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Jiao tongzi fa 教童子法

Sep 21, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Jiao tongzi fa 教童子法 "Methods of teaching small boys" is a book on primary education written by the late Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Wang Yun 王筠 (1784-1854), courtesy name Guanshan 貫山, style Luyou 菉友.

He hailed from Anqiu 安邱, Shandong, and was district magistrate (zhixian 知縣) of Xiangning 鄉寧, Xugou 徐溝 and then Quwo 曲沃. Wang was an expert on ancient writings styles and studied the Han-period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) character dictionary Shuowen jiezi 說文解字, with the resulting publications Shuowen shili 説文釋例, Shuowen xichuan jiaolu 説文繫傳校錄, Shuowen judu 説文句讀, Wenzi mengqiu 文字蒙求, and the phonetic study Maoshi shuangsheng dieyun shuo 毛詩雙聲叠韵説. As a scholar he did not belong to a certain schools but did independent research.

The short book Jiao tongzi fa was based on Wang Yun's own experience as a teacher and concentrated on methods to teach writing and reading, as well as composing treatises. He stresses that pupils are to be regarded as individual persons, and not as "pigs and dogs" (zhu gou 猪狗), and teaching had to be done like growing trees, with utmost care according to the circumstances. Pupils had to be protected against the sun, and to be irrigated, so that their twigs were able to thrive.

Following the Neo-Confucian concept of the goodness of the human character, the author says that a young boy would develop his usefulness by himself (qi shi zuo cheng 器是做成 "his personality will be perfected"), so that it was not necessary to bend him down, which would make him withering away. The best method of teaching was to create a happy environment, allowing pupils to learn joyfully and without coercion. His education method to teach Chinese characters was to begin with simple pictograms (xiangxing 象形) and ideograms (zhishi 指事). The meaning of characters was first to be introduced in an easy way, and only in later stages, the scholarly composition of a character could be unveiled. With a basis of 2,000 characters, the first, easy texts could be read.

For the understanding of texts, Wang Yun proposed the lianhaofa 連號法 "connective numbers" method, by which children repetitively read one page and increased this amount by one page per day. The learning of writing essay was to happen in a "wild-horse" method, by which children first wrote down what came into their brain, as much as possible. Thereafter this method was step by step refined and the "horse" tamed with the help of a bridle (xian 銜).

From time to time a period of relaxation was to be interjected because small children were not able to concentrate for a long period of time. The relaxation phase could be used by telling them a story about an interesting topic, which would make them learn in an easy way. In the course of time, children were to learn to quote allusions (diangu 典故) from ancient writings, and had to memorize the names of the Confucian Classics, the most important commentators, the names of the twenty-four official dynastic histories and the names of the authors, each day one name.

One of Wang Yun's basic concepts was to educate children with a potential to pose critical question about what they had learnt (ling qi shan yi, you yi shen wen 令其善疑,誘以審問). In his eyes, it was not necessary that the state examinations were passed as soon as possible, but only on the fundaments of an excellent education.

Compared to earlier books on education the Jiao tongzi fa is a very progressive text that not only concretely describes methods of education, but also deviated from a traditional method of coercion and punishment. It was printed during the Guangxu reign-period 光緒 (1875-1908) as an appendix to a treatise on the Four Books (sishu 四書), Sishu shuolüe 四書説略. It is included in the series Wang Luyou jiuzhong 王菉友九種, Yunzizaikan congshu 雲自在龕叢書, Fengjiange congshu 靈鶼閣叢書 and Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編.

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