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Reviews 93 Benjamin A. Elman and Alexander Woodside, editors. Education and Society in Late Imperial China, 1600-1900. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University ofCalifornia Press, 1994. xvi, 575 pp. Hardcover $65.00. Traditional Chinese education is not an easy topic, because it is so intertwined with the problem of state ideological control. Even the institutional history of Chinese education is difficult, because not only the immense diversity ofpractices throughout a vast region over time defies simple presentation, but the official records on government schools, which are encumbered with a complex, archaic symbolism and a kaleidoscope ofbureaucratic names, are also frustrating for even the most diligent student. Moreover, the record ofdie education ofa nation is basically diat nation's history. Any serious student cannot pretend not to understand this most fundamental point about a nation's self-image and character, and how it comes to be the way it is. In a remarkable way, this collection ofessays has succeeded in dealing with almost all of these problem areas and has presented us, with admirable lucidity, an account ofhow late imperial China viewed itselfand how, on the eve of "modern " education, China sought to redefine itself within its social and political parameters . But above all, this book provides a definitive answer to the question of how the Manchu state interacted with the Chinese gentry community in the sphere ofeducation and how the civil service examination system was related to die educational experiences ofindividual scholars. With the publication of this book, we are now better able to perceive the positive roles played by a local society in a despotic state. This revised picture gives ample evidence of the editors' vision and originality. It is also an important corrective to the conventional view that has dominated our interpretation of Confucian education in the past halfcentury . The editors, in their introduction, make it clear that this book seeks to substantiate with historical evidence the contention that the Neo-Confucian education diat began in the Sung was by no means "debilitating" and "rigid" (p. 2), and that, instead, Neo-Confucian education contributed to the success of present-day East Asia. Even if one does not agree with this pronouncement, one still can find much to learn in this volume. Four basic issues were given special attention during the conference upon which this volume is based: the relationship of the late imperial state to education ; the totality of the civil service examination experience (i.e., how important it© 1995 by University was tQ educauon and whether it served to define scholarship [orthodoxy]); how of awai? resseducation created national and individual identity; and, finally, how education affected the accumulation and use ofknowledge. 94 China Review International: Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1995 Any reader of this volume will be immediately impressed by die fact that the state seemed to be nearly omnipresent in Chinese education, although for an experienced Chinese historian, this volume actually suggests the active participation ofthe local, and somewhat independent, gentry leaders in the creation and management of education at all levels. The editors' afterword clearly confirms this (p. 527). The pictures presented by several authors show that there was a high degree oflocal activism, and hence elite autonomy. I only wish that someone had taken into consideration die alien nature of the Manchu regime and offered an explanation for this special Ch'ing dynasty phenomenon. I believe that its alien identity was a major factor behind die comparatively tolerant attitude adopted by Ch'ing rulers toward die Chinese gentry—and, for that matter, European missionaries , at least in the first half ofthe dynasty. Hints at local activism are found in Kent Guy's excellent study on Fang Pao's attempt to use the civil service examination to influence scholarly pursuits. The examination itselfwould seem to be only a gauge of changing scholarly orientation , a point Elman demonstrates with force by examining hitherto littie-studied examination essays that unmistakably reflected the intellectual trends developing almost independendy, outside state control. Similarly, the autonomy of the elite comes out clearly in Angela Leung's study on charitable schools and in Barry Keenan's study ofa post-T'ai-p'ing academy, in which he points to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 93-99
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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