and built the Yuan dynasty, Chinese intellectuals were divided into two groups. Some of them were willing to preserve the Confucian way of principles and morality and decided to get away from the court of Mongol rulers. Others, like Xu Heng for instance, decided to put his theories of education into practice by stepping into the political centre of the court under the direct support of the emperor Khubilai Khan. Xu Heng, as a Chinese neo-Confucianism thinker who spent most of his life during a chaotic time before the establishment of the Yuan dynasty, started his political career and played an essential role, especially in education throughout the last decade of this lifetime. Influenced by the two ancient texts Elementary Learning (Xiaoxue) and Great Learning (Daxue)“ from Zhu Xi, Xu Heng had set the constructional principles in educating from children at 8 years to youth at 15 years. These principles can be found in the chapter Xiaoxue dayi 小学大义 of Surviving Book of Lu Zhai 鲁斋遗书. In this chapter, Xu Heng had explained the importance of elementary learning for children and introduced different kinds of subjects which should be taught during the period of elementary school. In addition, Xu Heng had changed his teaching methods for helping mongolian and semu children which are less educated than chinese children adapt to the Confucian courses. This could be the first try in education from a cross-cultural perspective in Chinese history. Xu Heng emphasised the important role of elementary education in the aspect of school education. He put his thought and theories of elementary learning into practice. As a result, many elementary schools, from central to local society, were established by him during the early period of the Yuan dynasty. These elementary schools had a deep impact on the evolution of educational practices of the Yuan dynasty.
In this paper, we will discuss the innovative theories and practices of Confucian education of Xu Heng on the basis of Xiaoxue dayi 小学大义 of Surviving Book of Lu Zhai 鲁斋遗书 and analyse how those practices influenced the development of education during the Yuan dynasty.

3. Elisa Frei (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt/Boston College), Converting children, converting China: Jesuit sources from the early modern period

This paper examines Daniello Bartoli’s view of Chinese youth, as expressed in the section of his History of the Society of Jesus dedicated to the late Ming and early Qing empire (China, 1663). It explores and contextualises how the Jesuit historian summarised the characteristics of Chinese boys and girls, this way also showing the respectively ‘bad’ and ‘good’ outcomes of non-Jesuit and Jesuit education.

4. Linda Chu (Academia Sinica/National Taiwan Normal University), Literary forms of knowledge: Exploring Classical rhetoric as an educational and epistemic genre in Late Imperial China

The arrival of the Society of Jesus missionaries in late imperial China ushered in new forms of knowledge that transformed the way humans understand and interact with the world. Besides Western science and technology, the Jesuits simultaneously introduced Western humanities. While scholars have begun exploring contributions in this area, the historical moment and subsequent period when the literary traditions of Europe and China met through the Jesuits’ introduction of Western rhetoric are still understudied. This paper aims to explore as a whole the humanities introduced by the Jesuits and how it was situated in the Chinese tradition as both literary and epistemic. I plan to do so by revisiting the context of introduction and focusing on classical rhetoric—the foundational discipline in Western humanities and classical education. The content of classical rhetoric introduced spans the cognitive—teaching a new discipline—as well as the expressive and aesthetic—illustrating affective experiences, engagement with, and response to Chinese and Western canonical texts—and educational—aiming at moral and intellectual cultivation. In my paper, I propose to look at the introduction of rhetoric as constituting a new “epistemic genre”—to borrow the words of historians of medicine Gianna Pomata and Marta Hanson—that merges the literary as well as the cognitive. These discussions, I believe, will provide a window to trace how external doctrines—pedagogical, intellectual, literary and otherwise—from the West impacted literary practices in Chinese history.

1. Kerstin Storm (University of Münster), Youth as depicted in Tang poetry

This presentation will deal with notions of youth as depicted in poetry from the Tang dynasty (618-907). On the one hand, it will reflect on contemporary forms of periodisation of human life by taking a closer look at those poems entitled Hundred Years of Life (Baisui pian) discovered in Dunhuang. On the other hand, it will discuss some of those 56 Tang poems, which bear the designation shaonian – youth – prominently in their title and have come down to us in the Quan Tangshi. Content-wise, at least two types can be distinguished: Firstly, eulogies for adolescent men who are characterised as daring, chivalrous and carefree. Renowned poets such as Li Bai (701-762) and Wang Wei (701-761) have composed such verses. Secondly, such poems can be found in which youth is contrasted with old age and thus mainly characterised through this juxtaposition. These verses often also comprise life advice addressing the young generation, or they can be read as apologetics for old age. Most of them date from the second half of the Tang and thus follow the then current trend towards a more personal and emotional poetry.
The overall aim of this contribution is to show various images of youth from the middle imperial period based on the rich genre of poetry.

