Chinese Philosophy and Education

Chinese value education over religion Photo: Dragon Man

WASHINGTON, June 3, 2013 — Philosophy and education are two deeply ingrained facets of Chinese life.

In many ways, education preceded philosophy, for without education there would be no philosophy. But, philosophy had become such an important part of Chinese people’s lives that they formed a symbiotic relationship. One could not exist without the other.

China is a country rooted in philosophy. To most Chinese, religious sects are but different schools of philosophy, subject to discussion and debate. This also explains the dearth of religious persecution throughout its history, and the peaceful coexistence of different religious faiths. It is not unusual to find members of a single family practicing different religious faith.

Of course, particular religions that were deemed by the government(s) to pose threats to the peace and security of the nation were prosecuted as political oppositions. The Taiping Rebellion, which existed from 1850 to 1864, was the last religious (Christian) rebellion in China. It cost over 20 million lives and almost toppled the Manchu government. Ironically, that rebellion was put down with the help of Western Christian military assistance.

The philosophies of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism dominate the lives of average Chinese. Buddhism enlightens the soul or afterlife, while Daoism develops the person or the body and mind, and Confucianism guides the nation or world.

To the Chinese, education is the path to success. The national examination system for entry into government service appeared during the Han dynasty, and was formalized during the Sui and Tang dynasties. Under the imperial governments, regardless of age or social standing, everyone was eligible for local examinations.

Those people that passed the cut could then proceed to take the national examination at the Capital, at times with the Emperor as the presiding official. Scholars that passed the national examination received automatic assignments as government officials. The top ranked candidate received immediate appointment as a minister of the imperial court.

This system for entry into government service remains in effect in both Taiwan and China. In Taiwan, after the annual national examination, the number of student suicides inevitably increased; because some people were ashamed for not having attained the desired result in the examination.

Chinese equate age with knowledge and wisdom, which explains the tradition of respect for the elderly. Humbleness is the expected behavior of a cultured person. Humbleness demonstrates proper training and education. Brashness and arrogance just expose the failures of one’s heritage.


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Tang Long

William Tang is a research analyst. Born in Taiwan, he is fluent in three dialects of Chinese and Spanish, plus survival level German and Japanese. He is a graduate of the Officers Advance Course at the General Political Warfare College, Taipei, Taiwan.

He lectures on Chinese history and culture and has two books in publication: “Tales of the Dragon – The Book of Lore,” an anthology of Chinese legends, fables, and historical anecdotes; and “Pets Only,” which recounts a pets operated eating establishment in northern Virginia. He lives with Shadow (Lab), Taz (Boxer) and Foxy Lady (Japanese Shiba Inu) in Fredericksburg, VA. He writes under the penname of TANG Long.

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