Confucius (551BC- 479 BC) is doubtless the one who the most marked the Chinese thought on the education. His teachings insist on the need of harmony in the society: live in accordance with the others, as well in the family – which constitutes the “natural model” - as in the rest of the humanity.
It is by an education based on the examples that are passed through five moral virtues, pillars of the organization and the preservation of a respectful social harmony of the hierarchical relations: ren (the compassion), yi (the righteousness), li (the propriety), zhi (the wisdom), xin (the loyalty). This education has for ideal the social integration.
His first purpose is to endow every spirit of a developed social consciousness and to inculcate the codes which, through the respect for the elder and the filial devotion, guarantee the social stability.
The teachers of classic period associated confidentially reflection on the art to steer and education: Confucius, Mo Zi, Mencius, Xun Zi, Lao Zi, Zhuang Zi, Shang Yang and Han Fei founded schools and had numerous followers. It explains that teachers and men of letters enjoy a privileged place towards the government.
The educational system had a double political mission: bring up the moral qualities of the population and identify the loyal and talented individuals able to serve the State.
The system of mandarinal evaluation was effective during almost one thousand three hundred years and came to an end only in 1905: its contents and organization contributed widely to strengthen the base of the Confucian values guarantee of the society unity. It explains largely the longevity of the imperial system: “all the art of the success consisted in learning by heart and in knowing how to imitate the models of composition.”
The success in the examinations was for the interested and their families the insurance of a career guaranteeing material advantages and big social recognition. In the imperial period, any head of state tries hard to lean on the education to sit its authority and avoid the disorders. The education and the culture were instrumented by the emperors and their councillors to strengthen the absolutism of the power and make an alternative to the unthinkable tyranny.
By granting, from the beginning of its strategy of conquest of the power, a pre-eminent role to the political education, Mao Zedong, joins in the continuity. For him the emergence of a new order connected to the setting-up of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in campaigns pass by the education of the farmers.
The education is at the service of the construction of the socialism and the class struggle. In 1957, to strengthen the place of the Marxism in the education, the Central committee allocates one thousand executives of the Party in institutions. In 1958, the " Directive concerning - the educational action " underlines that the education is at the service of the proletarian policy and that it must be combined with the productive work.
The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) marks the peak of this approach defended by the left branch of the Party: Universities and research laboratories are closed; students, teachers and researchers are by millions sent to the countryside - according to the Maoist terminology - "to perfect", in the contact of the farmers and the productive work, their political consciousness.
When in 1978, on returning to the power, Deng Xiaoping launches its policy of Reform and Opening based on four modernizations (farming, industry, sciences and technologies, national defence), he breaks with the left arm of the Party and calls back in a pragmatic way the necessary link between the economic and social progress and the development of the education, the sciences and the technologies.
This historical reminder shows why, even today, the education in China is often less focused on the acquisition of knowledge or practical understanding than to moral and social values. The examinations continue to play a central role: “China which invented the belief of the diploma and the examinations never succeeded in releasing itself from it”.
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Nevertheless, as the socialist market economy and the private sector developed, the Chinese educational system had to evolve, in particular the higher education: the contents of the trainings turned more to practical contents and tried to meet the needs of companies.
However, the political control of the CPC did not loosen: the study of the Marxism-Leninism and that of the thought of Mao Zedong remain required for all. However, as the massification and the commodification of the superior and secondary education continue, certain contradictions connected to the inheritance of the traditional system become more and more manifest: assure the harmony of the society and the national unity does not rhyme inevitably with personal fulfilment and scientific or technological innovation.
The recent introduction of the concept of “harmonious socialist society " and the reminder of the necessity " to promote the morality within the people " shows the will of the Chinese leaders to think of the modernization of their country through return of its Confucian roots.