2. Yang Qin (University of Nottingham), Representations of young people in Chinese religion: Evidence from the Southern Song Yijian zhi (Record of the Listener)

In traditional patriarchal societies, records produced by adults do not often do justice to children and youths by including their experiences and voices. The large collection of anecdotal sources during Song China, however, includes rich material on young people’s religious involvement and observations. Accounts in the twelfth-century Yijian zhi (Record of the Listener) show that children and youth in Song China were part of a vibrant religious environment. Some were actively involved in rituals and encountered divine beings just as adults did. Others served as acolytes, mediums, and proxies of deities or devoted themselves to a religious career. Issues regarding youth’s sexual needs, gender identities, and self-harm behaviours were interpreted and solved through religious means to conform to social norms. Moral education for the young often took the form of religious admonition: bad behaviours were punished by deities, while good ones were rewarded. The fortune and fate of the young were also predicted or retrospectively explained through religion. These sources provide a lens through which to examine the religious life of the young and their relationships with families and the community. Children’s and youth’s involvement in religious life served as a form of social education which influenced various aspects of their later life: knowledge about communicating with the spiritual world, understanding of moral principles, awareness of retributions, etc. This type of informal, ad hoc education may have complemented the formal and normative education implemented through school systems.

3. Elisabetta Colla (Lisbon University), Memento mori? Mortality and Youth an analysis of the Skeleton Fantasy 骷髏幻戲圖 by Li Song 李嵩 (ca. 1190–1230) 

The aim of this paper is to analyse the relation between youth and death in imperial China taking as starting point the classical latin expression Memento mori (a reminder of death) that alludes to the brevity of youth and its representation in Chinese art and literature. In the Skeleton Fantasy 骷髏幻戲圖 by Li Song 李嵩, there is a depiction of a skeleton puppet master holding a skeleton marionette in the middle, a child followed by his mother, on the right side, and, on the left side, another mother is breastfeeding her infant. Does the conjugation of skeletons and infants depict the transiency of life? In the tale recounted by the Quanzhen priests, for instance, Master Zhuang’s meeting with the skeleton reminds the reader of the brevity of human life, however if one focuses on the Shijing (Classic of Songs) in the sections related to the funerary rituals it is mentioned that young children were selected by the mourning family in order to perform the role played by the deceased while he was alive. In this very last case, the role played by children, normally the grandson, were understood as a sublime act of filial piety. These two examples, among others, have triggered a deeper analysis on the relation between youth and mortality and, consequently, the shaping of children’s perception of death in imperial China.

4. Arianna Magnani (“Kore” University of Enna), Frighting and enlightening images: Explaining death and afterlife to children in Premodern China

Life and death are closely related, and, in Imperial China, premature departures of babies or orphaned children were much more frequent due to famine, diseases or war. Is then not strange that in Buddhism, an ogress reaper of infants can also become a symbol of hope of life: Guizimu鬼子母 (the mother of Demons), in Sanskrit Hāritī, who used to steal other women’s children to feed her own demonic brood, after her religious conversion became in China the object of devotion as a deity of fertility, easy delivery and protection of babies. The ephemeral passage between life and death is therefore a concept not kept away from children, as portrayed in the Skeleton Puppet Show (Kulou huanxi tu 骷髅幻戏图) attributed to the Southern Song Dynasty painter Li Song 李嵩 (1166–1243). However, how do you explain death or the afterlife to youngsters? What are in China the different attitudes to introduce this theme to young readers? Through a reflection between images and translation of primer texts, as Youxue qionglin 幼学琼林 (Treasury of Knowledge for Young Students) composed by Cheng Dengji 程登吉, the paper will analyze how children were educated to understand this important passage of life.

