Jiaoshou 教授 was a term for specialised teachers from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) on. It is first mentioned in the biography of Confucius and his disciples in the history book Shiji 史記, where it is said that Zixia 子夏 was a personal teacher (jiaoshou) of Marquis Wen 魏文侯 (r. 424-387) of the regional state of Wei 魏 in Hexi 河西. The Later Han-period 後漢 (25-220 CE) author Wang Chong 王充 (27-97 CE), author of the book Lunheng 論衡, defined jiaoshou as someone who "opens" the past and all fields of knowledge to his students (tongren 通人 "communicator", hence "expert"). The erudites (boshi 博士) for the Confucian Classics were obliged to "instruct and transmit their own propositions [about one text or the whole canon]" (ge yi jia fa jiao shou 各以家法教授).
The office of jiaoshou was created during the Song period, when instructors were appointed in the fields of law (lüxue 律學), medicine (yixue 醫學) and military (wuxue 武學), or given the task to instruct sons of emperors (zongxue 宗學 "school of the imperial line") and those of princes (wangfu 王府, princely households), and in public schools in all districts and prefectures throughout the empire. Their textbooks consisted mainly of the Confucian Classics, but also of specialized books in the discipline they were representing. The canon of the Classics shows that the profession of jiaoshou was originally similar to that of the boshi "erudites" of the Confucian writings that served in the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監) and its most important educational institution, the National University (taixue 太學).
Teachers did not only instruct their students, but also organised tests to prepare students for the participation in the state examinations. In 1044 an imperial edict regulated the creation of district schools (xianxue 縣學) as depending on the number of students in a prefecture. If it surpassed 200, it was allowed for the respective prefect to establish district schools. This practically meant that in all districts schools were opened that were headed by a jiaoshou. Teachers were appointed according to recommendation from among the local holders of examination degrees.
Teachers for the imperial family were from 995 on called jiaoshou, and the old term boshi was reserved for instructors in the Directorate, but a regular appointment of teachers in the imperial palace began in 1073. In 1134 the court decided that in each princely household two teachers had to be employed in the "palace school" (gongxue 宮學). This system was used until the end of the imperial period in 1911, but the term jiaoshou was from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) on reserved for teachers in local schools, and not any more used for instructors of the princes in the palace.
The creation of public schools in the last decade of the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) substantially raised the need for teachers. From 1912 on the term jiaoshou was first used for high schools (gaodeng xuexiao 高等學校), but was soon exclusively used for instructors in universities (daxue 大學), and has therefore to be translated as "professor" in modern times.