Sunday, Apr 30, 2017, 3:08 PM CST – China

Society

National Studies

Looking Forward

According to Beijing Normal University’s Professor Xu Yong, national confidence comes from its cultural prosperity and revitalization, and he is sure the revival of “national studies” is a big step forward

Nanjing Fuzi Temple Primary School organizes a traditional-style induction ceremony for 320 newly enrolled students, September 1, 2009

Children in traditional Chinese dress read classic scriptures in Yuzhang Shuyuan, June 26, 2011

In mid-July 2015, Beijing played host to a forum on how to include Chinese traditional culture in modern-day education. More than 60 academics from the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong attended to discuss how to pass traditions down through today’s school system.

In between the discussion sessions on July 14, NewsChina sat down with Professor Xu Yong, the dean of Beijing Normal University’s Institute of Education History and Culture, to ask him about his perspective towards the recent revival of so-called “guoxue,” or “national studies” education.

 

NewsChina: What is the purpose of guoxue education in contemporary China?

Xu Yong: Different people might take different stances in promoting guoxue education. I personally regard it as more than moral cultivation and classify it into three different levels: the basic level is to appreciate and master the elegance and esthetics of the Chinese language; the second level is to approach the spiritual world conveyed through Chinese classics; the highest level is to get deeply rooted into our traditional culture and become cultured and self-aware Chinese people... rather than being Chinese merely on a biological level.

 

NC: Has guoxue become a compulsory course within the public education system?

XY: In some provinces, like Shandong, compulsory courses on traditional culture were launched as early as 2009. The course includes the classics, cultural history and traditional arts and skills.

Last year, I publicly recommended to the Ministry of Education that guoxue content be included in nationwide compulsory courses for basic education [kindergarten, elementary and middle school education], however so far there is no such course. But there are various forms of attempts in this regard within different schools.

 

NC: Will the addition of guoxue education be a burden for Chinese students who are already overworked?

XY: I do not agree. If schools should require [students to] memorize texts, it would surely be a burden. But as long as schools have a sound appraisal method for this course, this won’t be a problem.

 

NC: How can we balance guoxue with the influence of the Western ideologies of democracy and freedom?

XY: I do not think the two are incompatible. For example, Taiwan is more democratic than the mainland, however Taiwan has preserved its traditions better than the mainland. Modernity and tradition are actually not in opposition. Innovation should be based upon understanding of tradition.

But of course, we should not advocate guoxue while completely denying Western education. Guoxue promotion should be placed in the context of an international environment.

 

NC: What is the biggest obstacle for the revival of guoxue?

XY: There is still quite a lot of social opposition to the revival, calling it backward and conservative. Even some officials in the Ministry of Education are against the agenda to promote guoxue.

 

NC: Does Beijing Normal University train future guoxue teachers?

XY: We’ve set up the Institute of Education History and Culture, which focuses on setting standards for guoxue curricula and the compilation of guoxue textbooks. It is true that the lack of qualified teachers is acting as a bottleneck for guoxue education. But, so far, except for some sporadic, short-term training programs, we [at the Institute] don’t have enough resources to systematically train teachers in this regard.

 

NC: How do you perceive traditional guoxue education in comparison to Western-style education models like Montessori or Waldorf?

XY: First of all, I am a big fan of those two Western models of education. Yet I do not agree with the idea of giving children complete freedom, since education itself is about guiding and mentoring, and may sometimes even include punishment. Thus, I prefer to combine both traditional Chinese methods for educating children with Western ones, following children’s dispositions while at the same time steering them away from indulging in incorrect behavior.

 

NC: Do you agree with using the corporal punishment often employed in China’s ancient education system?

XY: I know that in ancient China, particularly southern China, corporal punishment was highly emphasized in children’s education. The modern education system does not allow this to happen. I personally am also against this behavior. Those teachers who physically abuse children in private guoxue schools are ignorant of the law, and of teaching.

 

NC: What’s your perspective on the growing number of guoxue private schools, also called shuyuan?

XY: Shuyuan and public schools are two completely different systems. The comeback of shuyuan education indeed poses challenges towards modern school teaching.

It is estimated that there are over 3,000 private organizations offering guoxue education under different names. Most of them are illegal, since they have not yet acquired a license to run a private school from a sub-branch of the Ministry of Education. It is always hard to supervise them. Thus, in my opinion, the government should issue licenses to those private educational institutions that have a long history, a pretty good reputation and a strong group of teachers. For those small schools that are insufficiently equipped, the government can assist them to merge, while the government should crack down immediately on those institutions that cheat or use corporal punishment.

 [The central government needs to] encourage the establishment of an industry coalition among shuyuan so as to enforce self-discipline and guidance. It also needs to improve the training, testing and quality certification system for teachers in those private guoxue schools. All shuyuan teachers should obtain an offical teacher’s license, thus ensuring the teaching quality of guoxue education.

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