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The Intellectual Shock in China
by Y. C. James YenPublished in Star of the West
Chicago: October 1925, 1
INTELLECTUAL SHOCK IN CHINA
Y. C. JAMES YEN
Star of the West 19
Mass Education Movement in China
October 1925, 16:7
previous article in this magazine by Mr. Yen, who is General Director of the
Mass Education Movement in China, described the beginnings of this remarkable
"The world is one home" as taught by Bahá'u'lláh, and one of the principles also revealed by Him over sixty years ago is that of "Universal Education" therefore Bahá'ís as well as non Bahá'ís will find the following pregnant thoughts very informing. They carry the implication that this Movement records the type of civilization which the New China will develop and the progress that four hundred million people are making towards it, closing with the thought that the proper education should bring a realization to the modern Chinese of the ancient precept of Confucius that, "Under heaven there is but one family." We wish to cooperate with a people who are seeking to achieve such universal ideals. The future destiny of China indeed see ms to be great. Of this people Abdu'l Baha said, "China is the country of the future” - Editor.
In the fall of 1923 a national convention on mass education was called in China which was attended by over six hundred representatives, representing over twenty one provinces and special districts of China, which was an unprecedented record in attendance. They organized this Chinese National Association of the Mass Education Movement, with which I have had the privilege of being identified ever since.
Since the inauguration of this Chinese National Association of Mass Education Movement we have established branches in all parts of the country until we had mass education organized in the western front of China, near Tibet, and we had mass education associations in the chilly plains of Manchuria. We have today in China about five million students in the rural districts, the urban districts and in the armies of China, these students ranging all the way from about twelve to fifty years of age, although the great majority of them are of the adolescent age.
Now, that is the particular group we want to put our biggest emphasis on. Those adolescent youths that are in school and being educated are the most strategic group of our population almost eighty million of our four hundred and fifty million people. Now, it is in their hands that the destiny of China lies. They are young, idealistic, promising, eager to learn, and they have a great future before them. If we could give those adolescent youths of China an opportunity for education and citizenship training, within the next decade you would see a different China.
I have been asked many a time, how is it in all these years of wars, revolutions, counter revolutions and famine, that the mass education movement has been able to accomplish as much as it has. If it had not been for two main reasons, it would not have been possible; and, first, it is the tremendous eagerness on the part of China, the Chinese common people, the rank and file, to get an education. There is the traditional respect in China for learning and education, but hitherto, education, in the Chinese sense, put emphasis a great deal on the study of the old classics, which was beyond the reach of the common people. Education in China was made possible to all. It was open to all, from the Prince to the coolie. There was no caste of any kind in China, but it was not possible for all.
We have now adopted the new language, we have simplified it and worked out a scientific system of teaching and administration. We have put it within the reach of the common people so they come to our schools. There is as yet no government compulsion in China. They can come and go as they please. Furthermore, they that have already passed the Government school age, do not have to come to school, and yet they pour into our schools. There is this tremendous struggle for existence which absorbs all the time there is for a man, and yet wherever these men, women, boys and girls can afford the time to come, they just pour into our schools; so much so, that we do not have the means to house them, we do not have enough teachers to reach them. There is that yearning, that thirst for education and learning in China today.
The other reason is the nation wide awakening on the part of the educated men and women of China today. On account of the internal corruption and external aggression, these Chinese educated men and women have come to realize that if this so called Chinese democracy is going to be a reality, a living force not a farce if China is to take her rightful place in the family of nations, if China is going to realize social stability, political unity, if China is going to put a stop to all exploitations and corruptions of her masses, her common people, the backbone of the Chinese nation must be given a chance for education and citizenship training. So these educated men and women of China volunteer by the thousands to teach, until we have today in China over one hundred thousand teachers, men and women, every one of them a voluntary teacher without pay.
That seems to me to be far more significant, far more fundamental for the future not only of China, but of the world. That certainly is much more important than the number of things that we read every day in the papers, in red letters, the big headlines, about China. An entire nation is receiving an intellectual shock. That seems to me to be the beginning of a true renaissance of not only a few old intellectuals but of the great mass of the common people. It is the beginning of a new life for China's common people. It is the dawn of a new civilization in the East.
