Teaching

Long Teaching Module: Children in Ancient China

Anne Kinney
Mencius and his Mother: A Lesson Drawn from Weaving thumbnail The Boy Prodigy: Xiang Tuo thumbnail image thumbnail of the text thumbnail of the book excerpt

Overview

The unprecedented interest in the child who assumed unique importance in the Han period was set into motion by a convergence of historically-specific conditions: (1) the establishment in the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE) and the further development in Han times (206 BCE-220 CE) of a merit-based civil service, which increased the educational and occupational opportunities of boys moving up the social ladder; (2) and the frequency with which children came to the throne unprepared to govern; (3) the attempt to further the Confucian project by advising women about various methods of child-rearing and instruction for young children; (4) the effort to educate girls about their proper roles in society because of an increasing anxiety over the influence of women in political events; (5) the growing influence of Han Confucianism, which stressed early education and argued for the establishment of a large-scale public school system; (6) the new centrality of correlative and occult thought which linked the child to cosmic processes and by extension to all of the major disciplines of intellectual inquiry; (7) the formation of a textual canon, which defined cultural mastery and established a clear standard by which to measure achievement; (8) the emergence of biographical writing which took into account significant events of childhood. What follows is an elaboration on the factors and forces that led to the emergence of the child as a topic of significant cultural attention. The primary sources referenced in this module can be viewed in the Primary Sources folder below. Click on the images or text for more information about the source.

This long teaching module includes an informational essay, objectives, activities, discussion questions, guidance on engaging with the sources, potential adaptations, and essay prompts relating to the ten primary sources.

Essay

Introduction

The unprecedented interest in the child who assumed unique importance in the Han period was set into motion by a convergence of historically-specific conditions: (1) the establishment in the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE) and the further development in Han times (206 BCE-220 CE) of a merit-based civil service, which increased the educational and occupational opportunities of boys moving up the social ladder; (2) and the frequency with which children came to the throne unprepared to govern; (3) the attempt to further the Confucian project by advising women about various methods of child-rearing and instruction for young children; (4) the effort to educate girls about their proper roles in society because of an increasing anxiety over the influence of women in political events; (5) the growing influence of Han Confucianism, which stressed early education and argued for the establishment of a large-scale public school system; (6) the new centrality of correlative and occult thought which linked the child to cosmic processes and by extension to all of the major disciplines of intellectual inquiry; (7) the formation of a textual canon, which defined cultural mastery and established a clear standard by which to measure achievement; (8) the emergence of biographical writing which took into account significant events of childhood. What follows is an elaboration on the factors and forces that led to the emergence of the child as a topic of significant cultural attention.

What contributed to the rising recognition of children's important in Han society was the consolidation of a unified empire that depended in part on a meritocratic system of advancement for its civil and military officials. The large-scale and complex activities and agenda of the centralized state required the ruler to take stock of, utilize, and develop the potential of his human resources to the fullest. Thus, in Qin times, we see the new imperial government registering, taxing, and demanding labor and military service from each household in the empire according to the age and gender of its family members. We also see the enactment of laws punishing infanticide, infant abandonment, and filicide in this period in order to husband state resources. But when the energetic and visionary First Emperor of Qin died in 209 BCE his son proved unequal to the task of imperial rule, and the Qin fell four years later.

When the first Han emperor, Liu Bang, emerged victorious in the wars that followed Qin's collapse, the Han faced the same tasks of training and installing a bureaucracy, but with the additional responsibility of inquiring into the reasons behind Qin's downfall and rectifying its errors. To that end, an increasing number of intellectuals urged Han rulers to take care in the education of heirs to throne, to ensure that when these boys replaced them they would govern wisely and maintain the health and continuity of the dynasty. They advised women about various methods of child-rearing and instruction for young children, and the sooner the better, because they saw early childhood training as crucial to the development of an accomplished adult. They also called for the establishment of a public school system to prepare boys for the civil service. The recent and precipitous demise of Qin and the fragility of the Han empire in the opening years of the dynasty provided a vivid reminder of what was at stake and gradually worked to train both imperial and intellectual attention on childhood as a means of stabilizing and fortifying imperial rule.

