History of the Educational System of China
I t shall be convenient, for the purpose of the present essay, to divide the history of the educational system of China into five major periods:
• Pre-1840 (Imperial Education)
• 1840-1949 (Opium War - P.R.C.)
• 1949-1966 (P.R.C. - Cultural Revolution)
• 1966-1976 (Cultural Revolution)
• 1976-present (Post-Mao Reforms)
Pre-1840. The roots of a system of formal education in China can be traced back at least as far as the 16th century B.C. later Shang Dynasty (1523-1027 B.C.) Throughout this period education was the privilege of the elite few, and for the most part existed for no other purpose than to produce government officials. Early on, the curriculum centered on the so-called “Six Arts”: Rites, Music, Archery, Chairot-Riding, History, and Mathematics  However, based on the teachings of Confucius (551-479 B.C.) during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (770-221 B.C.), the curriculum gradually gave way one based on The Four Books and The Five Classics These works outlined the principles of society and government, as well as codes for personal conduct, and collectively define Confucian philosophy, which exerted a fundamental influence on virtually all aspects of life, and certainly on education, at least until the Liberation and ascent to power by the Communists in 1949.
A system that educated an elite class was established and steadfastly maintained, perpetuating subsequent generations of an educated elite resting incongruously on a base of mass illiteracy. This is not to say that the government actively provided for any form of “public education.” Instead, the imperial government had an active hand in education only inasmuch as it administered the various levels of the imperial or civil service examinations, which were used for the selection of imperial officers. The exams themselved consisted of essay questions that tested the candidate's understanding of Confucius' teachings. The students could prepare for these examinations by enrolling in the private instutions of higher education of the say, the shuyuan (��Ժ), which existed for no other reason than to prepare students for the civil service examinations.