Between 1902 and 1907, when the Qing government finally sanctioned public education for girls (primary and teacher training schools), male and female activists continued to open schools for girls. In the same year that the Wuben Girls’ School was opened, for example, the Chinese Educational Association – founded in the spring of 1902 to promote ‘the education of the Chinese people and the improvement of their character and morals’ by a group of radical educa­tors that included Cai Yuanpei, Wu Zhihui and Jiang Weiqiao83 – established the Patriotic Girls’ School (aiguo nuxuexiao) in Shanghai; interestingly, the School was opened one month before the Association established the more well-known Patriotic School (aiguo xueshe) designed to cater for those male students who had withdrawn from the Nanyang Public School in protest against the excessive disciplining and eventual expulsion of two students.84 The first students at the Patriotic Girls’ School were female members of the founders’ families, although Cai Yuanpei, when he took over the direction of the school, sought to open enrolment to a wider constituency. The Patriotic School itself was closed down in 1903 (after being associated with anti-Qing activity), but the Patriotic Girls’ School continued to operate for the next few years and even for a time served as the headquarters of Cai Yuanpei’s new revolutionary organization, the Restoration Society (guangfu hui). Female students were apparently instructed in the chemistry of bomb-making and were taught the principles of the French Revolution along with more conventional subjects.85 Nevertheless, the principal aim of the Patriotic Girls’ School as described in its regulations was to expand girls’ general knowledge and ‘to cultivate model mothers’ (yangcheng mushi yifan) so that they would be able to ‘train [future] citizens’ (zhuzao guomin).86 In 1904, however, Cai Yuanpei was persuaded by Zhang Zhujun (1879-?), one of the first Chinese women to be trained in Western medicine and a founder of both a hospital and a girls’ school in Guangzhou (in 1901), to add a special handicrafts course to the curriculum.87 Shortly afterwards, Zhang set up her own girls’ school in Shanghai, which enrolled many of the students from the Patriotic Girls’ School; although a secondary source notes that the Patriotic Girls’ School was closed shortly afterwards in 1908, evidence suggests that it in fact was able to survive and continued to operate well into the early years of the Republic.88

Despite the apparent unconventionality of the Patriotic Girls’ School, it is significant that the revised regulations for the school in 1904, in addition to adding ‘household matters’ (jiashi) such as needlework to the curriculum (which, for the advanced classes at least, included ethics, foreign languages, psychology, economics, history, geography and physical education), also evinced concern on the part of administrators to control or pre-empt any ‘outrageous’ behaviour by the students. Thus they were enjoined not to ‘shock’ outsiders with ‘weird’ (guiyi) dress and behaviour; this referred to not wearing make-up, jewellery and extrav­agant clothes, not to ‘flock like birds’ and wander in public unsupervised, and not to put into practice what they had learned about gender equality by acting ‘inap­propriately’ in their family households.89 While such regulations, as a recent study has argued, were perhaps necessary in order to protect the reputation of girls’ schools such as the Patriotic Girls’ School in the eyes of the general public,90 they also reflected a fundamental and continuing ambivalence (which went beyond a simple concern to pre-empt any public criticism) amongst those who promoted women’s education but who feared its potential unpredictable consequences; thus while girls were to be given the opportunity of being educated in public schools, their dress, behaviour and attitudes were to be tightly regulated.91

Such concerns were evident, for example, in the regulations for other girls’ schools established in Beijing at this time. Thus the Yujiao nuxue (Girls’ School of Pleasant Instruction), established in 1905, forbade students interrupting lec­tures, eating, drinking and moving around in class, as well as spitting, writing graffiti and adopting modern dress fashions, while the Yiyi nuxue (Girls’ School of Interpreting Skills), opened in 1906, warned students to refrain from all polit­ical discussions and ‘unrestrained and foolish’ (yechun) conduct.92 Regulations for the Beiyang Women’s Normal School in 1906 insisted that students were to refrain from discussing ‘extremist and radical theories’ (jiji guoxin xueshuo), indulging in ‘raucous’ singing and laughing, wearing ‘ostentatious’ (huali) clothes, and reading books harmful to ‘morality and health’.93 The rules of another girls’ school in Beijing in 1907 insisted on the wearing of a plain uniform (in order to eliminate ‘differences between rich and poor’), forbade short hair and required students to have attendance cards to be stamped when they entered or left the school premises so as to avoid ‘misdemeanours’.94 Elsewhere, schools such as the Hangzhou Public Girls’ School (opened in 1903) prohibited students from wearing ‘fancy’ (yanli) clothes.95