In contrast to the diverse and plentiful materials on boys in Han sources, we see little intellectual engagement with issues specifically concerned with girls. In Han times, women played a fairly small role in both the civil service and the military. Consequently the education of girls did not attract nearly the same level of attention as that devoted to the intellectual development of boys. A poignant example is the story of how, when the Empress Deng was a small child, her mother scolded her for attending more closely to classical learning than to needlework and asked her if she thought she was preparing for a post at the Imperial Academy as Erudite. Nevertheless, from the about 74 BCE onward, increased anxiety over the influence of women in political events and the threat they posed to dynastic stability resulted in efforts to educate girls about their proper roles in society, using as models for emulation the lives of exemplary women from antiquity. While it is impossible to say how many girls and young women outside of court or literati circles received this sort of training, we do know that the goal of female education differed from that for boys. Girls were not instructed to further their own ambitions but for the sake of the moral, intellectual and professional development of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. Still, toward the end of the Former Han, as ambitious men of the gentry were increasingly appraised for their Confucian morals, their womenfolk also came under closer scrutiny. At the same time, drawing on both imperial Qin and Han Confucian models, the government made sporadic efforts to reach out to all of its subjects in an attempt to bind them more closely to the ruling house. This endeavor included not just women and girls of the court and the gentry, but a broader base of female subjects, who were recognized by way of special grants and awards for values such as chastity and obedience.

Confucian education, with its reverence for institutions that privileged elders, ancestors, and worthies of antiquity, promoted the study of classical texts and moral exemplars of ages past so as to gradually shape the child according to canonical molds. Thinkers associated with Daoist thought, on the other hand, traced the infant's life back to a cosmogonic process, linking it to the workings and laws of nature rather than to the power of ancestors and human artifice.

The theme of the precocious child, linked as it was to the struggles of worthy and often obscure figures in the establishment of a divinely sanctioned order, is another reflection of the sensibilities of the Qin and Han empires. They replaced, in varying degrees, aristocratic entitlement with a system of ranks based on merit. The merit system sought not only adult males but also young boys, who were groomed at increasingly earlier ages for bureaucratic positions and who were recommended in response to occasional imperial edicts that sought youths with extraordinary gifts and great promise. Biographical writings of the Han reveal a similar new fascination with the intellectual capacities of young children.

In conclusion, the dynamic convergence of a variety of historical conditions led children to became important topics of intellectual engagement and the significant subjects during Han times. And we can single out the creation of a unified empire as the most momentous and profound impetus for the unprecedented focus on children in early China.

The key themes in this module are (1) nature vs nurture (e.g., wisdom and virtue as inborn vs life-long cultivation of learning and virtue); (2) separating the sexes and gender differentiation: the "inner" (private/domestic) realm of women vs the "outer" (public/official) realm of men; (3) the low status of the child in a gerontocratic culture vs the child as an embodiment of cosmic process and heavenly order; and (4) the child's low status in the family vs the child as valued property of the state.

Primary Sources

Mencius and his Mother: A Lesson Drawn from Weaving

Mencius and his Mother: A Lesson Drawn from Weaving thumbnail
Annotation
This illustration depicts a scene from the Traditions of Exemplary Women (Lienü zhuan) of Liu Xiang (ca. 77-6 BCE), one of China's first didactic texts on feminine morality. The text to this story is provided below the illustration. The story recounts the upbringing of Mencius (ca. 371-289 BCE), one of the greatest Confucian philosophers of early China. Mencius, or Mengzi, as he is known in China), is the only other early Chinese philosopher, who in addition to Confucius (Kongzi in Chinese), is known in the west by his Latinized name. These names were devised by the first westerners to study Chinese thought intensively, namely, the Jesuit priests who traveled to China in the 16th century and who translated Chinese texts into Latin. This story brings up two important aspects of child-rearing in early China. First is the idea that because children are gradually imbued with the values and behaviors of those around them, a parent cannot be too careful about what a child sees and hears on a daily basis. Second is the notion that because moral development is a slow and gradual process, it is essential to train the malleable nature of the child in the ways of virtue and diligence before bad habits and behaviors become ingrained in the personality. The story also indicates that in preparation for useful lives as adults, boys were to occupy themselves with book-learning while girls were to master weaving. This source is a part of the Children in Ancient China teaching module.

