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Foreign language textbooks promoted social progress in late Qing Dynasty

XIAN MING | 2019-11-28
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
 
Students learn foreign languages in the late Qing Dynasty. Photo: BAIDU BAIKE
 

 
The period from 1840 to 1911, known as the late Qing Dynasty, marked an important transition in modern Chinese history, when Chinese society gradually awakened and opened up. Political change, cultural conflict, social reform and educational innovation all made the period historically significant. 
 
In the late Qing, Europeans came to China in droves while Japan became a major source for the Chinese to acquire new knowledge, so learning English and Japanese was essential at the time. From this perspective, examining English and Japanese teaching materials from the late Qing not only unveils the history of the emergence of new textbooks but also provides historical references for studying the early history of foreign language education and learning in China. 
 
 
Pragmatic English textbooks 
The development of English textbooks in the late Qing showed different features from previous stages. First, the sources were more diverse. There were original textbooks introduced directly from the West, as represented by Nesfield’s English Grammar Series with Chinese Translation; English textbooks from Japan, such as English Language Primer, a Chinese-English bilingual textbook compiled by the English educator from Japan Hidesaburo Saito for the Chinese; and textbooks created by Chinese scholars, most typically English Grammar Explained in Chinese edited by renowned educator and translator Yan Fu (Yen Fuh). 
 
Second, the categorization was precise. Those compiled by the Chinese were even more wide-ranging, being published in more varied forms and reaching larger audiences. Main categories included grammar, reading, translation, writing, spoken English and comprehensive series. More importantly, serial textbooks that were tailored to English teaching for different grades of Chinese primary and secondary education came out. A representative was Empire English Readers compiled by educator and translator Wu Guangjian (Woo Kwang Kien) in 1906. 
 
It is worth noting that the late Qing saw a host of business English textbooks, a result of the booming business exchanges between China and the West at the time. After Guangzhou took the lead in opening to the outside world in the mid-19th century, English became a vital language for Chinese-foreign business communication. The mastery of practical spoken English was a must for successful foreign service providers. For example, the first five volumes of the six-volume work Chinese-English Instructor featured trade terms, including more than 6,000 entries in its detailed contents. 
 
 
Enlightening Japanese textbooks 
In the late Qing era, there was also a wealth of Japanese learning materials compiled by Chinese scholars and Japanese teachers. Those edited by the Chinese centered mostly on vocabulary, grammar and comprehensive language skills. Textbooks of vocabulary were represented by Chen Tianlin’s Dong Yu Ru Men, or An Introduction to Japanese. Dong Wen Fa Cheng, literally Lessons on the Grammar of Japanese, was exemplary of the grammar category. 
 
A representative of comprehensive textbooks was Dong Yu Zheng Gui, or Standard Japanese, the first Chinese-edited textbook to teach Chinese nationals how to learn Japanese scientifically. The content included grammar and vocabulary, with some texts selected to teach learners to cultivate themselves and foster loyalty and filial piety. The book was independently finished by a group of Chinese who were proficient in Japanese. It enabled Chinese people who intended to go to Japan or took an interest in Japanese to learn the language systematically, playing a vital role in driving the wave of studying in Japan afterwards. 
 
In the late Qing Dynasty, Japanese teachers customized Japanese teaching materials and grammar books for Chinese learners. Details of related texts reveal that they accurately predicated difficulties Chinese people would come across in Japanese learning and provided appropriate teaching methods. A typical example is Genbun Taisho Kanyaku Nihon Bunten, literally Bilingual Japanese Learning Book with Chinese Translations, authored by Kamejiro Matsumoto. Some of the teaching methods in the book still have research and reference values for today. 
 
Textbooks of such were creative in the use of grammar terms, teaching methodology and language practice, imparting Chinese students in the late Qing period with systematic linguistic knowledge including phonetics, morphology and syntax. Some textbooks taught Chinese students both written grammar and oral expressions, such as Daizaburo Matsushita’s Kan’yaku Nihon Kogo Bunten, or Colloquial Japanese Book with Chinese Translations
 
 
Promoting social progress 
In the late Qing Dynasty, foreign language education cultivated the first batch of professional translators and diplomats for modern China. 
 
