An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

shuyuan 書院, academies

Mar 11, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Academies (shuyuan 書院) were educational and scholarly institutions in pre-modern China, side by side with public schools (guanxue 官學) and private schools (sixue 私學). There were public, private and mixed public-private academies. The earliest academies of the early Tang period 唐 (618-907), the Lizheng Academy 麗正書院, later called Jixian Academy 集賢書院, were libraries and compilation centres, and were therefore called shuyuan, literally "book yards". They were run by academicians (xueshi 學士) and academicians expositor-in-waiting (shijiang xueshi 侍講學士) and served the emperor as consultative institutions. By and by, more private "book yards" were opened, like the Academy of Zhang Jiuzong 張九宗 (late 8th cent.) in Suining 遂寧, Sichuan, and gradually became centres in which books were not only read but also discussed. From the 10th century on "book yards" also served as teaching rooms for private teachers, mainly philosophers and experts in the Confucian Classics.

Table 1. Important Academies
白鹿洞書院 Bailudong Academy
岳麓書院 Yuelu Academy
應天府書院 Yingtian Academy
嵩陽書院 Songyang Academy
石鼓書院 Shigu Academy
詁經精舍 Gujing jingshe Academy
廣雅書院 Guangya Academy

The early Song period 宋 (960-1279) saw academies becoming regular institutions all over the empire. The famous Academy of the White Deer Cavern (Bailudong Shuyuan 白鹿洞書院) was a public institution founded during the Kaiyuan reign-period 開元 (713-741) of the Tang era under the name of State Academy of Mt. Lushan 廬山 (Lushan guoxue 廬山國學). It was first headed by Li Shan 李善, who became instructor in the Nine Confucian Classics (jiujing 九經).

The Academy of the Prefecture of Yingtian 應天府書院 in Shangqiu 商丘, Henan, was founded in 1009, and was soon granted the status of a public academy under the protection of the emperor. It was also called "Academy of the Southern Metropolitan Prefecture" (Nanjing fu xue 南京府學).

The private Songyang Academy 嵩陽書院 near Mt. Taishi 太室山, Dengfeng 登封, Henan, was likewise awarded official status in 1033 and granted the name Taishi shuyuan 太室書院 "Academy of the Great Hall".

The Yue-Lu Academy 岳麓書院 near Changsha 長沙, Hunan, was founded in 976 by Zhu Dong 朱洞, prefect of Tanzhou 潭州. In the next decades it was considerably enlarged by Li Yunze 李允則 (953-1028) and Liu Shidao. Emperor Zhenzong 宋真宗 (r. 997-1022) visited the academy in 1015 and presented the director Zhou Shi 周式 with an official tablet (bian'e 匾額) bearing the name of the institution.

The "Stone Drum" Academy (Shigu Shuyuan 石鼓書院) in Hengyang 衡陽, Henan, was founded in 997 by Li Shizhen 李士真 and was officially acknowledged in 1035.

The Maoshan Academy 茅山書院 was a foundation of Chu Shihou 處士侯, and in 1024 the emperor granted the academy land to erect a new building upon.

The foundation of academies was first in the hand of local governments or private persons or associations because the central government of the early Song was more concerned with military matters in defense of the northern border to the Liao empire 遼 (907-1125), instead of education. The academies of that age were often located in remote areas, like the White Deer Cavern academy that was founded at the foot of Mt. Lushan, Jiangxi, and were often financed by the income of lands whose harvest and yields were allotted to the schools. In 1044 an imperial edict ordered the foundation of public schools throughout the empire, which was a great damage to private academic institutions because these were often forced to submit to governmental supervision. Emperor Shenzong 宋神宗 (r. 1067-1085) finally seized the income of private academies and merged it with the income of the local prefecture.

Only from the mid-12th century on the academies were able to recover. Liu Gong 劉珙 (1122-1178), pacification commissioner (anfushi 安撫使) of Hunan 湖南, reopened the Yue-Lu academy and in 1165 invited the philosopher Zhang Shi 張栻 (1133-1180). In 1179, the philosopher Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200), at that time military prefect of Nankang 南康軍, reopened the Academy of the White Deer Cavern and was able to win over Lü Zuqian 呂祖謙 (1137-1181) as a teacher. A few years later, Zhu Xi himself headed the Shigu Academy that had been refounded by Pan Shi 潘畤 (1126-1189). In the coming decade a lot of academies were revived and obtained grants by the emperors.

Other academies were newly founded, like the Nanyue Academy 南岳書院, the Beiyan Academy 北嚴書院, the Heshan Academy 鶴山書院, the Zizhi Academy 紫芝書院, or the Lize Academy 麗澤書院.