The Boy Prodigy: Xiang Tuo

The Boy Prodigy: Xiang Tuo thumbnail image
Annotation
These two images from the Later Han dynasty (2nd century CE) depict the most famous child in early Chinese literature, Xiang Tuo (pronounced She-Ang Too-o). In both stone carvings, which decorated the outer walls of shrines or funerary monuments, the artists indicated Xiang Tuo's tender age by his relatively smaller size with toys in his hands. The great philosophers Confucius and Laozi stand beside him, each man focused on the words of the boy prodigy. Although his image frequently appears on funerary structures, early textual references tell us only that Xiang Tuo was a much younger contemporary of Confucius (c. 551-479 BCE), who at age 7 was able to instruct the Master. The earliest reference to Xiang Tuo, or any child prodigy, occurs in the 3rd century BCE. From the 2nd century BCE onward, the image of the precocious child begins to figure with some prominence not only in legend but also in biographical portraits of historical figures. The increasing number of Later Han (25-220 CE) references to juvenile achievements also reflect new opportunities created specifically for boys. According to one set of criteria, boys and girls in the Han reached the age of majority at age 16, at which time they were required to pay the taxes levied on adults; other criteria suggest that boys were not regarded as men until they reached age 21. Still, Han records show that as the dynasty progressed, boys ages 11 to 14 were recommended for government service with greater frequency. In such cases, the selection process demanded a review of a candidate's childhood in order to assess his suitability for recommendation. Boys who assumed official posts at age 13, for example, would have been forced to exhibit a potential for government service at a fairly early age. Xiang Tuo, continued to serve as an exemplar of precocious wisdom and a model for elite and upwardly mobile boys throughout China's imperial period. This source is a part of the Children in Ancient China teaching module.

Legal and Political Status of the Infant

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Annotation
This Qin-dynasty legal text (c. 217 BCE), written on bamboo strips, was excavated in China in 1975. According to Qin law, men guilty of killing children born to them were punished by becoming wall builders; the equivalent punishment for women was servitude as grain pounders. Next to the death sentence, these were most drastic forms of penal servitude. In addition, those found guilty were subject to mutilation through tattooing. The Qin law cited likely condemns killing or abandoning infants because these practices rob the state or some other proprietor of a child that is its due. This attitude is revealed in the Qin law that prohibited exposure and infanticide in cases where the infant was healthy, but permitted the disposal of deformed infants who would be of no future use to the state. The principal concern is not for the protection of individual rights but for the maintenance of a useful population, a human pool the emperor could rightfully tap for his army, farming and weaving enterprises, and treasury. It is possible that the Shuihudi text may also specify that leaving a child to die was considered to be as culpable as actively killing it. This distinction is an important one, since early Chinese texts reveal that in addition to killing unwanted newborns, parents often abandoned infants. “Not to lift it up" may be understood to mean that the parent has dispensed with the ritual lifting up of the child whereby the child is formally acknowledged as a family member. Not lifting a child, then, means leaving it unattended to die rather than actively killing it. The moral conflict inherent in abandonment in early China is often portrayed as one of competing familial directives. By rejecting a child, the head of the family could provide for older family members and the children he has decided to raise. In that way he can glorify his ancestors through the prosperity and high social standing that one less child will make possible. A child's gender also figured in the process of assessing the future impact of a newborn on the family's status. According to traditional thought, girls contributed to their husband's rather than their father's patrilineage, so female infants were perceived as extraneous, as weakening the prosperity of their natal families. It is useful to point out that there may be nothing intrinsically "natural" in the West's current abhorrence of child abandonment. One finds a similarly casual attitude toward abandonment in early Western history. According to Confucian views, which prevailed in all dynasties that followed the Qin, the tendency to blame the ruler for the crimes of the common people committed under conditions of economic hardship fostered a more tolerant attitude toward the practice of abandonment and infanticide. This source is a part of the Children in Ancient China teaching module.

