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Introduction (g)—Impassioned Communities Introduction (h)—History, Language, and Culture, c.1985
|[a] Portals RF|
Li Qingzhao (1084-c.1150), a Song dynasty poet, is another great example of exceptional talent in the literary arts. Her poetry has long been anthologized, and her pieces flow with grace and elegance. She was raised in a literary family and had an unusually close relationship with her husband, whose literary interests she shared until his death in 1129. Only about seventy of her poems survive, but they show a depth of learning and emotion that few poets ever attained. There are many more examples of such talent, but what unites them is the exceptional nature of their educations. They had access to the greatest works and the finest instruction because they had fathers who were willing to educate their daughters and were affluent enough to do so. By the Ming and Qing dynasties, highly educated women were not unusual. Still, it was not until the twentieth century that women attained equal legal access to education.
In the later imperial era, the Three Character Classic (三字經) was one of the first books that a child would begin to memorize at the age of six or seven. Although arranged in a singsong fashion with an emphasis on brevity (each line is three characters long), this book is filled with the educational ideals espoused during the later imperial period, particularly diligence and commitment. The opening lines address the famous philosophical debate over whether people are born good or become good through learning. The text then goes on to address education, which starts in the home and continues with strict teaching and diligent study.
|[c] Separation RF|
This is the father's error
To teach children without strictness
This is the teacher's indolence
If children fail to study
This is inappropriate
If they don't learn in youth
What will happen when they are old?
If jade is not carved
Its potential is incomplete
If people do not study
Righteousness cannot be known
The text goes on for hundreds of characters to describe key points in Chinese history and philosophy before closing with the lines below, again exhorting students to remain diligent and to study for the sake of their families and the good of society. It particularly addresses the concerns of those who do not have the means to obtain a good education. Whether they include people making their own books for composition practice, remaining awake after a hard day of work, or reading by natural light, the Three Character Classic offers examples of dedication. Learning, we are told, is what separates us from the rest of the natural world; it is what makes us human.
|[d] Silken RF|
Silkworms emit silken thread
Bees produce honey
If people do not study
They are not equal to the animals
Learn in youth
Put it into practice when grown
Above, influence the ruler
Below, aid the people
Perseverance leads to success
Idleness has no benefits
Be ever vigilant
And exert your strength
Until the last imperial examination was given in 1905, a traditional education consisted of memorizing basic beginner texts, such as the one above, and moving quickly to the Four Books (四書) of Confucian teaching. From there, students would read history, philosophy, poetry, and the like, with the goal of passing the many levels of examinations that began at the local level, continued through various county and provincial levels, and ended in the imperial examinations given once every three years in the capital. Those who passed were the superstars of Chinese society, and both they and their families spent years preparing for the day that they would begin their official careers.
|[e] Era's end RF|
Contemporary Education in the Chinese Speaking World
We'll continue this introductory series to "Primary Sources" with a look at the way education is organized in the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong (which has a slightly different system), and Taiwan.