1. Cui Wendong (The Chinese University of Hong Kong), Children’s biographies between tradition and modernity: A cross-cultural examination of Books for the Youth published by the Commercial Press

This paper looks into the development and impact of the Books for the Youth series, which the Commercial Press released during the late Qing and early Republican eras and quickly rose to prominence as the most significant children’s biography series. The first issue of Books for the Youth (Shaonian congshu) was published in 1909 in response to the increasing demand for young students’ reading materials generated by the new education system. The series gradually evolved into 29 biographies of Western and Chinese heroes and served as a repository and disseminator of a new moral ideal. Modelled after and oftentimes translated from its Japanese counterpart, Tales from World History (Sekai rekishi dan), which comprised 36 biographies of world heroes, the series inevitably introduced the Meiji-era morality of self-establishment and success (risshin shusse). Echoing the earlier endeavor by elites like Liang Qichao of compiling biographies of national heroes like Garibaldi, the Books for the Youth also depicted most of the heroes as incarnation of the public virtues. In an effort to complement the primary product of the Commercial Press, textbooks, the editors of this series imbued the heroes with the majority of the virtues enumerated in ethics textbooks. Books for the Youth captivated children from the 1900s to the 1930s due to the publisher’s effective marketing strategy. Numerous of them left behind memoirs attesting that a new moral ideal comprised of Confucian ethics, nationalism, and risshin shusse served as the moral basis for modern Chinese children.

2. Kuo Mei-Yi (University of Leeds), Shaping the child in colonial Taiwan

While in traditional China, premodern Chinese primers functioned as vehicles for ‘shaping the ideal child’ (Bai, 2005), in modern times, it has been argued that textbooks serve a similar function but conceptualising children as future citizens to form a state (Xu, 2003). Scholars researching in colonial Taiwan during the Japanese rule argue that the Japanese government forcefully implemented de-sinicisation and practised Japanisation in the school system through textbooks (Qiu, 2013). However, compared to the textbooks compiled by the Nationalist government in postwar Taiwan, the content of colonial textbooks is not exclusively focused on Japan. Moreover, the modern educational content introduced by Japan for the local colonial Taiwanese children clearly contrasts the original pedagogical approach of the Four Books, Fives Classics and the premodern Chinese primer in the Qing Taiwan. In this paper, I will explore the ways in which Japanese rule in Taiwan brought in a modern systematic method to educate colonial children by contextual analysis of the Kokugo Tokuhon (National Language Reader). I argue that the first edition of The Japanese Language Reader primarily tackles fundamental communicative needs. Rather than, as is sometimes argued or assumed in studies on Japanese educational literature of this period, using the political propaganda of militarism and imperialism to shape the child, this textbook is mainly designed to deliver universal educational values and to solve the fundamental verbal intercourse problems among children in colonial Taiwan.

3. Jennifer Y. Chang (Academia Sinica/National Chengchi University), Creating citizens of the world: The Bibliothèque Sino-Internationale and the École Internationale of Geneva and Shanghai, 1933-1949

During the Qing dynasty and the Republican era, Chinese children studying in the West was not a unique phenomenon. The ongoing intellectual and policy debates of sending students to study overseas continue to parallel – if not contradict – widespread nationalistic sentiment alongside cosmopolitan values engendered by Chinese elites and the upper middle class. In 1934, ten Chinese children ranging from nine to twelve years-old set sail from Shanghai to Switzerland attend the École Internationale de Genève, the world’s first international school. The children were accompanied by a parent chaperone, an instructor of guowen (national Chinese language) and the instructor’s sister who was the wife of the director of the Bibliothèque Sino-Internationale headquartered in Geneva. This event was reported in the Chinese press as China’s first study abroad initiative at an international school. In an American education journal article published in 1935, readers learn that Chinese students were taught by “an old-fashioned Chinese schoolmaster” and “…The plan is gradually to modify this method and to exchange teachers with a progressive school in China.” By 1936, a sister school to the Ecole Internationale was established in Shanghai by Nationalist government advisors and representatives to the League of Nations. This study examines the transnational history of China’s first international school and argues that the objective to develop an internationalist mindset in children was achieved by aligning with 1930s education reform efforts for the standardisation of Mandarin instruction to not only unify the nation, but also to promote Chinese language to the world.

