A School in Every Village
240 pages, 6 x 9
14 illustrations (2 maps and 12 tables)
Release Date:28 Feb 2013
Release Date:28 Feb 2012
Release Date:28 Feb 2012

A School in Every Village

Educational Reform in a Northeast China County, 1904-31

UBC Press

In the early 1900s, the Qing dynasty implemented a series of institutional reforms to shore up its power. The most important were a nationwide school system and the abolition of the centuries-old civil examinations.

A School in Every Village recounts how villagers and local state officials in Haicheng County enacted orders to establish rural primary schools from 1904 to 1931. In the process, it also addresses topics central to scholarly debates on modern China, including modernization, state making, gender, and the impact of Western ideas on local society. Elizabeth VanderVen draws on untapped archival materials to overturn received notions about the modernity-tradition binary in Chinese history and about the Chinese state as an unwelcome operator in local society. What emerges is a dynamic portrait of interaction and cooperation among state officials, local officials, and villagers, who played a vital role in establishing schools, for both boys and girls, in their communities.

Although the Communists, contemporary observers, and more recent scholarship have all depicted rural society as feudal and backward and the educational reforms of the early twentieth century a failure, VanderVen’s provocative study reveals that local communities were capable of integrating foreign ideas and models into a system that was at once traditional and modern, Chinese and Western.



This book will be of interest to scholars of modern China and the history of education.

‘It is a pleasure to read such a well-organized, thoroughly documented, and clearly presented study. VanderVen helps bring to life the village schools of Haicheng County in Northeast China after the imperial Qing fell and the new republic was born. Her book will stand up to the best in our field.’ Ronald Suleski, author of Civil Government in Warlord China: Tradition, Modernization and Manchuria
‘This is the first study to utilize local county-level archives to examine the origins and development of modern schooling in China. As such, it affords previously unseen local perspective on the subject, which effectively challenges much of the conventional wisdom on how ‘modern’ schooling took root in China’s villages. Subsequent scholarship on this subject will have to respond to the arguments presented in VanderVen’s compelling book.’ Glen Peterson, author of Overseas Chinese in the People’s Republic of China
Elizabeth R. VanderVen is an historian of modern and late imperial China. She was on the faculty of the History Department at Rutgers University, Camden.


1   The Setting: Northeast China, Fengtian Province, and Haicheng County

2   Educational Transformation: Abolishing and Reforming the Sishu

3   Administering the New Educational System: Educational Promotion Bureaus

4   Funding the New Community Schools

5   Establishing Girls’ Schools in Haicheng County

6   Old and New in the Village Community Schools



Glossary of Chinese Terms and Place Names



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