Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/33

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THAT China is at present in a state of transition along all lines, but especially in educational matters, is patent to all observers. To-day we should distinguish between the old China and the new China. In order to understand the transition now under way we must, of course, consider the forces that have made and characterize the old China. Of these none has had greater influence than the system of literary examinations by means of which civil servants have long been selected. To place this examination system in proper perspective, it is necessary first to notice the characteristics and content of elementary and preparatory education.

It seems, though the records are sufficiently mythical, that as early as 2400 B.C. there were family, town and county schools throughout the empire, but then as now they bore no relation to either the national, provincial or district government. The only national schools have been those for Bannermen, originally on a liberal scale, but now neglected. In various places provincial officers have from time to time opened schools for military, naval or special purposes. Chinese 'colleges' so-called, are merely advanced schools of grammar, rhetoric and fine writing.

In the primitive period books were few and the youth depended on oral teaching, and the schools in eastern Asia as in western Asia and Greece were ambulatory. Though at a great disadvantage in the matter of libraries as compared with modern students, there were several compensating circumstances which made the ancient schools superior as formers of character, for practical morality was the great object, and intellectual discipline ranked subordinate. In such work the character of the teacher was the prime factor, and the question-and-answer method forced on them by the lack of books excited inquiry and fostered originality. Now only the forms and names of this period remain without the reality.

While there is not and practically never was a school system in China, a method of instruction has prevailed, not only very ancient,

  1. Chinese education of the type described in this article has been abolished by imperial edict of September 2, 1905; but as yet the actual transformation has not progressed far enough to justify the use of the past tense.