1. Alexandra Magdalena Mironesko (University of Granada), A journey through women’s education: From tradition to modernity in the period of the Republic of China (1912–1949)

When China had to face, back in the 18 century, the imminent fall of their supremacy in the world as the Celestial Empire, education was one of the biggest bet to play in order to achieve modernity and, therefore, the strengthening of the country. Not looking only for survival, education was one of the main pillars that would allow China to be at the same level with the Western countries, but this would rise new and controversial questions in a nation that was influenced for centuries by the most traditional way of thinking. One of the biggest issues was the women’s education: for a long time, the role of the woman was tied to the domestic and familiar labours, and even the richest of girls had very little chance to reach a fraction of what their male partners would even learn. With the new Republic of China in 1912, the education of the whole Chinese population became a must, and so did the question of women’s education rise. Great debate and discussion bloomed around this issue, at the same time that feminine schools were founded and intellectuals of every kind fought for these changes. Thinkers and reformists of this period, such as Cai Yuanpei, were crucial for the upbringing of one of the most important achievements in the Republic of China, from mixed education to the feminine presence in the Universities of the country.

2. Daniele Beltrame (University for Foreigners of Perugia), Advertising Confucianism. Bao Tianxiao as a sentimental educator

Between the end of the Empire and the beginning of the Republic, Bao Tianxiao was one of the main protagonists of the first experiments in cultural modernisation prior to the May Fourth Movement. Bao contributed as a writer, translator and journalist to the sentimental education of Chinese youth and young women in particular. In his production, the intertwining of literature, journalism and autobiography is clearly visible: Bao was also a teacher in girls’ schools and editor of publications aimed at Chinese women, especially the highly influential Funü shibao. Educated in the Confucian Classics, Bao held a pedagogical conception of literary activity: like Liang Qichao, he also wanted to use fiction to disseminate modern ideas, but his was a version of modernity that aimed to preserve traditional values as much as possible.
Through a selection of articles, translations and short stories by the author from the 1910s, mainly published in the newspaper Shibao and in its supplements, an analysis of the author’s views on modernity and especially on young women’s education will be developed, showing how the legacy of qing from the Ming-Qing era had produced in authors of sentimental and popular literature like Bao a tendency to conceive of modern subjectivity as an updating of the time-honoured Confucian code. The result was in many cases an apparent if unconscious wavering between progress and nostalgia.

3. Giuseppe Rizzuto (University of Florence), Ye Shengtao’s point of view on students and teachers from his writings on education

Ye Shengtao 叶圣陶 (1894–1988), also known as Ye Shaojun, was one of the most relevant Chinese intellectuals of the 20th century. He was a teacher, writer, editor, journalist and he held a position in the ministry of education. Ye Shengtao was one of the most active intellectuals of that time but, outside of China, few academic studies focus on his works.
Many works of Ye Shengtao revolve around education, school and children because, in the first part of his career, he was actively involved in teaching, influenced by western thinkers such as John Dewey and by the New Cultural Movement. The important changes in the 1920s in the political, social, art and cultural fields, in fact, also involved education.
Ye Shengtao’s novel Ni Huanzhi and his other short stories show the contradictions in Chinese schools, between the 20s and 30s of the 20th century. His pedagogical production also made a substantial contribution to the innovation of Chinese education.
The purpose of this paper is to outline the idea of students that comes to light from Ye Shengtao’s pedagogical papers published before 1949. The vision of students – and the role of teacher who works for this idea of students – was unique thanks to his experiences as a teacher, editor and writer. A critical review of Ye Shengtao’s education paper, therefore, could be interesting to understand some turning points of Chinese education.

1. Shui Xinyi (Heidelberg University), Replicating, rewriting, and reinventing: The transcultural analysis of the first modern primary textbooks in China.