By 1905 there were a reported 71 girls’ schools nationwide (enrolling 1,761 students), which had increased to 245 the following year (with 6,791 students).96 Although concentrated in a few urban areas – by 1907, for example, there were 7 non-official girls’ schools in Beijing,97 while in Shanghai there were 12 such schools (with about 800 students)98 – it is significant that in the province of Zhili, the Board of Education in 1907 reported on the existence of 39 girls’ schools outside the main urban centres of Beijing and Tianjin.99 Interestingly, an element of local, provincial or regional pride was often a factor in the initial creation of girls’ schools. A contributor to the Tianjin newspaper, Dagong bao, observed in 1902 that to its shame the area had no girls’ school when Shanghai had already opened several;100 when a girls’ school was opened in Tianjin a year later, the regulations justified its existence by insisting that Tianjin could not afford to ‘lag behind’ the southeast in promoting women’s education.101 In a similar vein, a lower degree holder in eastern Guangdong in 1904 petitioned the Governor – General to promote women’s schooling in the region since it not only thrived in ‘civilized’ countries, but also in other provinces such as Zhejiang and Sichuan.102 Despite the emergence of these schools – some of which like the Beiyang Public Girls’ School in Tianjin (1904) founded by the female journalist and poet Lh Bicheng (1883-1943),103 and the Beiyang Women’s Normal School, founded in 1906 by Fu Zengxiang, a protege of the Zhili Governor-General, Yuan Shikai, who later served as Zhili’s Commissioner of Education (1908-1911) and Republican Education Minister (1917-1919),104 were established with the active approval of local and provincial officials – Qing central government officials were initially cautious in their attitudes towards public education for girls.

In September 1901, for example, when the throne ordered the conversion of provincial Confucian academies (shuyuan) into higher-level schools and the cre­ation of middle and primary schools at the prefectural and district levels as part of its post-Boxer programme of political and institutional reform, there was no specific mention of education for girls.105 In the following year Zhang Baixi was appointed Chancellor of the Imperial University and instructed to draw up detailed regulations for a new school system. Although Zhang’s proposed system mandated the implementation of compulsory education (for 9-16 year-olds), this was clearly aimed at boys. In order to placate conservatives at court, who had criticized Zhang Baixi’s proposed system for not attaching greater weight to tra­ditional learning, the court appointed Zhang Zhidong and Rong Qing to assist Zhang Baixi in the formulation of a revised school system in 1903, which came into effect the following year. The 1904 school system, which was to remain in place until the overthrow of the dynasty, gave greater weight to the teaching of the Confucian Classics, but it was also more elaborate than Zhang’s 1902 plan – dividing primary schools into lower (for 6-11 year-olds) and higher (for 11-15 year-olds) stages, providing for the establishment of vocational schools, and rec­ognizing the importance of physical education in the primary school curriculum. Furthermore, in the discussions surrounding the implementation of the 1904 system, the question of education for girls was broached for the first time.

It was now officially recognized that all girls needed to be educated so as to fulfil their future role as mothers, but the site of this education was to be firmly placed within the household.106 In a memorial submitted to the throne in 1903 by Zhang Zhidong and his two colleagues on the advisability of establishing kinder­gartens in China, Zhang pointed out that although such institutions (youzhi yuan) existed in the West, where trained female teachers instructed 3-7 year-olds, they could not be established in China.107 This was because, in Zhang’s view, public education for girls (which would train future teachers) presented too many dangers. Arguing that in China the segregation of the sexes had always been conscien­tiously adhered to, Zhang surmised that it would be inappropriate ‘ to allow young girls to enter [public] schools in large groups and to wander about the streets’.

Attendance at schools might also expose girls to Western books and foreign customs, which would ‘gradually encourage them to act independently [in terms of choosing marriage partners] and have contempt (mieshi) for their parents, and future husbands and parents-in-law’. (Quite why Zhang did not harbour similar fears on the part of boys was not made clear.)

