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Innovation of Education in Ming & Qing Dynasties

(People's Daily Online)

10:56, July 23, 2012

Bailudong Institute in Mt.Lushan, Jiangxi, greatly developped in the Song Dynasty

Innovation in Education System

In the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) subjects raised by government had been much less than that in the Tang Dynasty, but the examination for 'jin shi' was still fashionable. Most of the prime ministers of high rank also had to pass the exam in this subject which then was regarded as an exclusive subject of prime ministers. Meanwhile, regardless of form and content, the system underwent great innovation.

Firstly the extension of matriculation was broadened. In the former dynasties like the Tang Dynasty, each year the 'jinshi' were no more than twenty to thirty in number but in the Song Dynasty, there were as many as hundreds of people passing the exams and even those who failed the exams many times could apply for tolerance of the emperor and so serve as officials with less important positions.

Secondly, the frequency of exams was limited to a fixed 'once every three years'. The local tests came first in autumn and in the following spring the qualifying candidates would trudge to the capital for the higher imperial examination.

Thirdly, so far as content was concerned, while the earlier examinations laid much stress on the ancient classical texts, the great reformer Wang Anshi (1021 - 1086) advocated an innovation which was much more practical. He changed the blank-filling of verses into composition about the verse, giving free reign to the ability of the candidates. However this was opposed by other grandees and did not last for long.

Finally, to prevent the practice of favoritism, examinees' names were closely covered on their papers which were then exchanged among different local examiners. This did indeed greatly reduce the incidence of cheating.

In the Song Dynasty, few governmental schools were erected, but it was the vogue for scholars to set up numerous private educational organizations - 'shu yuan'. The function of this kind of school was to cultivate talented people, to encourage a devotion to learning, as well as to spread culture. The four most reputed 'shu yuan' were named Bailudong Institute of Jiangxi, Songyang Institute and Yingtianfu Institute of Henan, and Yulu Institute of Hunan. Scholars were invited to give lectures and students were provided with dormitories, desks and food while basically studying on their own. Subsequently, most of these institutes became places where students prepared for exams.

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