Textbooks are the medium through which culture is communicated, transmitted and created, specially in Modern China. Since the defeat of Sino-Japanese war in the 1890s, elites of Qing empire had to deeply reflected on the whole Chinese system and actively embraced foreign knowledge, an essential component of which was Guowen Discipline (Chinese national script and literature). With the advent of modern education systems, the first modern textbooks in China The Latest Guowen Textbooks were compiled as a tool for popular enlightenment in response to the need for social and cultural reconstruction. Considering geographical, cultural and linguistic similarities, this first set of modern Guowen textbooks published by Shanghai Commercial Press drew heavily on the Japanese Kokugo Textbooks, which had already been westernised during the Meiji Restoration. Meiji scholars actively searched for content for textbook compilation from European and American sources. Through the cross-language textual of this set of textbooks and its Japanese sources, as well as the reference to the Western origins, this research aims to demonstrate the process of replicating, rewriting and reinventing in the textbooks in modern China. As a representative example in these textbooks, three versions of the story The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter emphasise different moral ethics through modifications to the narrative and illustration, which reveals the interaction, interweave and integration of Western thoughts with traditional Chinese values.

2. Xu Huixuan (Education University of Hong Kong), Changing images of children in Ertong huabao 兒童畫報 (1922-1937)

The proposed paper will analyse the images of children presented in the pictorial Ertong huabao 兒童畫報 that was created in 1922 and spread widely in the 1920s-1930s in Shanghai. Through the analysis of the content, writing styles and pictures in Ertong huabao, the paper attempts to unravel how the images of children were constructed as a part of imaginary citizens in modern Shanghai. The preliminary analysis on the available issues (111 issues published during 1922-1937) has shown that the images of children exhibit different features in two periods, 1922-1931 and 1931-1937. In the period of 1922-1931, children were more often read according to their development features and subjectivity; however, the images of children over the period 1931-1937 tended to stress their role like an adult child. In the proposed paper, theories such as Benedict Anderson’ Imagined Communities and Courtney Weikle-Mills’ Imaginary Citizens will be used as a reference in the analysis and interpretation of the images of children in the pictorial “Ertonghuabao”. In addition, the internal and external forces that shaping the images of children in the initial process of modernisation in China will be explored from the analysis of secondary sources.

3. Cai Danni (Hangzhou Normal University), Models of manners: Epistolary knowledge for young readers in Republican China

Among the various pedagogical sources that flourished in early twentieth-century China, epistolary manuals for young students have received little attention. Knowledge of letter writing has long been regarded as essential to Chinese everyday life across the spectrum of literacy and class. Guides to letter writing in the Republican period (1912–1949) developed new categories and topics as well as novel linguistic and rhetorical features. The high-scale production of letter-writing manuals was embodied not only in the prodigious quantity of copies that were printed and circulated but also in their inclusion of sample letters to offer examples for children and youths. The Guangyi 廣益 and Shijie 世界 book companies, in particular, were successful in producing and marketing epistolary primers among young readers. Some of their sought-after titles were reprinted multiple times throughout the Republican period. By focusing on three popular letter-writing manuals for young readers published by these two book companies (i.e., A Preteens’ Guide to Letter Writing 童子尺牘, A Children’s Guide to New Letter Writing 兒童新尺牘, and A Children’s Guide to Vernacular Letter Writing 兒童白話尺牘), this paper aims to offer an outline of the moral, social, and interpersonal instructions therein. A close reading of these manuals suggests epistolary knowledge was crucial in the socialisation of children and youths, which partly explains the widespread popularity of epistolary knowledge in Republican China.

4. Henan Tang (University of Edinburgh), Photographing healthy bodies: Model child citizens under the rule of Nanjing Government

This paper is concerned with the health education of children and its visual representation between 1934 and 1936: How healthy images of child citizens were established and formed into specific ideological symbols under the political discourse of the New Life movement. This remarkable movement underlined the norms of personal behaviours, placing great emphasis on hygiene to remake the Chinese people into new citizens for national revitalisation and social mobilisation. Subsequently, in the name of “Health”(健康), this movement tied the physical condition of children to nation-building, with the aim of developing young citizens’ bodies through a rigorous and precise training of daily routines. In the part one, the paper examines the meaning of “health children” and its artistic imagine in pre-modern China. In the part two and three, by using two case studies, Shanghai Children’s Health Camp and Children’ Health Competition, the paper explores: 1) The change of the theory of children’s health in the 1930s; 2) What the “healthy look”, as presented through the lens of camera on mass media, meant for the construction of child citizens; 3) How to shape the model child citizenry based on real-life experience, but also in line with national interests and political propaganda under the rule of Nationalist Party. Also, this paper looks at children’s agency: whether children acted merely as passive recipients of health politics, or as conscious participants.