According to the Authorized Regulations for Schools of Higher Learning promulgated by the Qing court in 1903, students of liberal arts had to master English and choose German or French as a second foreign language. Science students could choose to learn German or French apart from English, and medical students could choose to learn English or French apart from German. 
 
The school regulations of the Shanghai Institute of Various Languages (Shanghai Guangfangyan Guan) show that students had to not only be versed in Chinese history, classics and poetry, but also excel in mathematics and Western languages and literature. The Institute implemented a strict system of rewards and penalties. Those who made no progress in learning Western languages and literature would be expelled immediately. Those making progress would be awarded silver taels, and the excellent could also gain official ranks. These mechanisms were effective in motivating students to learn Western languages. 
 
According to statistics made by historian Xiong Yuezhi, during the 42 years from 1863 to 1905 when it was transformed into an industry school, the Institute cultivated approximately 560 students. Many rose to prominence in the fields of diplomacy and translation among others. 
 
Moreover, a group of foreign language teachers and researchers were trained during the period. Wu Jiashan (Wu Kia-Shan), a 1879 graduate from the Institute, finished the Chinese-English bilingual textbook The Translator’s Assistant in 1881. It was probably a reference book for foreign language teaching at the Institute. The book was reprinted by the Shanghai-based Commercial Press in 1907 and also 1933, evidencing its popularity then. 
 
Yang Xun, who also graduated from the Institute, wrote a six-volume English Guide that was published by the American Presbyterian Mission Press in 1879. Reprinted many times, it is now collected by the Department of Ancient Books at the National Library of China. In 1901, the Commercial Press published a revised edition of English Guide under the name Method for Learning English. English Guide was highly influential. Many beginners used it to learn English. Xie Honglai (Zia Hong-lai), author of English and Chinese Primer and English and Chinese Reader, often studied English Guide in his spare time. 
 
Compilers of English textbooks referred to the Western mode of compilation and began to create formal English textbooks for the Chinese. From then onward, English textbooks became increasingly standardized, diverse and discipline-oriented in China. 
 
Foreign language education also spread translations of texts from Western civilizations and broadened Chinese nationals’ horizons. The establishment of translation centers signified that the dissemination of Western learning had transitioned from a scattered, disordered state to a centralized, orderly model. The influence of Western knowledge gradually extended to all walks of life, from intellectuals and elites to commoners. 
 
According to Xiong Yuezhi, from 1896 to 1911, there were at least 116 institutions in China or founded by Chinese in Japan that were committed to translating and publishing Japanese books. Many were specialized in both translation and publication. A lot of Chinese institutions and overseas returnees were keen on translating and publishing Japanese books, so the number of Chinese books translated from Japanese soared. 
 
Based on incomplete statistics, Japanese books translated into Chinese numbered at least 1,014 from 1896 to 1911. They covered many fields in the social sciences. Many disciplines were systematically introduced to China, such as ethics, law, politics and historiography. 
 
Previously the Chinese had introduced and learnt Western knowledge from books translated from Western languages such as English, French and German. After 1900, books on Western learning translated from Japanese skyrocketed, constituting the main portion of the import of Western learning. 
 
From 1902 to 1904, 533 books were translated from Western languages, 89 of which were English books, accounting for 16.7%; 24 were in German, accounting for 4.5%; 17 were French books, accounting for 3.2%, and Japanese books reached 321, taking an unprecedented share of 60.2%. 
In the late Qing Dynasty, English and Japanese textbooks not only made foreign language teaching ever more standardized and scientific, but also cultivated foreign language and translation talent, contributing to the massive introduction of Western and Japanese cultures alongside knowledge in the natural and social sciences and a great many terms in the sciences and humanities, modernizing disciplines and advancing the progress of the times. 
 
In the constantly changing society of the late Qing and early Republican periods, foreign language teaching and the compilation of foreign language textbooks reflected the profound structure and epochal changes in the knowledge and thought of modern China. As the Chinese opened their eyes to see the world, foreign language textbooks served as a key unlocking the wisdom of the Chinese people. 
 
Xian Ming is an associate research fellow from the School of International Business Communications at Dongbei University of Finance and Economics. 
 
​edited by CHEN MIRONG