The White Deer Cavern Academy, the Yue-Lu Academy and the Xiangshan Academy were institutions where Neo-Confucian philosophers instructed their disciples. Teachers more concerned with literature or a more practical philosophy were to be found in other academies or so-called "refined institutions" (jingshe 精舍). The Bailu Academy, the Yuelu Academy, the Lize Academy of Lü Zuqian, and Lu Jiuyuan's 陸九淵 (1139-1193) Xiangshan Academy 象山書院 were called the "four great academies of the Southern Song" (Nansong si da shuyuan 南宋四大書院).

From the time of Emperor Lizong 宋理宗 (r. 1224-1264) on the central government was again critically weakened and neglected the politics of education, so that this matter was again left to the hands of local governments and private persons, especially Neo-Confucian scholars. These founded a large number of institutions, like the Zihu Academy 慈湖書院, the Xuedao Academy 學道書院, the Xiangjiang Academy 相江書院, the Shixia Academy 石峽書院, the Qingxian Academy 清獻書院, the Bailuzhou Academy 白鷺洲書院, the Hejing Academy 和靖書院, the Zhulin Academy 竹林精舍, the Huaiyin Academy 槐陰精舍, or the Linzheng Academy 臨蒸精舍.

It was common during that time that the dean of the academies was called "mountain senior" (shanzhang 山長) or "master of the cave" (dongzhu 洞主) and was practically treated as a state official. The enrolled disciples were granted a material subsidy of food. It was ordered that in all circuits (lu 路) in southern China schools had to be founded. An "elementary school" (xiaoxue 小學) was to be found in each district where experienced teachers instructed young people and adults interested in studying the Classics. These scholarships for the students were mainly financed by private persons that either provided money or grain. The state-founded academies were headed by a dean (shanzhang, zhangzhu 長主 or tangzhang 堂長) who was responsible for the curricula, while a registrar (zhixue 直學) controlled financial matters. Both were paid a salary by the government.

Privately founded academies were to obtain a license by the government, the name was to be officially acknowledged, and the academy was presented a board on which the name of the school was written. The state also appointed the dean and paid him. The curriculum was based on the writings of the Neo-Confucian scholars Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032-1085), Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033-1107), and Zhu Xi (Cheng-Zhu lixue 程朱理學). Examinations were held on a monthly basis and allowed students to raise in grade and to enter an institution of a higher level. Graduates of the academies were recommended for a minor office in the local bureaucracy, like posts in the educational system, or as scribes. The jingshe academies were on the highest level. Private academies became so important at the end of the Song period that their relevance far surpassed that of state-owned schools.

The founding of academies again flourished under the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368). There were more than 200 state-owned academies in China during that time, most of them in the south. The Mongols perceived that it was important to raise an educated elite to administer China and as early as 1236, just after the conquest of the Jin empire 金 (1115-1234) in northern China, the large Taiji Academy 太極書院 was founded in Beijing. Wealthy families were adhorted to contribute to the financing of academies, and a lot of academies could be reopened, and some were newly founded. There were more than 400 academies in total in the whole Yuan empire.

At the beginning of the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) the government ceased to support both private and state-founded academies, so that local educations dwindled away during the first hundred years of the Ming. Private initiative revived academic life. Under Emperor Xianzong 明憲宗 (r. 1464-1487) the government finally began to support local academies, first with the Xiangshan Academy 象山書院 in Guixi 貴溪, Jiangxi. Under Emperor Xiaozong 明孝宗 (r. 1487-1505) the ministerial director in the Ministry of Personnel (libu langzhong 吏部郎中) Zhou Muyan 周木言 cared for the foundation of the Xuedao Academy 學道書院 in Changshu 常熟, Jiangsu. In 1506 Shao Binzou 邵賓奏, surveillance vice commissioner (ancha fushi 按察副使) of Jiangxi rebuilt the Lianxi Academy 濂溪書院. During that time academies were opened in many provinces. The total number of academies in the mid-Ming period was 1,239. Their existence was important for the flourishing of Neo-Confucianism during the Ming period, with important representatives like Wang Shouren 王守仁 (Wang Yangming 王陽明, 1472-1529) and Zhan Ruoshui 湛若水 (1466-1560).

In 1537 Zhan Ruoshui was slandered by Censor You Jujing 游居敬 (1509-1571) and his academy was closed. A year later all academies were closed. A second purge was initiated according to a memorial by Xu Zan 許贊 (1473-1548), Minister of Personnel (libu shangshu 吏部尚書), who argued that too much funds had been slandered for private institutions instead of supporting state-run schools. Zhang Juzheng 張居正 (1525-1582) initiated a third prohibition of academies in 1582. This time, 64 private academies were closed. Two members of the Donglin Academy 東林書院 (see Donglin Faction), Gu Xiancheng 顧憲成 (1550-1612) and Gao Panlong 高攀龍 (1562-1626) criticized this disastrous educational policy of the Ming court and directly pointed at persons inimical to private education, among them the mighty chief eunuch Wei Zhongxian 魏忠賢 (1568-1627). Wei Zhongxian fired back and had first the Donglin Academy closed in 1625, and then all other private academies throughout the empire. Only when Emperor Sizong 明思宗 (r. 1627-1644) acceded to the throne and Wei Zhongxian was executed, the climate changed. Emperor Sizong initiated a new program of government support of private academies.

