Although the practice of co-education at primary level had been sanctioned by the new Republican education system of 1912, most schools during the early years of the Republic continued to be segregated according to gender (school statistics that were reported to Beijing from the provinces consistently differentiate boys’ and girls’ schools).8 Moreover, as noted in Chapter 3, the 1912 system clearly stated that secondary and higher levels of education were to be segregated. Contributors to women’s journals during the first few years of the Republic con­tinued to oppose the principle of co-education at higher levels or even the idea that young women should have access to some kind of advanced education. One such opponent in 1915 argued that if women received a higher education they would become a ‘wasted resource’ (feiwu), unable to manage the household prop­erly and hence contribute usefully to society,9 while another in 1918 warned that higher education for young women would only exacerbate their already existing ‘unrestrained arrogance’ (aozong).10 By October 1919, however, at the fifth annual meeting of the National Federation of Education Associations held in Taiyuan (Shanxi province) delegates insisted that there should be no theoretical or concrete differentiation between boys’ and girls’ education. The meeting, which also decided to downplay the emphasis on cultivating a militant citizenry (junguomin zhuyi) that had been an element in the educational aims promulgated in 1912 in favour of a more general aim of ‘cultivating complete individuals and developing a republican spirit’, argued that since all had equal educational rights under the Republic there should be ‘absolute’ co-education at all levels and that even within mixed schools there should be no separate classes for girls.11

This general principle notwithstanding, however, delegates at the same time suggested some key modifications. In the case of higher primary and middle schools, they noted, co-education might depend on local conditions and sentiment, as well as on student numbers (as well as insisting that girls in middle schools should always be taught ‘household affairs’ [ jiashi]). The delegates, in fact, were merely echoing the Education Ministry the previous year, which, while theoreti­cally approving the teaching of a wider variety of vocational subjects (such as business studies) at girls’ middle schools, had firmly insisted that domestic science should always form the core of the curriculum.12 While it was agreed that universities and other higher specialist schools should be co-educational, delegates also insisted that separate classes teaching domestic science must always be held for girls in normal schools (even if they were mixed).

Finally, delegates recommended that vocational schools would have to remain segregated, since men and women’s occupational aims were different.

Such an assumption clearly underpinned the thinking of the Education Ministry a few months earlier, in May 1919, when it issued regulations on women’s higher normal schools (although the new Republican government had already sanctioned the creation of women’s higher normal schools in 1912). Anxious that students in these schools learn the appropriate domestic skills, the Education Ministry insisted that they have faculties of domestic science (jiashi) in addition to those of arts and sciences.13 In the same month the Education Ministry felt compelled to issue a directive to all girls’ middle schools instructing them to pay more attention to the teaching of domestic skills.14 Citing the Confucian classical text Daxue (Book of Great Learning), which ordained that ‘the governing of the state and the pacification of all under Heaven must begin with the ordering of the household’ (zhi guo ping tianxia bi yi qijia wei xian), the Ministry reminded schools that orderly households could only be guaranteed if girls diligently studied domestic skills.15

Shortly after the May 1919 regulations were promulgated, Beijing Women’s Higher Normal School was established, the first official higher education institu­tion for Chinese women (it was actually a revamped lower normal school origi­nally created in 1908 under the direction of Fu Zengxiang, who had earlier founded the Beiyang Normal School for Women and who was currently Education Minister).16 Before 1919 the few higher education institutions avail­able to women were mostly run by Western missionaries. These included Yanjing Women’s University in Beijing (1908), Huanan Women’s University in Fuzhou (1914) and Jinling Women’s University in Nanjing (1915).17 By the end of 1918, however, commentators as well as prominent Beijing University (Beida) intellec­tuals were calling for co-education in higher education. In November 1918 Kang Baiqing in the pages of Funu zazhi argued that co-education at higher levels would raise the collective cultural level of the nation; Kang also suggested that the mixing of the sexes would mutually benefit each one, with males’ natural ‘robustness’ being suitably tempered and girls’ natural ‘timidity’ being trans­formed into the required self-confidence.18 In December 1918 Li Shizeng (1881-1973), a Beida faculty member and well-known anarchist who had encouraged Chinese overseas study in France before 1914 and was to help set up an even more ambitious work-study scheme for Chinese students in France in 1919,19 urged university authorities to register women; in the spring of 1919 Cai Yuanpei (1868-1940), the Chancellor of Beida, openly praised the Western practice of allowing men and women to study together in the same colleges.20 In August 1919 a young woman originally from the remote western province of Gansu, Deng Chunlan (1898-1982), and whose brother was studying at Beida, published in two prominent newspapers a letter she had written to Cai Yuanpei requesting permission to enrol at the university.21 Cai responded in January 1920 by declaring that he would allow qualified female students to enrol; the next month three female students were admitted as auditors, shortly followed by six others (one of whom was Deng Chunlan).

