How Formal Education in China Was Ruined by Communism

Before 1949, Chinese society, especially university students under the Republic of China, enjoyed intellectual freedom under the stewardship of Sun Yat-sen, the Beiyang government, and Chiang Kai-shek. (Image: Public Domain)
Before 1949, Chinese society, especially university students under the Republic of China, enjoyed intellectual freedom under the stewardship of Sun Yat-sen, the Beiyang government, and Chiang Kai-shek. (Image: Public Domain)

Before 1949, Chinese society, especially university students under the Republic of China, enjoyed intellectual freedom under the stewardship of Sun Yat-sen, the Beiyang government, and Chiang Kai-shek.

There were three noteworthy types of Chinese universities during the Republic of China. The first type was government-sponsored universities, such as Peking University and Central University. The second was universities run by Western missionaries, such as Yanjing University, Saint John University, and Soochow University, and finally, the third type was the private universities run by private Chinese educators, such as Fudan University in Shanghai, The Great China University, and Nankai University in Tianjin.

The Yanjing University campus in the 1930s. (Image: Public Domain)

The Yanjing University campus in the 1930s. (Image: Public Domain)

The planners of the third type of university were Chinese with Western-style cultural backgrounds. Ma Xiangbo, the founder of Fudan University, had been a Catholic for years. Zhang Boling, the founder of Nankai University, studied education at Columbia University in the U.S. These individuals were influenced by their exposure to Western thought processes that were based on civilization and rationality. These external factors were able to lift the sights of the Chinese beyond the ritual enslavement to the Dynastic Emperors. It is easy to see that the second and third types of universities had the same roots in the Romanized West.

From the end of the Qing Dynasty to 1949 in the 38th year of the Republic of China, these three types of universities were led by Cai Yuanpei of Peking University and supported by U.S. Ambassador John Leighton Stuart. Numerous kind and sincere Chinese educators, thinkers, and scholars, such as Zhang Boling, Luo Jialun, and Mei Yiqi, made great contributions to Chinese education. Although there was very good science education at the time, the liberal arts scholars led the trend; scholars such as Cai Yuanpei, Hu Shi, Luo Jialun, Qian Mu, Qian Xuantong, Liang Shiqiu, Zhu Guangqian, and Wu Zheng were all experts in literature, history, philosophy, and education.

Former residence of John Leighton Stuart in Hangzhou. (Image: 猫猫的日记本 via wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

Former residence of John Leighton Stuart in Hangzhou. (Image: 猫猫的日记本 via wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Communist Party that appeared in China in 1921 misled the people developing the three types of universities by wrapping them in the entwined strands of Marxism-Leninism, the precursor of communism and socialism. The universities were unwittingly influenced by the Kuomintang ruling group, which suppressed traditional education in favor of rewriting Chinese history to strengthen modern thought.

As soon as Mao Zedong took over Tiananmen, the first thing he did was to immediately reorganize the universities left in the Republic of China. He started with Peking University, and then Yanjing University established by John Leighton Stuart, whom Mao hated. Mao Zedong deliberately merged the two schools and sent the Party secretary to the school. Meanwhile, he never entered the school in his lifetime, deeply despising the entire intellectual circle. The mainland under communist control abolished, devalued, and distorted liberal arts education in Chinese universities after 1949. Even the experts in science and engineering were criticized. Mao Zedong created an era of darkness and ignorance not seen in the preceding 3,000 years.

Translated by Joseph Wu and edited by Helen

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