When the Manchus took over the empire and founded the Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911) they first prohibited the foundation of new academies, in fear of Ming-loyalist teachers. In 1686 the White Deer Academy and the Yuelu Academy were officially acknowledged as important institutions, and a curriculum was compiled for these two institutions and all public schools (xuegong 學宮) in the province of Zhili 直隸 (modern Hebei). In 1703 the Kangxi Emperor 康熙帝 (r. 1661-1722) personally wrote the calligraphic name plate (bian'e) for the municipal academy of Jinan 濟南, Shandong, and so initiated a new wave of Confucian studies.

From 1733 on all academies were supervised by the government. Academies whose founders were still living and occupying a state office, were to be renamed "righteousness schools" (yixue 義學) to underline their private character. For the foundation of an academy the Yongzheng Emperor 雍正帝 (r. 1722-1735) donated 1,000 liang from the state budget and ordered the provincial administration to supply money still needed to equip the institution, often in the form of tax exemptions in the particular prefecture. The Qianlong Emperor 乾隆帝 (r. 1735-1795) stressed the importance of private academies as a source of knowledge where the public academies were not sufficient in numbers. The provincial administration under the governors-general (zongdu 總督) and governors (xunfu 巡撫), as well as the provincial educational commissioner (xuezheng 學政) had to oversee the scholarly life in each region, regardless if academies were state foundations or were the result of private initiative.

In 1736 each academy was requested to formulate its own rules in imitation of Zhu Xi's statutes of the White Deer Cave Academy Bailudong guitiao 白鹿洞規條. According to these statutes, the length of a dean's appointment was only three years, after which he was evaluated (see kaoji 考績) by an auditing team. The compendium Xuezheng quanshu 學政全書 from 1774 regulated the educational system of Qing China. It was important that the academies were financially controlled by the provincial administration, even if the teachers were not paid by the government directly but relied on private contributions from the local gentry or state officials. This procedure allowed the foundation of private academies under the strict supervision of the government. The curriculum of the academies consisted of the study of Confucian Classics and the writings of the Song-period Neo-Confucians. The writings of Lu Jiuyuan and Wang Shouren were also sometimes included in the curriculum. The study of these writings in the academies prepared graduates for the important state examinations (keju 科舉) that opened the way to state offices.

The trend of Qing period Confucian scholars to discard Neo-Confucianism and to go back to Han-period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) texts and their interpretation also influenced the curriculum in the 18th and 19th centuries. The highly speculative theories of the Neo-Confucians Cheng Yi, Cheng Hao, Zhu Xi, Lu Jiuyuan and Wang Yangming were replaced by a more scholarly analysis (a method called xunguxue 訓詁學 "analytical studies") of words and characters in their social and philosophical context. While some academies were specialized on teaching and research, others were specialized on examining their students. In such academies, two monthly examinations were held. The first examination on the second or fifth day of a month were examinations for the state offices (guanke 官課), the second examination, held on the 16th or 25th day of a month, was for those wanting to become a teacher (shike 師課). Apart from the Confucian Classics, historiographical texts were to be studied, as well as writings on statecraft and phonology.There were at the end of the 18th century almost 2,000 academies in China, all of them state-run, while the number of purely private-run academies had declined to 182.

Academies can be divided into several types, according to the general aim and the curricula. "Lecture academies" (xuanjiangshi shuyuan 宣講式書院) served in first instance the instruction of students and scholars by an eminent Confucian master, or a local official. Lectures were held in irregular intervals, but this type of academy did not possess a curriculum. The hall where the lectures took place were called "lecture halls" (jiangtang 講堂), a terms also used for the whole institution. During the Ming period, for instance, Li Cai 李材 (1497-1575) had given lectures in the lecture hall of Daguan Building 大觀閣 in Hukou 湖口.

Disputation academies (jianghuishi shuyuan 講會式書院), also called huiguan 會館, were places where scholars and students exchanged their philosophical paradigms. The sessions of their disputations were chaired by an eminent master who in many cased had also founded the institutions and often written the guidelines (huiyue 會約). The sessions were held in fix intervals. The disputation academies did not possess an own curriculum for the training of students. One of the earliest institutions of the this type was the Qingyuan Academy 青原會館 from the Ming period.