Biography of Empress Deng

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Annotation
This biography details the childhood of Empress Deng of the Later Han dynasty. Here she is noted for her precocious intelligence, beauty, and filial piety. She was named empress to Emperor He in 102 CE. The emperor died four years later and Empress Deng served as virtual regent for one infant emperor who died in 106 CE. She dominated the government through the reign of another boy who came to the throne at age twelve and even after he had come of age in 109 CE. Her biographer relates the omens to similar signs that presaged the reigns of sage kings of antiquity in order to justify her unusual non-conformance to traditional gender roles. The narrative also tries to naturalize her active political involvement by suggesting that it was a Heavenly reward bestowed on her through the merit of her male relatives. Her filial piety is noted through her forbearance of her grandmother's painful haircut and her deep mourning for her father. It is important to note that the relationship between actual children and the virtue of filial piety is not as clear as it might seem. Throughout the Han dynasty, the concept of filial piety was primarily associated with the duties and attitudes of adult offspring toward their parents. This is not to say that young children were not expected to obey and revere their parents. Children were clearly taught about filial piety, but they were normally not in a position to practice it. What is emphasized in the concept of xiao: that offspring cheerfully provide financial support to aged parents, produce offspring to carry on ancestral sacrifices, and preserve and bring honors (through public recognition) to the good name of the family--duties small children normally cannot perform. This source is a part of the Children in Ancient China teaching module.

The Book of Rites, The Birth of a Child

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Annotation
The "Patterns of the Family," is drawn from The Book of Rites, a text that defined Confucian rituals of all kinds. It is important to note that Confucianism was not an organized religion, but viewed the family as the main locus of worship and the head of each family was, in essence, the "priest" or person in charge of religious observances. The rites described in this text tend to focus on the aristocratic elite. It is not known the extent to which the rituals described in this text represent an idealized form of ceremony and the degree to which these rites were actually practiced. The text emphasizes a strict hierarchy of gender and class, based on the underlying belief that social order prevails when all people understand their positions in life. To a certain extent, social status was relative, so that a woman might be regarded as her husband's inferior, but was considered a superior to her husband's concubines. Likewise, an adult son (often, even in the case of an emperor) was expected to obey his mother. According to this text, the newborn child was incorporated into the family in gradual stages. First, the pregnant mother was confined to a side apartment. Three days after the birth, divinations were made to choose a man (not the father) to lift up the child outside the birth chamber. Next, in an exorcistic rite, the master of archery was to shoot six raspberry-wood arrows with a mulberry bow: one toward Heaven, one toward earth, and the others toward the four cardinal directions. At the end of the child's third month, the child's hair was cut in gender-specific ways. At this time, the father finally received the child, but only after he and the mother had purified themselves by bathing. The isolation of the new mother and child indicates a belief that contact with the birth process was inauspicious or defiling. It is also possible that the haircut administered before its first presentation to its father was linked to a practice mentioned in later medical texts, in which the infant's polluted "fetal hair" must be shaved off before its presentation to the family. The Book of Rites is concerned with the ceremonies that mark the child's gradually developing relationship with its father and the outside world. This work, like other transmitted texts, has little to say about rituals concerned with the actual process of childbirth. This source is a part of the Children in Ancient China teaching module.

