Guoz­i­jian, China’s An­cient Im­pe­rial Col­lege

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Qu Hua Edited by Roberta Raine

“A chron­i­cle of Guoz­i­jian made by im­pe­rial or­der” com­pleted in the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911) re­counts the daily life, stud­ies and ac­tiv­i­ties of Guoz­i­jian (Im­pe­rial Col­lege) stu­dents.

The street is over 700 years old, with a his­tory that could be mea­sured ac­cord­ing to a hu­man life­span. The en­trance of the street is a stone carv­ing with this in­struc­tion, writ­ten in six lan­guages: “Of­fi­cials and oth­ers should dis­mount from their horses.” Hid­den in this street are not only an­cient build­ings with unique ar­chi­tec­ture, but also mys­te­ri­ous sto­ries that tell the world of this street's glo­ri­ous past.

This an­cient and tran­quil street is now called Guoz­i­jian Street, named af­ter the cen­tral govern­ment agency known as Guoz­i­jian (the Im­pe­rial Col­lege) built there. Hun­dreds of years ear­lier, the street was called Chengx­ian (“be­com­ing sages”) Street, a name that marked the start of the street's his­tory.

It was a day in 1633, the sixth year of Em­peror Chongzhen's reign (1628–1644) in the Ming Dy­nasty. While out tak­ing a walk, scholar Liu Dong (1593–1636) came across a peace­ful street east of An'ding Gate in Bei­jing, and saw a scenic view. Chi­nese scholar trees were lined up along each side of the street, their branches and leaves so thick that they ex­tended out and reached each other, form­ing a shield to block the scorch­ing sun.

Four arch­ways dec­o­rated with coloured paint­ings stood among the green­ery, giv­ing the street an air of an­tiq­uity. The street amazed Liu, a Jiangsu Prov­ince na­tive. He had vis­ited many streets, wide and nar­row, since com­ing to Bei­jing more than a year ear­lier, but he had never seen any­thing as charm­ing as this.

On that very night, un­der a dim flick­er­ing oil lamp, Liu made notes in a book he was writ­ing: “I took a tour north­east of the cap­i­tal, vis­it­ing a district named ‘Chongjiao' and a street named ‘Chengx­ian.' It is where Guoz­i­jian is lo­cated.”

The book Liu was writ­ing was Di­jing jing­wulüe (“in­tro­duc­tion to the scenic spots of Bei­jing”), pub­lished two years af­ter his visit to Chengx­ian Street. It was very pop­u­lar with the cap­i­tal's res­i­dents due to its con­tent.

Be­fore long, thanks to Liu's easy and grace­ful style of writ­ing, read­ers dis­cov­ered the hid­den beauty of Chengx­ian Street. Af­ter

this, Chengx­ian Street and the ar­chi­tec­ture of Guoz­i­jian be­came more widely known.

A 700-Year-old Shady Street

Chengx­ian Street's his­tory can be traced back to the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368), when Kublai Khan (reign: 1260–1295), the first em­peror of the dy­nasty, set up an in­sti­tu­tion named Guoz­ixue (“na­tional in­sti­tute of learn­ing”) on this street in 1287.

As recorded in Yuan­shi xu­anju zhi (“his­tory of the Yuan, a se­lected chron­i­cle”), “Guoz­ixue, in the North District was lo­cated in the east part of the cap­i­tal. The one in the South District then turned into a lo­cal uni­ver­sity.” The Guoz­ixue in the South District was the top ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion in the early Yuan Dy­nasty. But the one founded later in the North District took over the du­ties of ed­u­ca­tion and ed­u­ca­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion, and was re­ferred to as Guoz­i­jian. This in­sti­tu­tion was also known in ear­lier times as Taixue (“in­sti­tute of great learn­ing”).

The Chi­nese char­ac­ter jian means “ad­min­is­tra­tive agency.” An­other way to say it is “ya­men,” which means “govern­ment of­fice.” In 1306, Guoz­i­jian was founded to the west of the Con­fu­cian Tem­ple, which was built four years ear­lier, em­body­ing the tra­di­tion that “an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion should be set to the right of a tem­ple.” Dur­ing the Yuan, Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dy­nas­ties, Guoz­i­jian was the govern­ment's top ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion and agency for ed­u­ca­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Liu's book, “Chengx­ian Street, which runs east to west, is 669 me­tres long and 11 me­tres wide on av­er­age. Lush rows of Chi­nese scholar trees line both sides.” Chengx­ian Street has four well-pre­served arch­ways, one at each en­trance of the street and one on each side of Guoz­i­jian's en­trance.

The two arch­ways of Guoz­i­jian were built as a sym­bol of ven­er­a­tion to the top ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion of the coun­try, so the words “Chengx­ian Street” were only in­scribed on the boards hung on the arch­ways at the street en­trances. The two boards on the arch­ways at Guoz­i­jian were marked with the name of the agency it­self. Guoz­i­jian and the Con­fu­cian Tem­ple formed a unity, fol­low­ing the prin­ci­ple that an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion should be to the right of a tem­ple. In 1965, Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity changed the names of some streets, and Chengx­ian Street was changed to Guoz­i­jian Street.

Em­per­ors of the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties paid close at­ten­tion to Guoz­i­jian, the Im­pe­rial Col­lege. Their reg­u­lar vis­its to the place for in­spec­tion and lec­tures gave it a mys­te­ri­ous touch and priv­i­leged im­pe­rial power. The Im­pe­rial Col­lege stu­dents were pro­vided with com­fort­able liv­ing con­di­tions, a pleas­ant cam­pus and com­pet­i­tive fac­ulty to guar­an­tee ed­u­cated study. In ad­di­tion, the stable so­cial en­vi­ron­ment, ex­cel­lent ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tem at the Im­pe­rial Col­lege, and plen­ti­ful job op­por­tu­ni­ties al­lowed the stu­dents to take part in a wide range of so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties.

