In the early 1900s, the Qing dynasty implemented a series ofinstitutional reforms to shore up its power. The most important were anationwide school system and the abolition of the centuries-old civilexaminations.
A School in Every Village recounts how villagers and localstate officials in Haicheng County enacted orders to establish ruralprimary schools from 1904 to 1931. In the process, it also addressestopics central to scholarly debates on modern China, includingmodernization, state making, gender, and the impact of Western ideas onlocal society. Elizabeth VanderVen draws on untapped archival materialsto overturn received notions about the modernity-tradition binary inChinese history and about the Chinese state as an unwelcome operator inlocal society. What emerges is a dynamic portrait of interaction andcooperation among state officials, local officials, and villagers, whoplayed a vital role in establishing schools, for both boys and girls,in their communities.
Although the Communists, contemporary observers, and more recentscholarship have all depicted rural society as feudal and backward andthe educational reforms of the early twentieth century a failure,VanderVen’s provocative study reveals that local communities werecapable of integrating foreign ideas and models into a system that wasat once traditional and modern, Chinese and Western.
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.
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.
1 The Setting: Northeast China, Fengtian Province, andHaicheng County
2 Educational Transformation: Abolishing and Reformingthe Sishu
3 Administering the New Educational System: EducationalPromotion Bureaus
4 Funding the New Community Schools
5 Establishing Girls’ Schools in HaichengCounty
6 Old and New in the Village Community Schools
Glossary of Chinese Terms and Place Names
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