The Book of Rites, Early Education and Gender Differentiation

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Annotation
In early China, aristocratic boys are said to have studied the Asix arts. Specifically, this referred to ritual, archery, charioteering, music, writing, and mathematics, all skills associated with government, warfare, and religious and court ritual. Education for girls consisted of training in the ritual duties assigned to women and in domestic work such as spinning, weaving, and sewing and social skills conducive to survival in large extended families. This reading demonstrates, however, that not only girls, but young boys needed to learn to adopt subservient attitudes in the presence of their elders and superiors. It also demonstrates the importance of sexual segregation of children after the age of seven, not only to prevent mingling of the sexes but to facilitate the different forms of instruction deemed suitable for each gender. The text suggests that women were sequestered. This practice may have been observed by some aristocratic women in some places and times, but it was not universally observed throughout Chinese history. This source is a part of the Children in Ancient China teaching module.

Learning begins in the Womb: Fetal Instruction

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Annotation
Han dynasty intellectuals such as Liu Xiang (c. 77-6 BCE) advocated "fetal instruction" [taijiao] as a means to influence the moral development of the child at the earliest possible opportunity. Fetal instruction demands that the pregnant mother take care in what she allows herself to see, eat, hear, and say, and requires her to be ritually correct in her deportment. This prescription was based on the principle of "simulative transformation" [xiaohua]. Liu believed that, "People's resemblance to various things at birth is due to their mothers' being moved by these things." He further claimed that if a woman is affected by good things, her child will be good, if she is affected by bad things, the child will be bad. Simulative transformation is a radical view of the environment's effect on both the spiritual and corporeal constitution of human beings. In this case, the environment is the womb, and the sensory stimuli that affect the mother simultaneously affect the fetus. Purely physical transformations were also thought to occur. For example, a birth defect, such as a harelip, was thought to be the result of the pregnant mother's eating hare. We can surmise that fetal instruction was an accepted element of prenatal care among early Han aristocrats since a manual addressing this art was discovered in 1973 in the tomb of the son of the Marquis of Dai (d. 168 BCE). This approach to fetal care gave the pregnant mother some degree of control over, but at the same time, a heavy responsibility for the health and well-being of her child. This source is a part of the Children in Ancient China teaching module.

Mourning Rituals for Deceased Children

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Annotation
This moving tribute, carved in the stone of an elaborate shrine, honored a five-year-old boy who died in 170 CE. While the emotions expressed in this inscription seem universal in nature, it is important to note that in Chinese antiquity, mourning a small child was considered to be highly irregular. According to an ancient Chinese text on ritual called the Yili, mourning rites are prescribed for the "early death" of children according to three different age groups: children eight to 11; children 12 to 15, and children 16 to 19. Children who died between the ages of three months and seven were designated "early deaths for which no mourning garments are worn." Infants who lived less than three months were not to be wept for and were presumably outside all of these categories, though one early commentator claims that parents who lost a child less than three months old could weep one day for each month the infant lived. But even with that provision, a child who survived less than a month was not to be wept for at all. We can perhaps interpret the lack of ritual recognition accorded most deceased newborns to the very fragility of the infant in early China. The absence of mourning and burial rites here may well reflect a general reluctance to become too attached to an infant whose chances of survival were uncertain. A quotation from a letter Plutarch (b. ca. 45-50 CE) wrote to his wife, Timoxena, urging her not give way to excessive grief at the death of their two year old daughter, shows a similar attitude toward mourning small children: "But the truth of this will appear in the laws and traditions received from our ancestors. For when children die, no libations nor sacrifices are made for them, nor any other of those ceremonies which are wont to be performed for the dead. For infants have no part of earth or earthly affections. Nor do we hover or tarry about their sepulchers or monuments, or sit by when their dead bodies are exposed. The laws of our country forbid this, and teach us that it is an impious thing to lament for those whose souls pass immediately into a better and more divine state. Wherefore, since it is safer to give credit to our traditions than to call them in question, let us comply with the custom in outward and public behavior." 1 1 Plutarch. "Consolatory Letter to His Wife." In Plutarch's Morals. Vol. 5. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878). Available online (accessed January 29, 2009). This source is a part of the Children in Ancient China teaching module.