The appropriate form of education for girls, Zhang concluded, was ‘family education’ (jiating jiaoyu), in which girls would be taught at home by mothers or nurses/governesses (baomu) and instructed in basic literacy, household affairs (such as budgeting) and appropriate ‘women’s work’ (nugong) such as handi­crafts. Such ‘family education’, Zhang stressed, would avoid any discussion of ‘outside affairs’ (waishi) and ‘irrelevant’ literature, and would be solely con­cerned with training girls ‘to maintain the household and guide [future] sons’ (chijia jiaozi)}08 The 1904 school system thus made no provision for girls’ public education, although in his 1903 memorial Zhang made one concession – childcare training facilities (mengyangyuan) were to be attached to orphanages (yuying tang) and widows’ homes ( jingjie tang) in order to provide a ‘career outlet’ for disadvantaged girls and women as wetnurses and domestic governesses.109 Ironically, while Zhang Zhidong condescendingly allowed girls and women the opportunity of becoming wetnurses or governesses as the only possible role for them other than being ‘maintainers’ of the household, a Japanese cartoon (published in a Chinese newspaper in 1904) offered a gendered representation of international relations in East Asia, portraying Japan and Britain as larger than life mother figures (or perhaps wetnurses?) casting a protective eye over two infants representing China and Korea (see Figure 1.2).

Zhang Zhidong’s rejection of public education for girls in 1903 and the absence of any provision for female education in the 1904 school system notwithstanding, a variety of non-official girls’ schools continued to be established by local activists (and, as noted earlier, often with the approval of local or provincial officials) – a glaring example of how diktats by the central government at this time were not always adhered to.110 Furthermore, by 1905 it was recognized (even amongst conservative officials) that educational reform had to be taken a step further by abolishing the traditional civil service examinations and placing priority on the expansion of the modern school system. In a joint memorial drawn up in August 1905 by Zhang Zhidong, Yuan Shikai and three other high officials calling for the abolition of the civil service examinations, the importance of universal education was underlined as a crucial prerequisite for national wealth and strength (the memorialists pointed to the growing power of Germany and Japan as evidence of this).111 By the end of 1905 the centuries-old civil service examination system had been abolished and official commitment to the modern schools reemphasized with the creation of a new government institution, the Board of Education (xuebu), to administer the schools. An agenda for general education that would promote loyalty to the throne, reverence for Confucius, concern with the public good, cultivation of a martial spirit and attention to ‘practical study’ was promulgated by the Board of Education in 1906; such a general education, it noted, would aim at creating ‘a majority of citizens’ rather than ‘cultivating a talented few’ as had been

Government sanction of women’s public education

Figure 1.2 A Japanese cartoon appearing in a 1904 issue of a Chinese journal, Jingzhong ribao (Alarming Bell Daily), depicting Britain and Japan as vigilant wetnurses (baomu) protecting their two infant charges, China and Korea. The Chinese commentator notes that it is a great source of pride for the Japanese to be the defender of China and Korea against foreign (i. e. Russian) aggression, but asks: ‘Can we Chinese really be happy with being treated like the Koreans, as small infants? We should be aware that small children have no rights.’

Source: JZRB (8 March 1904), tushuo.

the case with the civil service examination system of the past.112 The fact that in 1906 the newly established Board of Education was given precedence in the administrative hierarchy over the Board of Rites (libu), traditionally ranked third among the six government boards and overseeing court ritual, state ceremonial sacrifices and relations with foreign rulers (as well as the now defunct civil service examination system), was dramatic and symbolic testimony to the importance now attached to the construction of a national school system.113

The Qing government finally accepted the notion of public education for girls when the Board of Education issued regulations on girls’ primary and teacher

training (normal) schools in 1907.114 Significantly, in another 1907 memorial on the rationale for implementing female education, the Board of Education referred to the girls’ schools already being opened by ‘officials, merchants, scholar – gentry and ordinary people’ (guan shang shi min), and argued there was now a need to coordinate these efforts and bring girls’ schools under closer official supervision so as to prevent ‘corrupt practices and abuses’ (liubi) from occurring (i. e. making sure that foreign-influenced methods and teaching material were compatible with Chinese customs). Nevertheless, the Board of Education affirmed the necessity of women’s public education as the very basis of successful government:

