The changes in the attitude of the court towards a new educational system began, as do many great undertakings, in a very simple way. We have already shown how the eunuchs secured all kinds of foreign mechanical toys to entertain the baby Emperor Kuang Hsu; how these were supplemented in his boyhood by ingenious clocks and watches; how he became interested in the telegraph, the telephone, steam cars, steamboats, electric light and steam heat, and how he had them first brought into the palace and then established throughout the empire: and how he had the phonograph, graphophone, cinematograph, bicycle, and indeed all the useful and unique inventions of modern times brought in for his entertainment.
He then began the study of English. When in 1894 a New Testament was sent to the Empress Dowager on the occasion of her sixtieth birthday, he at once secured from the American Bible Society a copy of the complete Bible for himself. He began studying the Gospel of Luke. This gave him a taste for foreign literature and he sent his eunuchs to the various book depositories and bought every book that had been translated from the European languages into the Chinese. To these he bent all his energies and it soon became noised abroad that the Emperor was studying foreign books and was about to embrace the Christian faith. This continued from 1894 till 1898, during which time his example was followed by tens of thousands of young Chinese scholars throughout the empire, and Chang Chih-tung wrote his epoch-making book "China's Only Hope" which, being sent to the young Emperor, led him to enter upon a universal reform, the chief feature of which may be considered the adoption of a new educational system.
But now let us notice the animus of Kuang Hsu. He has been praised without stint for his leaning towards foreign affairs, when in reality was it not simply an effort on the part of the young man to make China strong enough to resist the incursions of the European powers? Germany had taken Kiaochou, Russia had taken Port Arthur, Japan had taken Formosa, Great Britain had taken Weihaiwei, France had taken Kuangchouwan, and even Italy was anxious to have a slice of his territory, while all the English papers in the port cities were talking of China being divided up amongst the Powers, and it was these things which led the Emperor to enter upon his work of reform.
In the summer of 1898 therefore he sent out an edict to the effect that: "Our scholars are now without solid and practical education; our artisans are without scientific instructors; when compared with other countries WE SOON SEE HOW WEAK WE ARE. DOES ANY ONE THINK THAT OUR TROOPS ARE AS WELL DRILLED OR AS WELL LED AS THOSE OF THE FOREIGN ARMIES? OR THAT WE CAN SUCCESSFULLY STAND AGAINST THEM? Changes must be made to accord with the necessities of the times. . . . Keeping in mind the morals of the sages and wise men, we must make them the basis on which to build newer and better structures. WE MUST SUBSTITUTE MODERN ARMS AND WESTERN ORGANIZATION FOR OUR OLD REGIME; WE MUST SELECT OUR MILITARY OFFICERS ACCORDING TO WESTERN METHODS OF MILITARY EDUCATION; we must establish elementary and high schools, colleges and universities, in accordance with those of foreign countries; we must abolish the Wen-chang (literary essay) and obtain a knowledge of ancient and modern world-history, a right conception of the present-day state of affairs, with special reference to the governments and institutions of the countries of the five great continents; and we must understand their arts and sciences."
The effect of this edict was to cause hundreds of thousands of young aspirants for office to put aside the classics and unite in establishing reform clubs in many of the provincial capitals, open ports, and prefectural cities. Book depots were opened for the sale of the same kind of literature the Emperor had been studying, magazines and newspapers were issued and circulated in great numbers, lectures were delivered and libraries established, and students flocked to the mission schools ready to study anything the course contained, literary, scientific or religious. Christians and pastors were even invited into the palace by the eunuchs to dine with and instruct them. But the matter that gave the deepest concern to the boy in the palace was: "How can we so strengthen ourselves that we will be able to resist the White Peril from Europe?"
Among the important edicts issued in the establishment of the new education was the one of June 11, 1898, in which he ordered that "a great central university be established at Peking," the funds for which were provided by the government. Among other things he said: "Let all take advantage of the opportunities for the new education thus open to them, so that in time we may have many who will be competent to help us in the stupendous task of putting our country on a level with the strongest of the western powers." It was not wisdom the young man was after for the sake of wisdom, but he wanted knowledge because knowledge was power, and at that time it was the particular kind of power that was necessary to save China from utter destruction.