The Child as Microcosm

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Annotation
In this passage, fetal development is described in terms of Daoist cosmogony in which all things in the universe emerge from one source, the Dao (meaning "the Way"). All matter divides first into the two powers, Yin and Yang, polar opposites understood in terms of categories such as male and female, dark and light, Heaven and Earth, round and square, etc. These two then go on to multiply and form all things. Images such as the roundness of the infant’s head corresponding to the roundness of Heaven and the squareness of its feet corresponding to earth are not intended as simple figures of speech but as evidence of the actual links between fetal life and cosmic powers, and by extension the interconnectedness of Heaven, earth, and man. One of the most important changes in the conceptualization of the child during this period was the effort to understand the developing fetus as a microcosm that followed the same laws that govern all things in nature. The desire to reorient human life in a past that transcended family ties and to reintegrate it with new theories that embraced the entire cosmos may well reflect contemporary political aspirations toward a unified empire governed by one ruler, in contrast to a lineage-based, multistate system. Because of the identification of the state with the cosmos in late Warring States times, once the child was viewed as partaking of cosmic processes, it became a meaningful constituent in the ritual concerns of the state. Cosmological views of fetal development also generated rituals and health regimens that offered a means for private individuals to influence the vitality and fate of their children. These beliefs reveal an optimistic world view and a faith that many of the hazards and uncertainties of childhood could be controlled or avoided. This source is a part of the Children in Ancient China teaching module.

The Child in Early Chinese Social Hierarchy: The Biography of Li Shan

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Annotation
The society of early China was organized into a hierarchy where elders were generally deemed superior to and expected deference from their juniors, principles that also guided the relationship between men and women, parents and children, and nobles and commoners. This biography demonstrates the way in which a child's social status can sometimes carry more weight than his or her age in determining who holds the position of superior or inferior in social interactions. In this case, the infant Xu stood for his deceased father, taking on the role as male head of the family since there was no older male to take on that responsibility. It should also be noted that Li Shan's heroic act was also meant to keep Xu's family line in tact. In early China, there is no greater horror than to leave a family with no living male representative, since only men could carry on the sacrifices to ancestors, giving them sustenance in the other world and maintaining their memory among the living. This source is a part of the Children in Ancient China teaching module.

Teaching Strategies

Strategies
    Compare the biographies of Mencius and Empress Deng (Primary Sources 1 & 4).
    The fascination with precocity in the Later Han dynasty seems linked to developments in the civil service system and the testing of candidates for various posts, a system not that alien to our own civil service exams or SAT and GRE testing. As the Later Han bureaucracy became more entrenched along with abuses of the system, precocity came to stand for basic administrative promise and also for the possibility of stemming the tide of corruption. One of the general standards of moral behavior against which a candidate was measured was the requirement of incorruptibility. The virtue of incorruptibility in an official implied that he would remain pure in the company of less scrupulous individuals and in spite of temptations to abuse the power granted to him. Although the connection between incorruptibility and precocity is not immediately obvious, a statement of Confucius makes it clear in what sense early moral discretion may have vouched for an individual's integrity.

    Confucius said that the highest form of wisdom is seen in those who are born wise. Furthermore, according to the Analects, only those possessed of extreme goodness cannot be changed. To claim that a child was born wise, and therefore good, was subtly to suggest that he was at the same time incorruptible, because a child born with a superior natural endowment could not be changed and thus tainted by even the most impure environment. Thus, the manifestation of moral traits in an infant or small child may have served as evidence of his inborn goodness, and by extension, as an indication of his imperviousness to corruption--a highly attractive prospect for those seeking honest officials for employment.

