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Reviewed by:
  • Portraits of Influential Chinese Educators
  • Tanja Sargent (bio)
Ruth Hayhoe . Portraits of Influential Chinese Educators. CERC Studies in Comparative Education 17. Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Center, University of Hong Kong and Springer, 2006. xiv, 398 pp. Paperback $38.00, Isbn 978-962-8093-40-3.

In his classic work The Sociological Imagination, C. Wright Mills writes:

[T]he facts of contemporary history are also facts about the success and the failure of individual men and women . . . Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both . . . No social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history and of their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey.1

"The problems of biography, of history and of their intersections within a society" find vivid expression in Hayhoe's accounts of the lives of eleven academics, philosophers, educational leaders, and teachers who have influenced contemporary educational thought and policy in China. In addition to presenting the life stories of "influential educators," Hayhoe also presents histories of the institutions of higher education where they studied and worked. Through use of the narrative technique, the individual and institutional stories are interwoven with the larger national story into a complex tapestry that provides a holistic picture of the context of the development of contemporary Chinese educational thought. The lives of the influential educators that Hayhoe interviewed have intersected with the turbulent sociopolitical context of twentieth-century China that was formed by such forces as Western and missionary influences in the late 1800s and early 1900s; the May Fourth movement; the rise of anti-foreign sentiment; the impact of the Japanese occupation and the ensuing anti-Japanese war; the policies of the Nationalist government; the civil war; the victory of the communists in 1949; the rise and waning of Soviet influence in the first decade after the revolution; the Anti-Rightist and "Let 100 flowers bloom" movements; the further ideological excesses of the Cultural Revolution; and, finally, the era of "opening and reform" that began with the rise to power of Deng Xiaoping.

The eleven individual stories in the book represent unique responses to common historical circumstances. Nevertheless, several themes recur across the narrative. Hayhoe identifies "the readiness to make sacrifices for the sake of principles they had embraced" (p. 35) as one of the common characteristics of the individuals whose stories she tells. For example, each of the individuals protrayed in this book has been willing to sacrifice for love of their country. It was love for the motherland that compelled Wang Chengxu to return home to China during the pre-1949 turmoil, before completing his doctoral studies at the London Institute of Education. It was love of China that moved Xie Xide to return home in 1952 after completing her PhD in physics at MIT, and that prompted Lu Jie to insist on staying in China [End Page 457] to complete her university studies despite her father's best efforts to persuade her to study in the United States. It was love for the motherland that drove Zhu Jiusi to leave his university studies at Wuhan University to join the revolution, move to the revolutionary base in Yan'an, and study at the Anti-Japanese Resistance University. Li Bingde's answer to the question as to why he returned to China from his study of educational experimentation in Switzerland and France was, "It was not lofty Communist ideals, nor was it a high level of political responsibility. It was simply a love for China" (p. 98).

The impact of sociohistorical context on individual biograpy looms large during the Cultural Revolution. During this period of ideological extremism, intellectuals were primary targets. Again the uniqueness of each individual experience of the same historical period is reflected in the individual narratives. Lu Jie was sent to the rural areas for several years of hard labor and was precluded from intellectual work altogether. Others, such as Li Bingde, were able to continue to dedicate themselves to the work of educational development. During the 1957 Anti-Rightist movement, he was labeled a Rightist and was removed from his position as provost of...