Reversal Communication: The Educational Spirit of the Countless Trees Hall and the Late Qing Transformation in Elementary Education Readers 逆轉交流:萬木草堂學風與晚清童蒙讀本轉型

Project: Research project

Project Details


The transition of Chinese elementary education marked the beginning of China’s modernization and the new openness to Western and Japanese learning in the closing decades of the 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th century. The consequence of Sino-Japanese War in 1894 prompted the late Qing officers to study and recognize Meiji Restoration’s educational reform playing the key role of the success on Japan’s modernization. Under the impetus of modernization, China’s leading position of the East-Asian cultural communication was shaken and replaced by Japan.

The “Countless Trees Hall of Thatch” 萬木草堂 was the name of the late Qing scholar Kang Youwei’s 康有為 study studio in Guangdong. The metaphor of “Countless Trees” meant cultivating elite for the nation and detaching the traditional learning. After the Wuxu Coup in 1898, Kang and his disciples were listed as wanted and escaped to Japan. Chen Zibao 陳子褒 and Lu Xiangfu 盧湘父, who was Kang’s disciples and the teachers in elementary school, arrived in Kobe 神戶 and Yokohama 橫濱 respectively and studied the development and innovative teaching methods of Japanese primary education by inspecting primary school, discussing with Japanese educators and collecting Japanese primary school readers. While returning to Macau and Hong Kong, they compiled over 50 kind of elementary education readers replacing the traditional elementary textbooks that had been in use since the Song and the Ming Dynasties.

By analyzing the Japanese elementary education readers in Meiji era, this project not only seeks to examine the transformation in Chinese elementary readers from the late Qing to the early Republican era, but also digs into the issues of cultural communication, education theory, social class, knowledge system and dialect usage under the progress of China’s modernization. Compared to the traditional elementary textbooks, those written by Chen and Lu show the trends of the modernization of Chinese elementary reader: 1. Reconstruction on the knowledge system of Chinese elementary education readers. 2. Imitation of Japanese primary school readers, including subject level and drawing, etc. 3. Changing the subject contents from Confucian ethics and moral norm to the knowledge of daily skills, astronomy, health, gymnastics, technology, etc. 4. Shifting the writing language from classical Chinese to vernacular and dialect. 5. Transition from traditional elementary textbooks to primary school readers. 6. Applying the Western linguistic to interpret the Chinese character. 7. Advocating interest-based education by removing the mode of adult education in the early enlightenment.

Effective start/end date1/01/2231/12/23

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education


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