Examination academies (kaokeshi shuyuan 考課式書院) were established under the influence of the victory of the state examination system (keju 科舉) during the Song and Yuan periods. The examination academies served to prepare students for these examinations, and to conduct monthly examinations (yueke 月課, yuekao 月考) that were conceptualized by the academies' directors. The results were submitted for checking and official confirmation to the prefects. Successful candidates were given a monetary reward (jinjiang 金獎). During the Qing period most examination academies organised two tests per month, one serving as official examination (guanke 官課, taking place on the 2nd or 5th day of the month), and one as teacher examination (shike 師課, taking place on the 16th or 25th of the month) for internal purposes. For the former, the questions were arranged by the prefecture and the districts alternating, who also graded the papers (yuejuan 閱卷, pingjuan 評卷) and rewarded the graduated, and for the latter, the teachers formulated the questions and took over the evaluation of the tests. This was the basic pattern, but there were also exemptions of academies that organised more than two examinations per month. The sole duty of organising examinations deprived the teachers of their time to teach and do research, so that they were often not very motivated.

Sacrificial academies (jisishi shuyuan 祭祀式書院) were in first instance places of remembrance of ancient masters, and not institutions of teaching. In the province of Shandong, for instance, many academies of the sacrificial type were simple memorial halls of Confucius. The difference between shrines and sacrificial academies was that the latter owned a library and so also served as an educational institution, but to a smaller extent than regular academies. The Lianxi Academy 濂溪書院 in the prefecture of Daozhou 道州 housed a shrine of the early Neo-Confucian master Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤 (1017-1073), the Fufeng Academy 扶風書院 served the remembrance of the Later Han period master Ma Rong 馬融 (79-166 CE), and the Jingjie Academy 靖節書院 that of the Jin period 晉 (265-420) poet Tao Qian 陶潛 (365-427, who is actually not seen as a Confucian master). Yet there were also some institutions called "shrine" which were in fact educational institutions, like the Shrine of Master Tao (Tao Gong Si 陶公祠, i.e. Tao Kan 陶侃, 259-334) in Changsha 長沙, Hunan.

"Mass academies" (juzhongshi shuyuan 聚徒式書院) came into being in the late Tang period and became popular during the Song period. They anncounced a fix term to which a fix amount of students were enrolled. During the Ming and Qing periods the classes were divided into two levels, the inner (neike 內課) and outer classes (waike 外課), or core classes (zhengke 正課) and minor classes (fuke 附課). In some academies of this type, the students lived in the academy, and in others, lodges and classrooms were in separate locations.

In the 19th century some new academies were inaugurated, especially by the Confucian scholar Ruan Yuan 阮元 (1764-1849), who founded the Gujing Jingshe Academy 詁經精舍 in Zhejiang and the Xuehaitang 學海堂 in Guangdong. It is important to note that the curriculum of these new academies did not include the training of the infamous eight-legged essay (baguwen 八股文) that was required during the state examinations. Instead, it concentrated on a modern, scholarly exegis of the Classics, and the study of history, linguistics or "modern" sciences as astronomy, geography and mathematics. In the second half of the 19th century this trend was influenced by the experience that the educational system and curricula of Western societies were wholly different than the traditional Chinese pattern, and also more advanced, especially concerning science and technology.

In 1874 Xu Shou 徐壽 (1818-1884) and the English missionary John Fryer (Chinese name Fu Lanya 傅蘭雅, 1839-1928) founded the Gezhi Academy 格致書院 in Shanghai. This institution was a very new type of school in China. Courses were thought by Western professors, and the academy disposed not only of a libary, but also of a lot of models of technical implements. In 1896 the governor of Shanxi, Hu Pin 胡聘 (1840-1912), submitted a memorial to the throne in which he stressed that science and technology shold be introduced into the curriculum of each academy. He was supported by another memorial submitted by Qin Shouzhang 秦綬章 (1849-1925), academician expositor-in-waiting (shijiang xueshi 侍講學士), and Li Duanfen 李端棻 (1833-1907), Vice-Minister of Law (xingbu shilang 刑部侍郎). Similar reforms in the curriculum and the administration were discussed by the reformer Kang Youwei 康有爲 (1858-1927).

In 1901 a general restructuring of the educational system took finally place with the promulgation of the statutes of public schools Xuetang zhangcheng 學堂章程. The term shuyuan was replaced by xuetang 學堂 "hall of studies". The larger academies in the provincial capitals were transformed into "high schools" (gaodeng xuetang 高等學堂 or daxuetang 大學堂), those of larger prefectures into "middle schools" (zhongdeng xuetang 中等學堂 or zhongxuetang 中學堂), and district academies into "elementary schools" (xiaoxuetang 小學堂).

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