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                        A Few Comments to Commemorate the Historic Role of Xu Jiyu and the 140th Anniversary of the Establishment of China's Modern-Style Education         ★★★ 【字体:
作者:龙夫威    文章来源:本站原创    点击数:25128    更新时间:2008-6-15    


Fred W. Drake

University of Massachusetts/Amherst

    It gives me great pleasure to attend this gathering to remember and discuss the contributions of Governor Xu Jiyu to China's modernization and to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the creation of the Tongwenguan, China's first modern-style institution of higher learning. I wish to extend special thanks to Vice-Governor Wang Xin for her help in making it possible to bring attention to the bold initiatives that began China's march toward modernization, a program that was heavily influenced by the new world view of a native son of Shanxi, Governor Xu Jiyu. Also, I wish to express appreciation for Mayor Zhang Huaiwen's support in commemorating perhaps Governor Xu's most important contribution, the establishment of the Tongwenguan nearly one-and-one-half centuries ago. Last but not least, I wish to thank Mr. Ren Fuxing, President of the Xu Jiyu Research Society for his dedication to restoring to memory the pivotal role played by Governor Xu in the early stages of China's search for new directions. And thanks to all of you for allowing me the great honor of participating in this celebration.
    On this occasion we have an unusual opportunity to consider many
intriguing questions that adhere to Governor Xu's endeavors as an advocate of more effective policies to meet new challenges from maritime Europe and America. Indeed, in Governor Xu's story we are inevitably led to consider fundamental questions regarding the nature, processes, and results of introducing foreign ideas and institutions from one culture to another. To be sure, Governor Xu's conservative opponents in the Neo-Confucian-influenced world of Qing scholarship and officialdom were understandably worried that foreign-inspired technology and scientific education would cause China to abandon its humanistic traditions and lead her down a disastrous path of political, social, and finally cultural change. Xu Jiyu also undoubtedly recognized these dangers, but his experiences on the maritime frontier of the Chinese world convinced him that China must take radical steps to save herself from a fate like that of India.
     Molded by failure on the battlefield and driven by concern for China's long-term survival as a culture-state, Xu's outlook remarkably was not clouded by bitterness or hatred. This quality of open-mindedness impressed his Western contemporaries along the China coast, and they were attracted to him. Likewise, Governor Xu recognized that some of these Westerners were men of culture and education. For example, his acquaintance in Fujian with the American missionary, David Abeel, helped persuade him that such people might provide useful information on the nature of the outside world. In their periodic encounters, Xu found Abeel to be a decent and well-informed man. So, with an open mind shared by few of his contemporaries, he found  Abeel's knowledge of world history and scientifically-derived geography of immediate use as he plumbed for answers to new questions: Why was China with its age-old superior culture unsuccessful in stemming the invading tide of western maritime power? Why were the European states capable of concentrating such potent power in far-flung places around the globe? What should China do to adapt to such unprecedented conditions? How was the threat from powerful European states different in kind and quality from that which China had experienced during an earlier age in its encounters with the Mongols and the Nuchens, for example?
    Governor Xu correctly saw that China's salvation lay in education to better understand the nature of the outside world and how to deal with it.
    Himself a scholar within the tradition of Confucian humanism who believed in rational examination of problems to find workable solutions, he courageously moved beyond Chinese knowledge to embrace new sources of information. He labored intensively for many years, even while carrying the heavy burdens of official duties in Fujian, to produce his path-breaking political-geography, the YINGHUAN ZHILUE (1848), which would begin that process of educating Chinese readers to new realities.
    This objective of educating Chinese to better comprehend and use the new forces shaping the world brought Governor Xu in the 1860s to support and eventually lead an institution of higher learning capable of training scholars in foreign languages and in foreign subjects. By 1862 yet another Western invasion of China had convinced sufficient numbers of leaders that the world view introduced by Xu at such personal expense in 1848 was essentially correct. It was a matter of survival that new institutions and methods of strengthening China be devised. Thus, the Tongwenguan came into being as one of the first examples of Chinese modernization.
      As China's first modern-style institution of higher learning, the Tongwenguan was a great gamble from the point of view of the Confucian establishment, and consequently in its early years it had extremely limited objectives. However, when Governor Xu assumed its direction in 1867, what had been a simple school for interpreters became a modern-style college, equal to or better than most of its contemporary Western counterparts. Now offering a full array of the most up-to-date academic subjects, the institution under Xu's aegis served as an early model for China's development of an entire system of higher education. When it was finally disbanded in the early 20th century, its influence had spread far to inspire the creation of a series of top-notch colleges and universities which now can be found all over China. (Thus, the Tongwenguan in some ways played a role for China, though in a much shorter span of time, comparable to that of America's first institution of higher learning, Harvard College. It too began as a rather primitive school, whose primary aim in the early 17th century was to prepare its students for the Christian ministry. However, by the mid-19th century it too exerted an influence on the development of American higher education that, to one degree or another, is felt to this very day.)
    I would suggest that this celebration of Governor Xu's influence in the creation and development of the Tongwenguan serves at the same time as a celebration of China's great modern achievements. Today's China has emerged again as a state with great wealth, power, and promise. It is blessed with academic institutions that produce some of the world's most capable scientists, engineers, and specialists in all fields. Such success was not guaranteed; indeed, effective response has failed in numerous other places of the world that faced a similar onslaught of Western power and influence.
Instead, I believe, China's achievement is derived, to one extent or another, from the vision of a few great men like Xu Jiyu who understood that China was being left behind. They therefore became dedicated pioneers in leading their country and people into an uncharted future by utilizing what the Confucian world perhaps did best, namely to foster human development through education.
    As a student of history, I wonder: Without a Xu, how much longer would China have waited to create a more accurate vision of the world beyond and effective policies to engage it? Without a Tongwenguan, or something like it, how could China have prepared to make the giant strides of recent history?
    If Governor Xu were able to join us here today, how would he respond to jet planes, electricity, telephones, computers, e-mail and the myriad of other technologies that now bind the entire world in their web? Would he lament the extremely high price China has had to pay for entry into this modern world? Perhaps. But at the same time I have no doubt that he would generally approve of China's retrieval of her prestigious position in the world order. And for his role in that we owe Governor Xu thanks and appreciation.
美国马萨诸塞大学阿默斯特分校教授   龙夫威




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