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Education in Zhou & Han Dynasties

 Private School Thriving in the Spring and Autumn Period

Confucius Temple, Jianshui County, Yunnan
Confucius Temple, Jianshui County, Yunnan
In the Spring and Autumn Period (770BC - 476BC), private schools prevailed and many scholars of different schools of thought spread their teaching in this way.

Confucius, the great educator, devoted all his life to the private school system and instructed most students. It is said that over three thousand disciples followed him, among whom there were 72 sages who went on to broaden the acceptance of the philosophy set out by their master - Confucianism: a philosophy embracing benevolence in living, diligence in learning, and so on.

Besides that, other schools such as Taoism, also taught widely and this led afterwards to 'a hundred schools of thought' in the Warring States Period. During the succeeding years, private schools continued to exist although there were times when state education became fashionable.

 Recommendation through Observation in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220)

In 136 BC during the reign of Emperor Wudi (156 BC - 87 BC), the government introduced a system which was named 'taixue'. Usually the students were provided with a free diet and mainly studied the classical Confucian books. Following examinations, those with good marks would directly be given official titles.

Figurines of 72 disciples of Confucius
Figurines of 72 disciples of Confucius
In the Han Dynasty there had been no system for testing a person's ability, and the most prevalent method was merely through observation. Officials would see who was intelligent and recommend individuals to their superior. This obviously restricted the source of talented people and did little to provide any kind of equality for the population as a whole. Such a system could only lead to nepotism and corruption and the need for a different means of selection had to be sought.

The Nine Grades of Rank in the Regime System in the Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties

The Nine Grades of Rank in the Regime System (or Jiupin zhongzheng system), employed the following method: in each state and county there was official acting as 'Zhongzheng' with authority to decide how people were ranked in the local precincts according to ability. By ranking candidates for official positions in this way, the government was able to make a choice of the best people for various posts.

Although it had no relationship originally with family background, the 'Zhongzheng' was himself invariably a member of the upper classes and he would often show partiality to families of dignitaries and other upper class people. Thus the disadvantages gradually became apparent and the system was abolished before long.