These nine students were thus the first women to attend the most prestigious higher-level institution in the land. The 9 women were aged between 19 and 28 (2 from Jiangsu, 2 from Sichuan, and 1 each from Guizou, Zhili, Anhui, Gansu and Zhejiang); 6 registered to study philosophy, 2 to study English and 1 to study Chinese.22 An article on co-education at Beida published in July of that year in the journal Shaonian shijie (World of Youth) cited the views of several of this first group of female students, indicating that they had a clear view of themselves as a pioneering vanguard.23 A contributor to Jiaoyu zazhi ecstatically declared that the admittance of female students was an ‘earth shattering event’ entirely unprece­dented in China’s history.24 Other articles on co-education were more non­committal, such as the one by Jia Fengzhen in 1920, who simply outlined the arguments for and against that were prevalent in the West (noting that in Europe educators were generally against the idea, whereas in the United States they fully implemented it).25 Be that as it may be, February 1920 is a significant date in the history of women’s education in China. The event was made even more dramatic by the hiring – in the same month – of Beida’s first female professor, Chen Hengzhe (1890-1976), to teach Western history. Chen Hengzhe, also known as Sophia Chen, had attended the Shanghai Patriotic Girls’ School from 1904 to 1907; in 1914 she was amongst the first group of Chinese women to be awarded a Boxer Indemnity scholarship to study in the United States. She graduated from Vassar College in 1919 and the University of Chicago in 1920, where she received a MA.26

The numbers of women entering higher education grew only slowly, however, in subsequent years. Numbers before 1920 were negligible. In 1912-1913, for example, there were 176 women in higher-level educational institutions (com­pared to 41,633 men); in 1914-1915 the total had dropped to 174 (34,380 men).27 By 1923, there were 847 women in universities and higher specialist schools (compared to 34,033 men), constituting nearly 2.5 per cent of the total enrolment; most female students were concentrated in the Beijing metropolitan area (see Table 5.1), with 30 women at Beida (compared to 2,246 men), 16 at Beijing Normal University (compared to 794 men) and 23 at Nankai University in Tianjin (compared to 794 men). Five years later, in 1927-1928, the total had increased to 1,485 (male enrolment had dropped to 17,285) and women constituted 8.5 per cent of the total enrolment.28 At Beijing University itself, the numbers of female students increased from 30 in 1923 to 61 in 1926 (constituting 3.3 per cent of the student body).29 The growth of women’s education at lower levels during the 1920s, by way of contrast, was far more substantial. In 1929-1930, for example, there were 1,167,188 girls in lower primary school (compared to 7,118,581 boys), constituting 16.4 per cent of the total enrolment, and 136,857 girls in higher primary school (compared to 774,082 boys), constituting 17.68 per cent of the total enrolment. Provinces with the largest numbers of female pupils at primary school included the traditionally wealthy and developed provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, as well as inland provinces such as Hunan and Sichuan. Yet even the poorer provinces of Yunnan (in the southwest) and Shandong (in the north) registered progress; in Yunnan there were 13,623 girls in lower primary school (7.1 per cent of the total) and 4,301 in higher primary (16.5 per cent of the total),

Table 5.1 Number of students in higher level education, 1923

Province

Women

Men

Total

% of female enrolment

Metropolitan

653

13,018

13,671

4.78

Beijing

Zhili

23

2,146

2,169

1.06

Fengtian

0

695

695

0

Jilin

0

102

102

0

Heilongjiang

0

75

75

0

Shandong

0

787

787

0

Henan

0

426

426

0

Shanxi

0

863

863

0

Jiangsu

90

4,521

4,611

1.95

Anhui

0

171

171

0

Jiangxi

6

901

907

0.66

Fujian

4

839

843

0.47

Zhejiang

0

1,041

1,041

0

Hubei

60

2,517

2,577

2.33

Hunan

11

1,788

1,799

0.61

Shaanxi

0

224

224

0

Gansu

0

190

190

0

Xinjiang

0

0

0

0

Sichuan

0

1,428

1,428

0

Guangdong

0

1,716

1,716

0

Guangxi

0

276

276

0

Yunnan

0

115

115

0

Guizhou

0

230

230

0

Rehe

0

0

0

0

Ningyuan

0

0

0

0

Chahar

0

0

0

0

Total

847

34,033

34,889

2.43

Source: Chen Qitian, Jindai Zhongguo jiaoyushi, 274-276.

while in Shandong there were 48,688 girls in lower primary school (12.6 per cent of the total) and 6,771 in higher primary school (10.36 per cent of the total).30