2005 0-7734-5952-9 This study examines the history of modern education in Republican China and analyzes its interaction with China’s traditional educational heritage. In the first decade of the 20th century, the Chinese government introduced a new, national system of education, hoping that doing so would produce for China the human resources it needed to save itself from foreign encroachment. The new structure, however, was designed in accordance to foreign models that were hardly suited to conditions in China, and it had to compete with a strong indigenous educational tradition that was intimately associated with important features of Chinese social structure.
Ultimately, when evaluated in the reformers’ own hopes and expectations the new schools were a failure. Often referred to as the “foreign eight-legged essay,” they contributed to the destruction of a system of schooling that had helped to integrate traditional Chinese society by providing, at minimum, an avenue for upward mobility that most people considered fair and an introduction to an intellectual and literary heritage that all Chinese could claim as their own. Meanwhile, they introduced both a new set of values that many people considered alien, and a new set of neither institutions that produced the skilled manpower that the reformers sought nor the channel for upward mobility that elite aspirants wanted. By reforming the schools, instead of saving China, the reformers contributed to the disintegration for which the Republican Period is aptly remembered.