    Finally, far from illustrating a belief in the importance of birth over merit, the motif of the child born wise is associated with the struggles of worthy and often obscure or socially challenged figures in the establishment of a divinely sanctioned or at least superior order. The biography of Empress Deng, in this way suggests that although she is a mere women and lacking in aristocratic credentials, the merit of her family has gained Heaven's favor, but only because she is seen as a fitting person to lead the world into a new and higher order. When such a hero or heroine rises from obscure or humble beginnings to a key historical role, he empirically 'proves' that the world is ultimately governed by virtue after all, despite all evidence to the contrary.

    On the other hand, Han Confucian thinkers charted a child's intellectual and moral progress along a gentle upward curve that began its ascent at conception. By the time of early adulthood, the moral and intellectual abilities were considered complete, but only in the sense that the child was now a fully functioning adult. From this state of readiness, the mature cultivation of virtue could begin and was supposed to continue throughout the course of a lifetime. Like schematizations of the child's moral progress, Confucian attempts to chart the child's biological development also stress the incomplete nature of the infant and the body's gradual evolution into fully human form. This tendency stands in sharp contrast to the propensity to focus on well-developed capacities in young children.

    In summary, then, early Han Confucian descriptions of a child's intellectual, moral and biological development are generally based on the notion that a virtuous adult is the culmination, and perhaps, the triumph, of a long, gradual process which begins at conception. While ignoring childhood as a valuable stage of human development per se, the emphasis placed upon the undeveloped nature of the infant and the child also represents a bold challenge to the notion that privilege is a matter of birth alone.

    While the emphasis on merit accumulated over the course of a lifetime rather than privilege based on birth that may have originally served to warn young power-holders about the dangers of complacency, it also paved the way for poor but determined boys to rise to positions of national importance. It is historically documented, for example, that a boy named Ni Kuan (fl. 120 BCE), for example, who hired himself out as a manual laborer to pay for his education, and who "carried a copy of the classics with him as he hoed," eventually rose to the status of imperial counselor. Thus, according to Former Han Confucian thought, a boy's future social worth depended not upon pedigree alone but on the gradual accumulation of virtue and learning as well. And though family wealth must have frequently determined a boy's access to education, the path to privilege, at least in theory, was open to all boys who could match Ni Kuan's perseverance.

    Compare gender roles as described in Source 4 (Empress Deng bio) and Source 6 (Early Education).

These two readings illustrate how we should question:

  • the extent to which people in real life adhered to the dictates of prescriptive texts, and
  • how writers in early China justified women whose behavior was not in keeping with traditional gender roles.

One of the key elements in the biography of Empress Deng seems to be the merit and virtue of her male kin and the empresses' seeming and seemly lack of ambition. She turns down her first opportunity to enter the court in order to mourn the death of her father, demonstrating her prioritizing filial piety over thirst for power.

Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan: Ancient China
by Jessica Hodgson

Time Estimated: three 50-minute classes

Prior Knowledge
Students will need to have an understanding of Confucian values in order to complete this lesson.

Objectives

  • Analyze the role that education and Confucian values play in childhood in Ancient China.
  • Compare the educational opportunities available to girls and boys in Ancient China.
  • Analyze how these differences demonstrate Confucian values.
Day One

Warm Up: The American Education System
Students will think about and answer some questions about their education. They will then share those answers out with the class.

Brainstorm
Students will brainstorm a list of Confucian ideals as a class.

Document Analysis
Divide the students into pairs and assign each pair one of the documents to read. They should complete the document analysis sheet. Using what they have learned from their document, they should identify specific quotes from the documents that demonstrate how education reflects Confucian values. They will then share what they have learned from the document with the rest of the class. Other students will record the responses on additional document analysis sheets.