The Kingly Way (i. e. virtuous rulership) begins with an upright household. If women’s education is not undertaken and women’s morality is not cultivated, then there will be wives who cannot assist husbands (xiangfu) and mothers who are unable to guide sons (xunzi).115

In line with the government’s aim of developing girls’ knowledge while protecting traditional mores (lijiao), the regulations for girls’ normal schools (for 15-19 year-olds) prescribed a curriculum that included not only pedagogy (which would stress the connection between family education and the state), Chinese, history, geography, arithmetic, science, singing and physical education, but also ‘house­hold matters’ ( jiashi) to teach the benefits of frugality, hygiene and efficiency, embroidery, handicraft skills (such as weaving, silk reeling and paper-flower design), and moral ethics; the latter, in particular, was to inculcate ‘traditional’ feminine virtues such as steadfast chastity (zhenjing), obedience (shunliang), kind-heartedness (cishu) and modest behaviour (duanqian).116 Above all, girls were to be taught to obey their parents and future in-laws, and trained to become ‘worthy mothers’ (xianmu). The teaching of any ‘ heterodox’ theory promoting ‘excessive freedom’ (such as the mixing of the sexes or free choice in marriage) was strictly proscribed, as was any political activity in school (organization of political associations or making political speeches).

Interestingly, the Board of Education somewhat paradoxically admitted that the treatment of women as inferiors in China was a ‘bad custom’, but insisted that this should be tackled in boys’ schools and not be addressed in girls’ schools. Drawing on the assumptions and even vocabulary of the male reformers of 1898, the Board of Education further noted that everyone had to have an occupation (zhiye); for girls this meant that they had to be equipped with ‘female skills’ (nuzi jiyi) associated with the household in order to eliminate women’s ‘parasitic dependence’ (zuoshi).117 Moreover, the Board of Education, in a 1908 memorial urging the establishment of more normal schools for girls, echoed Liang Qichao’s earlier dismissal of ‘talented women’ of China’s past. Whereas as far back as the Han dynasty, it noted, there were many examples of ‘ talented women and worthy mothers’ (mingyuan xianmu), meaning those capable of ‘assisting husbands and guiding sons’, so-called ‘intelligent women’ (minghui nuzi) after this period referred to those who simply excelled in poetry and other ‘minor skills’ (xiaoji).118

As with the case of the Chinese Girls’ School in 1898, the 1907 regulations for girls’ normal schools prescribed strict gender segregation with a view to control the environment of the schools. Significantly, such a concern represented a break with traditional practice. The private family schools established by elite families to educate their daughters in the eighteenth century, for example, employed both male and female teachers. It was not at all unusual, in fact, for a male teacher to instruct only female students (while the sole tutor in an all-male family, village or clan school might well be female).119 The 1907 regulations, however, insisted that teaching staff and menial servants within the schools should all be women; the administrative staff (housed in separate offices adjoining the school) was to com­prise men over the age of fifty (who were forbidden from entering the class­rooms). All visitors to the schools, such as relatives of the teachers and students, had to have appropriate introductions from ‘law-abiding’ gentry and be approved of by the head administrator, and were to be received in official guest rooms rather than being allowed to enter classrooms.

Teaching staff and students were also enjoined to wear plain cotton gowns and shoes and to refrain from wearing make-up, earrings, extravagant silk fabrics or outfits inspired by Western fashions. In 1910 the Board of Education issued more specific guidelines on female student dress.120 Ironically citing as a ‘model’ the Western practice of imposing ‘correct’ and ‘uniform’ dress on female students, it insisted that in Chinese schools girls had to wear simple long cotton gowns (changshan) that were to be approximately two inches above the ground and to have no slits along the side (dark blue was recommended for winter and spring, light blue for summer and autumn). Furthermore, all forms of ostentation, such as the wearing of ‘luxurious shoes’ (luxuan), were to be avoided, and students were expressly forbidden from emulating Western fashion in any aspect of their attire. Students were also instructed not to ‘bob’ their hair (xu ’e duanfa: literally, ‘to grow a fringe and cut the hair short’) or wear flowers in their hair (zanhua).121 Finally, anticipating potential controversy the new schools might provoke, the Board of Education in its 1907 regulations also instructed local officials to be on their guard against ‘evil gentry and local hooligans’ (lieshen digun) intent on causing trouble by spreading salacious rumours about teachers and students or stirring up opposition to the schools.