On the 26th of the same month he censured the princes and ministers who were lax in reporting upon this edict, and ordered them to do so at once, and it was not long until a favourable report was given and, for the first time in the history of the empire, a great university was launched by the government, destined, may we not hope, to accomplish the end the ambitious boy Emperor had in view.
Kuang Hsu was aware that a single institution was not sufficient to accomplish that end. On July 10th therefore he ordered that "schools and colleges be established in all the provincial capitals, prefectoral, departmental and district cities, and allowed the viceroys and governors but two months to report upon the number of colleges and free schools within their provinces," saying that "all must be changed into practical schools for the teaching of Chinese literature, and Western learning and become feeders to the Peking Imperial University." He ordered further that all memorial and other temples that had been erected by the people but which were not recorded in the list of the Board of Rites or of Sacrificial Worship, were to be turned into schools and colleges for the propagation of Western learning, a thought which was quite in harmony with that advocated by Chang Chih- tung. The funds for carrying on this work, and the establishment of these schools, were to be provided for by the China Merchants' Steamship Company, the Telegraph Company and the Lottery at Canton.
On August 4th he ordered that numerous preparatory schools be established in Peking as special feeders to the university; and on the 9th appointed Dr. W. A. P. Martin as Head of the Faculty and approved the site suggested for the university by Sun Chia-nai, the president. On the 16th he authorized the establishment of a Bureau for "translating into Chinese Western works on science, arts and literature, and textbooks for use in schools and colleges"; and on the 19th he abolished the "Palace examinations for Hanlins as useless, superficial and obsolete," thus severing the last cord that bound them to the old regime.
What, now, was the Empress Dowager doing while Kuang Hsu was issuing all these reform edicts, which, we are told, were so contrary to all her reactionary principles? Why did she not stretch forth her hand and prevent them? She was spending the hot months at the Summer Palace, fifteen miles away, without offering either advice, objection or hindrance, and it was not until two delegations of officials and princes had appeared before her and plead with her to come and take control of affairs and thus save them from being ousted or beheaded, and herself from imprisonment, did she consent to come. By thus taking the throne she virtually placed herself in the hands of the conservative party, and all his reform measures, except that of the Peking University and provincial schools, were, for the time, countermanded, and the Boxers were allowed to test their strength with the allied Powers.
Passing over the two bad years of the Empress Dowager, which we have treated in another chapter, we find her again, after the failure of the Boxer uprising, and the return of the court to Peking, reissuing the same style of edicts that had gone out from the pen of Kuang Hsu. On August 29, 1901, she ordered "the abolition of essays on the Chinese classics in examinations for literary degrees, and substituted therefor essays and articles on some phase of modern affairs, Western laws or political economy. This same procedure is to be followed in examination of candidates for office."
And now notice another phase of this same edict. "The old methods of gaining military degrees by trial of strength with stone weights, agility with the sword, or marksmanship with the bow on foot or on horseback, ARE OF NO USE TO MEN IN THE ARMY, WHERE STRATEGY AND MILITARY SCIENCE ARE THE SINE QUA NON TO OFFICE, and hence they should be done away with forever." It is, as it was with Kuang Hsu, the strengthening of the army she has in mind in her first efforts at reform, that she may be able to back up with war-ships and cannon, if necessary, her refusal to allow Italy or any other European power to filch, without reason or excuse, the territory of her ancestors.
September 12, 1901, she issued another edict commanding that "all the colleges in the empire should be turned into schools of Western learning; each provincial capital should have a university like that in Peking, whilst all the schools in the prefectures and districts are to be schools or colleges of the second or third class," neither more nor less than a restatement of the edict of July 10, 1898, as issued by the deposed Emperor, except that she confined it to the schools without taking the temples.