After we studied the whole question of mass education, made some experiments and promoted it all over China, the movement has finally succeeded in a certain measure, perhaps in a large measure, in creating a national consciousness of the importance of mass education, and also in evolving a system of mass education which is capable of being used to weed out illiteracy from China.
is another phase of the subject in this whole big question of citizenship
education. China has had a political history and a background of about four
thousand years. She has had her own political ideas and ideals, political
institutions and practices. All right. What are some of the elements in
our old Chinese civilization that are valuable, that we should preserve
and further develop? And what are some of the undesirable elements in our
civilization that we should cast aside, and put in their places some of the
fine and noble elements that we could beneficially introduce from the
west? It is a gigantic problem.
We have, therefore, a number of problems facing us today. So you can understand that unless we have men of very high calibre and consecration serving our movement, we cannot begin to tackle these problems. I am happy and proud to say that this movement is already drawing to it men of high calibre, prestige, and experience.
In conclusion, what has all this movement to do with you or the rest of the world? The world is shrinking, growing smaller an d smaller each day. Space does not count as it once did. As I often say, maybe in the not distant future some of you ladies and gentlemen present tonight will be sailing in your own private airplane to my country, to Peking, to see all these wonderful sights of the Imperial Palaces and the Jade Fountain, and what not, for about one weeks vacation. It is not impossible. The peoples of the world are thrown together more and more, whether we like it or not. But that is not the question. The point is that we are thrown together more and more.
Therefore, what that one fourth of the whole human race is going to do in the next forty or fifty years is bound to effect the other three quarters of the human family. Whether they are going to be for war or for peace, for democracy or for autocracy is not only a matter of grave concern to China but to the rest of the world. You will remember the words uttered by your great President Roosevelt. He said, "The Mediterranean Era died with the discovery of America. The Atlantic Era is at the height of its development and must soon exhaust the resources at its command. The Pacific Era destined to be the greatest of all is just at its door."
Or the words of John Hay who, in China is held to be the greatest statesman your country has ever produced, The center of world politics is shifting from the west to China. Whoever understands that people intellectually, economically, politically and socially, has the key to world politics during the next five centuries."
Those words were uttered a number of years ago, when China was supposed to be stagnant, static, presented, as it were to the world as the sleeping giant. I think all of you will agree with me in saying that China of today is anything but stagnant or static.
the first time in China's history, China is in a state of flux. China is plastic, and forces of amazing power, both for good and for evil, for peace and
for war, are struggling over there for supremacy.
Remember, when Europe and other nations are beginning to exhaust their resources, China has not yet begun to tap hers. On account of the external aggression that has been imposed upon China during the last century and is being imposed upon China there is an increasingly large number of educated men and women of China today who advocate that China should develop herself to be a great fighting machine, a militaristic nation, if she is going to take her rightful place among the family of nations, because they say the only language that the West and other powers understand is force.
Now, those of you who are at all acquainted with the humiliations and injustices that China has suffered and is suffering today, will certainly have sympathy with those Chinese men and women who hold that view and who advocate that militaristic policy.
Friends, it will be a crime, nothing short of a crime, a crime that our posterity will neither forgive nor forget, if those four hundred million of peace loving Chinese should be forced and driven to militarism in order to defend their rights as a sovereign and independent people.
The Chinese are not militaristic by nature or by tradition or by philosophy. The Chinese people never exalted brute force, never worshipped an immoral God. There is no military caste in China as there is in other nations. The heroes of the Chinese people are not warriors, but sages, philosophers and preachers of peace and righteousness.
Maybe through the last forty centuries China must have matured her thought and learned many lessons in the art of living. Maybe China has something to contribute. Surely there must be a better way, a more humane way of settling international disputes than just by cutting each other's throats. Surely, with China's four hundred million people, four thousand years of culture and vast resources, she must have something to contribute to the peace and progress of mankind.
So those of us who are engaged in this Mass Education Movement are resolved to evolve a system which will on the one hand make possible an educated and modern citizenry, and on the other bring out and develop the true genius of the Chinese people. I refer to the peace lovingness of the Chinese people, their upholding and striving to achieve that great Confucian idea of the world, which is so beautifully expressed by our sage "Under Heaven there is but one family."
In undertaking this gigantic task of creating a new nation out of a four thousand year old Empire, in order that she may make her contributions both material and cultural to mankind, China must have the close cooperation and active assistance of a great and friendly people, the people of the United States of America.