1 minute read

Education in China

Social Consequences Of Education

Education was premised on social distinctions between literati, peasants, artisans, and merchants in descending order of rank. Under the Ming, sons of merchants for the first time were legally permitted to take the civil examinations. However, occupational prohibitions, which extended from so-called mean peoples to all Daoist and Buddhist clergy, kept many others out of the civil service competition, not to mention an unstated gender bias against all women.

Because the dynastic school system was limited to candidates already literate in classical Chinese, initial stages in training and preparing a son for the civil service became the responsibility of families seeking to attain or maintain elite status. Careerism usually won out over idealism among talented young men who occasionally were forced to choose between their social obligations to their parents and relatives and their personal aspirations. Failures could, however, because of their classical literacy, choose teaching and medicine as alternate careers.

Unlike contemporary Europe and Japan, where absolute social barriers between nobility and commoners prevented the translation of commercial wealth into elite status, landed affluence and commercial wealth during the Ming dynasty were intertwined with high educational status. Because of the literary requirements, artisans, peasants, and clerks were poorly equipped to take advantage of the openness of the civil service. Clear boundaries were also erected to demarcate male education from female upbringing, which remained intact until the seventeenth century, when education of women in elite families became more common.

Nevertheless, when compared with the fatalistic ideologies common among Buddhist or Hindu peasants in South and Southeast Asia, for example, the Chinese ideology of teaching and learning did promote beliefs in the usefulness of education and created a climate of rising expectations for those who dreamed of glory but sometimes rebelled when their hopes were repeatedly dashed.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Dysprosium to Electrophoresis - Electrophoretic TheoryEducation in China - Educational Ideals In Late Traditional China, Education, Society, And Examinations, Political Uses Of Education