September 17, 1901, she ordered "the viceroys and governors of other provinces to follow the example of Liu Kun-yi of Liang Kiang, Chang Chih-tung of Hukuang, and Kuei Chun (Manchu) of Szechuan, in sending young men of scholastic promise abroad to study any branch of Western science or art best suited to their tastes, that in time they may return to China and place the fruits of their knowledge at the service of the empire." Such were some of the edicts issued by the Emperor and the Empress Dowager in their efforts to launch this new system of education which was to transform the old China into a strong and sturdy youth. What now were the results?
The Imperial College in Shansi was opened with 300 students all of whom had already taken the Chinese degree of Bachelor of Arts. It had both Chinese and foreign departments, and after the students had completed the first, they were allowed to pass on to the second, which had six foreign professors who held diplomas from Western colleges or universities, and a staff of six translators of university textbooks into Chinese, superintended by a foreigner. In 1901-2 ten provinces, under the wise leadership of the Empress Dowager, opened colleges for the support of which they raised not less than $400,000.
The following are some of the questions given at the triennial examinations of these two years in six southern provinces:
1. "As Chinese and Western laws differ, and Western people will not submit to Chinese punishments, what ought to be done that China, like other nations, may be mistress in her own country?"
2. "What are the Western sources of economic prosperity, and as China is now so poor, what should she do?"
3. "According to international law has any one a right to interfere with the internal affairs of any foreign country?"
4. "State the advantages of constructing railways in Shantung."
5. "Of what importance is the study of chemistry to the agriculturist?"
While Yuan Shih-kai was Governor of Shantung he induced Dr. W. M. Hayes to resign the presidency of the Presbyterian College at Teng Choufu and accept the presidency of the new government college at Chinanfu the capital of the province. Dr. Hayes drew up a working plan of grammar and high schools for Shantung which were to be feeders to this provincial college. This was approved by the Governor, and embodied in a memorial to the throne, copies of which the Empress Dowager sent to the governors and viceroys of all the provinces declaring it to be a law, and ordering the "viceroys, governors and literary chancellors to see that it was obeyed."
Dr. Hayes and Yuan Shih-kai soon split upon a regulation which the Governor thought it best to introduce, viz., "That the Chinese professors shall, on the first and fifteenth of each month, conduct their classes in reverential sacrifice to the Most Holy Confucius, and to all the former worthies and scholars of the provinces." Dr. Hayes and his Christian teachers withdrew, and it was not long until those who professed Christianity were excused from this rite, while the Christian physicians who taught in the Peking Imperial University were allowed to dispense with the queue and wear foreign clothes, as being both more convenient and more sanitary.
When Governor Yuan was made viceroy of Chihli, he requested Dr. C. D. Tenny to draw up and put into operation a similar schedule for the metropolitan province. This was done on a very much enlarged scale, and at present (1909) "the Chihli province alone has nine thousand schools, all of which are aiming at Western education; while in the empire as a whole there are not less than forty thousand schools, colleges and universities," representing one phase of the educational changes that have been brought about in China during the last dozen years.
The changes in the new education among women promise to be even more sweeping than those among men. Dr. Martin, expressing the sentiments then in vogue, said, as far back as 1877, "that not one in ten thousand women could read." In 1893 I began studying the subject, and was led at once to doubt the statement. The Chinese in an offhand way will agree with Dr. Martin. But I found that it was a Chinese woman who wrote the first book that was ever written in any language for the instruction of girls, and that the Chinese for many years have had "Four Books for Girls" corresponding to the "Four Books" of the old regime, and that they were printed in large editions, and have been read by the better class of people in almost every family. In every company of women that came to call on my wife from 1894 to 1900, there was at least one if not more who had read these books, while the Empress Dowager herself was a brilliant example of what a woman of the old regime could do. Where the desire for education was so great among women, that as soon as it became possible to do so, she launched the first woman's daily newspaper that was published anywhere in the world, with a woman as an editor, we may be sure that there was more than one in ten thousand during the old regime that could read. What therefore may we expect in this new regime where women are ready to sacrifice their lives rather than that the school which they are undertaking to establish shall be a failure?