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Traditional Education in Asia and Modern

East Asia

In contrast to the diverse development of education in South Asia, the history of education in East Asia related primarily to the development of Confucianism, but variations and vicissitudes were also present. Indeed, while Confucius (c. 551–479 B.C.E.) was commonly regarded as the first teacher in ancient China, he had many competitors both during and after his time. As in India, oral instruction was the main means of education in China, as shown in the Analects, which record the conversations between Confucius and his disciples. However, Confucius was also credited with compiling the Six Classics. During the Han period (206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.), when Confucianism was established as the official ideology in China, these Classics and their commentaries became the principal texts in the school system, which included a state university. These texts became the means by which the dynastic ruler hoped to centralize the educational system. Indeed, while each village funded its schools and hired its teachers, there was discernible unity in the educational system of imperial China. By using these texts and their derivatives, teachers imparted both knowledge and moral values to their students in an effort to prepare at least some of them for government positions. This interest intensified during the Sui (581–618 C.E.) and Tang periods (618–907 C.E.), following the establishment of the civil service examination system, for the system legally permitted any successful students, regardless of their social origin, to enter officialdom.

The cultural atmosphere in the Tang period was distinctly cosmopolitan in that the dynasty patronized, though not always concomitantly, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism (an indigenous reaction to the challenge of Buddhism) while at the same time absorbing many Buddhist elements into its practices. The Buddhist influence was also present in Confucianism. Inspired by the Buddhist emphasis on lineage in knowledge transmission, Tang scholars, in their attempt to combat the intrusion of Buddhism and Daoism and restore the Confucian orthodoxy, also identified key figures in Confucian genealogy. This restorationist project was continued and expanded in the Song period (960–1279 C.E.), marked by the rise of Neo-Confucianism. The Neo-Confucians, such as Zhu Xi (1130–1200), set out to reform education not only by supplying a new set of texts, namely the Four Books, but also by establishing a new type of school, the academy. Zhu's compilation of the Four Books extended the restorationist project of reshaping the Confucian genealogy, whereby Mengzi (c. 371–289 B.C.E.; romanized as Mencius) was canonized, as were some excerpts from the original Confucian canons, which Zhu identified as the essence of Confucian teaching. The proliferation of the academies from this period onward also provided a new venue for students, supplementing the one-teacher village schools and state-run colleges and universities.

This change had little effect on women's education, however. As in India, Chinese women usually received only a rudimentary education at home that prepared them to be good wives and mothers. Outstanding women scholars and poets, however, appeared in every historical period, for example, Ban Zhao (c. 41–120 C.E.) often argued for the necessity of women's education.

During the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) periods, Neo-Confucianism consolidated its position as the ideological orthodoxy, thanks to the entrenchment of civil service examinations. As Neo-Confucianism exerted its influence beyond China and became the orthodox ideology of Korea and Japan, it also faced many challengers and critics. By the eighteenth century, a new intellectual trend arose simultaneously across East Asia that, while sharing the restorationist sentiment of the Neo-Confucians, attempted to transcend the Neo-Confucian discursive system and revive the teachings of classical Confucianism. This trend emphasized practical knowledge and scholarship; the latter was characterized by the endeavor to ascertain the authenticity of Confucian texts and the veracity of their contents by the methods of history and philology. All of this had a noticeable impact on the goals and methods of Confucian education.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Dysprosium to Electrophoresis - Electrophoretic TheoryTraditional Education in Asia and Modern - South Asia, East Asia, Modernization, Bibliography