Similar instructions and warnings were included in the 1907 regulations for girls’ lower and higher primary schools (for 7-11 and 11-14 year-olds, respec­tively). Since girls had different natures and life trajectories from those of boys, the Board of Education further noted, girls’ primary schools had to be separate and offer an ‘appropriate’ education geared to their future roles. At lower primary level girls were to be taught ethics (xiushen), Chinese, arithmetic, sewing and handicrafts (nugong: literally, ‘women’s work’) and physical education, while his­tory, geography and science were to be added at higher primary level. In addition to instilling virtues of filial piety, chastity, obedience and modesty, the schools were also to emphasize the benefits of hard work and thriftiness (qinjian) and to cultivate patriotism (aiguo xin) amongst the pupils. Such a patriotism, however, was firmly linked to girls’ future role as the diligent and competent maintainer of the household. Not surprisingly, instruction in nugong occupied an important place in the prescribed curriculum; for the first two years of higher primary it was to be taught five hours per week (out of a total of 30 hours), while in the third and fourth years it was to occupy six hours per week (compared to two hours each for history, geography and science).122

In their justification for women’s public education at this time, Qing officials were also influenced by developments in Japan, where the Meiji state was in the process of redefining women’s role as part of its nation-building and industrial­ization project. From the 1890s on, official authorities attempted to impose a uniform gender ideology, encapsulated by the traditionalist-sounding slogan of ryosai kenbo (in Chinese, liangqi xianmu: ‘good wife and worthy mother’) that exalted the virtues of frugality and productivity. With the home now perceived in Meiji state discourse as a public space, women were expected to contribute to national prosperity and stability through their efficient and skilled running of the household, the care of the old and infirm, and the responsible and competent upbringing of children. As such, this discourse represented a modern ‘ reinven­tion’ of tradition, since the ryosai kenbo ideal implied a new kind of domesticity different from traditional practice.123 In the Tokugawa period (seventeenth century to mid-nineteenth century), for example, women from upper-class samurai families were not expected to be either intimately involved in raising their children or especially productive in the home, whilst in peasant and merchant families men and women tended to share both productive and reproductive work (also, for women from these classes mothering was not regarded as the principal duty).124 Aimed primarily at a middle-class audience – at a time when increasing numbers of daughters of the poor were being employed in the modern textile industry (by 1902 women comprised nearly 80 per cent of the workforce in cotton mills and nearly 94 per cent in silk mills)125 – the new conception of womanhood represented by ryosai kenbo was to underpin the curriculum for girls’ higher schools established in 1899 and to inform ethics textbooks for girls’ elementary schools after 1911.

At a time when Chinese officials and educators were increasingly exposed to Japanese influence – a number of official Chinese missions went to Japan after 1896 to investigate conditions there and seek the roots of Japan’s apparently suc­cessful modernization drive, translations of Japanese educational texts appeared in specialist Chinese journals, and Japanese teachers and educational advisers were employed in China – the ryosai kenbo ideal as the rationale for women’s education struck a chord with influential government officials such as Zhang Zhidong.126 In the Chinese context the term xianmu liangqi (reversing the order of the original Japanese) was first used in a Japanese-owned Chinese newspaper published in Tianjin, the Shuntian shibao (Beijing Times), in 1906;127 although not specifically used in the Board of Education’s 1907 regulations on girls’ schools (reference was made to the need for ‘worthy mothers’), its implied mean­ing clearly underpinned official discourse.

The Qing government’s formal sanction of public education for girls in 1907 was highly significant. Whereas four years earlier Zhang Zhidong had assumed girls could be sufficiently instructed at home by their mothers,128 it was now recognized – even by more conservative officials – that only in a public school could girls imbibe the necessary knowledge and be trained in the relevant skills to ‘manage the household’ (jiazheng).129 This reflected a pervasive assumption amongst educators and officials (as well as ‘progressive’ reformers and revolu­tionaries) during the last years of the Qing that Chinese women in general were the root cause of the nation’s ‘backwardness’ (see Chapter 2). The household was therefore no longer considered a congenial site for the upbringing of girls, who would be exposed to ‘superstitious’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘unproductive’ older women. Public education was thus increasingly rationalised in terms of rectifying such a situation and equipping girls to fulfil their ordained role as skilled, hardworking and efficient household managers.