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  • The Saga of Chinese Higher Education from the Tongzhi Restoration to Tiananmen Square: Revolution and Reform
  • Ka-che Yip (bio)
Richard A. Hartnett . The Saga of Chinese Higher Education from the Tongzhi Restoration to Tiananmen Square: Revolution and Reform. Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: Mellen Press, 1998. xviii, 590 pp. Hardcover $129.95, ISBN 0-7734-8287-3.

This book is an ambitious attempt to provide a sweeping survey of developments in Chinese higher education from the Self-Strengthening Movement in the 1860s to the modernization efforts of the Deng Xiaoping era in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It contains seven chapters, each with two or more parts, covering such topics as the origins of modern higher education in the late Qing, reforms in the early Republic, Chinese universities in the Nanjing decade, developments during the Sino-Japanese War and the Civil War, socialist education under the Communists, the Cultural Revolution, and changes during the Open Door period. The author examines such wide-ranging issues as educational policies, institution building, curriculum reforms, enrollment patterns, and student movements. Based mostly on secondary sources, Hartnett synthesizes existing scholarship on the subject and succeeds in presenting within a chronological framework the main trends of development. The often stimulating discussion is enhanced by dozens of tables and figures, which provide a wealth of data on various aspects of the evolution of the system of higher education.

A theme that runs through the study is the tension that plagued, and continues to plague, the direction of higher learning in China, characterized by the opposition between "tradition and innovation, orthodoxy and rebellion, centralization and decentralization, and utility and disinteredness [sic]" (p. xxvi). A significant factor that explains this continuing tension is the centrality of education in China's political and cultural developments. A Confucian education was essential to a political career and upward mobility in much of the traditional period, and, during the Nanjing and Communist periods, education was central to contested political, social, and cultural values. Thus, as far as the leaders—whether Confucian, Nationalist, or Communist—were concerned, the control of the direction, and the content, of education assumed tremendous importance. The author is correct, therefore, in approaching the "cavalcade of Chinese higher education as a mutually interactive dynamic between the university and the larger political and cultural environment" (p. xiv).

What needs to be made explicit, however, is how the linkage between politics and education prevents China's system of higher learning from ever achieving autonomy, and how that relationship makes education vulnerable to the vicissitudes of politics. It is unfortunate that the rise of modern Chinese higher education took place at a time when the survival of the country was at stake, and the [End Page 467] tongwenguan, arsenal schools, or sending of students abroad were designed to bring about the rapid technological modernization of China to counter the Western threat. The failure of the Republican experiment after the collapse of the Qing and the continued external threat meant that for most leaders and intellectuals the acquisition of modern (Western) knowledge became a means to an end. In the name of national salvation, education became a tool to achieve national strengthening and modernization, and its content and philosophy had to conform to the leaders' perception of how best to attain these objectives. After the founding of the Communist regime, education was called upon to serve the role of inculcating new political and cultural values among the people so that they could work to realize the utopia envisioned by Mao. Later, under Deng, education once again emerged as the key to saving China from backwardness and underdevelopment. In the final analysis, both the Nationalists and the Communists pursued a strategy of building a strong modern state characterized by the extension and consolidation of state control over an expanded agenda of responsibilities and functions considered to be within the proper domain of state power and vital to realizing the goals of modern state-building. Throughout this long process, institutions of higher learning were thus never able to achieve an autonomous status, free from political and ideological control.

Not surprisingly, such control was extended to student activism, both on and off campus. Hartnett devotes...


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