This article analyzes the widespread implementation of the little teacher system in China from the 1930s to the 1950s. Developed by prominent educator Tao Xingzhi, the little teacher system sought to promote universal education by requiring schoolchildren to tutor illiterate adults during after-school hours. I argue that the little teacher system constituted a radical reconceptualization of children as a vanguard force that could be mobilized to transform illiterate adults into modern citizens. While other Chinese intellectuals emphasized the need to mold children into new citizens that could meet the challenges of the future, Tao argued that the urgent threat of imperialism demanded a new conceptualization of children as capable of remolding adults in the present. As a radical challenge to the age-based hierarchies underpinning both Western liberal and traditional Chinese conceptions of childhood, the case study of China's little teachers reveals how anti-imperialist struggles generated new notions of childhood beyond the confines of Western models and inherited traditions.