Day Two

Poster Activity
Using the documents, students will work in groups of 3 to create posters. Divide the groups and randomly assign the students a topic for their poster (either a poster that is an advertisement for a girls' school in Ancient China or a poster that is an advertisement for a boys' school in Ancient China)

The posters should meet the following criteria:

  • The title/name of the school
  • A slogan that would make someone want to go to the school
  • At least two neat and colorful illustrations that show what kinds of lessons someone would be taught in the school
  • Students will share their posters with the class
  • Homework
    For homework, students will prepare for a Socratic Seminar.

    Day Three: Socratic Seminar

    Students will participate in a Socratic Seminar in which they will discuss the following questions:

    • What seems to be the purpose of the American education system? How do you know? (Give examples)
    • What seems to be the purpose of the Ancient Chinese education system? How do you know? (Give examples)
    • Why are educational systems necessary?
    • How do governments use educational systems to further their goals for the country?

    Directions for a Socratic Seminar

    • Understand the question(s) for the seminar.
    • Read the source(s).
    • Take notes from the sources to help you answer the question(s).
    • Comment about one of the following (5 pts.)

      information in the sources

      validity of evidence used by the author(s)
      the strength of the argument (thesis)
      to respond to a question asked by someone else
      to respond to a comment made by someone else
    • Ask a question about one of the following (5 pts.)

      • information in the sources, e.g., vocabulary

        validity of evidence used by the author(s)
        the strength of the argument (thesis)
        to respond to a question asked by someone else
        to respond to a comment made by someone else

      Maximum of 10 points per student.

Document Based Question

by Jessica Hodgson
(Suggested writing time: 50 minutes)

Using the images and texts in the documents provided, write a well organized essay of at least five paragraphs in response to the following prompt:

  • Evaluate the purpose and role of education for children in Ancient China.

Bibliography

Hsiung, Ping-chen. A Tender Voyage: Children and Childhood in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, 103-27.
This reading helps contextualize Primary Source No. 6 (early education). Since my module focuses on early China, Hsiung's book is an excellent introduction to the history of childhood in mid- and late imperial China
Kinney, Anne. Representations of Childhood and Youth in Early China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004, 53-96.
This reading provides further discussion of the parents' right of life and death over their offspring and may be used to supplement primary Source No. 3. The entire book also provides copious materials to contextualize all of the primary sources in this module.
Waltner, Ann. “Infanticide and Dowry in Ming and Early Qing China.” In Chinese Views of Childhood, edited by Anne Kinney, 193-218. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995.
While this book is useful for providing background for this module, Waltner's article that discusses the link between the practice of female infanticide and girls' prospects for marriage can help contextualize Primary Source no. 3 (infanticide) as well as Primary Source No. 4 (A Girl prodigy).
Waltner, Ann. “Representations of Children in Three Stories from Biographies of Exemplary Women.” In Children in Chinese Art, edited by Ann Barrott Wicks, 84-107. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2002.
This article, one of many useful resources in the book in which it appears, discusses several different depictions of the story relayed in Primary Source no. 1—the childhood of the philosopher Mencius (Mengzi)—and the cultural connotations of each individual representation. An additional illustration of this story appears in Hsiung's book (cited above), on p. 138.

Credits

About the Author
Anne Kinney is a Professor of Chinese at the University of Virginia. Among her recent publications are Representations of Childhood and Youth in Early China and The Establishment of the Han Empire and Imperial China. She is currently at work on an annotated translation of Lienüzhuan (Traditions of Exemplary Women) and a digital research collection for the study of women in early China.

About the Lesson Plan Author
Jessica Hodgson teaches Advanced Placement World History and World History and Geography at South County Secondary School in Fairfax County, VA. She has traveled to China as part of a Fulbright-Hays seminar, is a National Writing Project alumnus and has studied the life, music and history of J. S. Bach through a National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute. When she is not teaching, she plays the cello with an amateur string quartet.

This teaching module was originally developed for the Children and Youth in History project.

How to Cite This Source

"Long Teaching Module: Children in Ancient China," in World History Commons, https://worldhistorycommons.org/long-teaching-module-children-ancient-china [accessed September 30, 2022]