Qind­ing guoz­i­jian zhi (“a chron­i­cle of Guoz­i­jian made by im­pe­rial or­der”), com­pleted dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Daoguang (1821– 1851) of the Qing Dy­nasty, re­counts the liv­ing con­di­tions, daily life, stud­ies and ac­tiv­i­ties out­side class.

Redis­cov­er­ing His­tory

His­tor­i­cal records and doc­u­ments from past dy­nas­ties al­ways in­cluded Guoz­i­jian's his­tory, start­ing with its es­tab­lish­ment in the Western Jin Dy­nasty (265–316) and con­tin­u­ing on into the Qing Dy­nasty. The

“spe­cial chron­i­cles” on the in­sti­tute were usu­ally ti­tled Taixue zhi (“chron­i­cle of the in­sti­tute of great learn­ing”) or Guoz­i­jian zhi (“chron­i­cle of the im­pe­rial col­lege”), and are valu­able ma­te­ri­als on an­cient Chi­nese cul­ture. The most pop­u­lar record about Guoz­i­jian is “a chron­i­cle of Guoz­i­jian—made by im­pe­rial or­der” com­piled dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Daoguang in the Qing Dy­nasty.

This chron­i­cle records the his­tory of Guoz­i­jian in Bei­jing dur­ing the Yuan, Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties, as well as its lay­out, fa­cil­i­ties and ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tem. It also de­scribes lec­tures given by em­per­ors, clas­sic books, doc­u­ments, in­scrip­tions and tablets held by the in­sti­tute, and its stu­dent body.

This chron­i­cle is re­garded as a clas­sic of the chron­i­cles of the Im­pe­rial Col­lege pub­lished in an­cient China, for it cov­ers a full range of con­tents clas­si­fied with logic and or­der, demon­strated with am­ple il­lus­tra­tions, and pre­sented in a unique style.

Since the start of the 21st cen­tury, Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity has been devel­op­ing and util­is­ing its his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural re­sources, and spent three years work­ing on an ex­ten­sive pro­ject to re­store both Guoz­i­jian and the Con­fu­cian Tem­ple.

By the end of 2007, Guoz­i­jian and the Con­fu­cian Tem­ple had been re­vi­talised and brought back to their former glory in the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties. These two cul­tural relics to­gether form a “his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural site un­der state pro­tec­tion” and have the sec­ond largest gross floor area of all sites open to the pub­lic in Bei­jing, with the For­bid­den City be­ing the largest.

Ac­cord­ing to staff mem­bers, when they were re­pair­ing and study­ing the relics un­earthed at this site, “a chron­i­cle of Guoz­i­jian—made by im­pe­rial or­der” and other doc­u­ments were es­sen­tial to their work. For in­stance, the restora­tion plan of the Ryukyu Stu­dent Hall in the Guoz­i­jian build­ing was de­signed in strict ac­cor­dance with the de­tailed records of the orig­i­nal con­struc­tion de­scribed in the chron­i­cle. The plan also ben­e­fit­ted from a coloured ar­chi­tec­tural drawing of Guoz­i­jian and the Con­fu­cian Tem­ple, which pro­vided notes on the ar­chi­tec­tural lay­out and struc­ture of the old Ryukyu Stu­dent Hall.

Dur­ing the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sur­vey for the restora­tion of the east wing of Guoz­i­jian, staff found a stone tablet en­graved with a list of stu­dents ranked by their aca­demic scores. Mea­sur­ing 1.6 me­tres high, 50 cen­time­tres wide and 10 cen­time­tres thick, the tablet is not mas­sive, but its con­tents are weighty. At the top of the tablet, the sub­ject line read­ing “A Tablet Made by Im­pe­rial Or­der Listing Stu­dents' Aca­demic Scores at Taixue” was en­graved in the seal script style, and the text be­low record­ing stu­dents' exam scores at the Shuaix­ing Tang (Col­lege for Guid­ing Hu­man Na­ture) was writ­ten in reg­u­lar script in smaller char­ac­ters.

The stone tablet re­flects the an­cient sys­tem of fen­tang (“di­vid­ing by col­lege”), which was men­tioned in the chron­i­cle and is sim­i­lar to to­day's sys­tem of di­vid­ing stu­dents by year. It is phys­i­cal ev­i­dence of the grad­ing sys­tem used for stu­dents at the Col­lege for Guid­ing Hu­man Na­ture, and is also a pre­cious ex­hibit dis­played in the newly-re­stored Guoz­i­jian.

The chron­i­cle con­sists of 84 vol­umes and has a to­tal of more than 800,000 char­ac­ters. Re­garded as a unique and in­valu­able doc­u­ment of an­cient Chi­nese cul­ture and Bei­jing's his­tory and cul­ture, this mas­ter­piece in­cludes il­lus­tra­tions that cover di­verse con­tents. In par­tic­u­lar, en­tries about im­pe­rial col­leges, rites, mu­sic and tablets are il­lus­trated with pic­tures.

Dur­ing the 2007 restora­tion, some parts of Guoz­i­jian were painted in black, their orig­i­nal colour, a fact that was dis­cov­ered af­ter an illustration named Guoz­i­jian quantu (“ar­chi­tec­tural drawing of Guoz­i­jian”) was found in the chron­i­cle. In the drawing, cer­tain dec­o­ra­tive pieces of the mid­dle sec­tion of Guoz­i­jian were painted in black rather than in tra­di­tional ver­mil­lion red. Since Guoz­i­jian was the na­tion's high­est ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion dur­ing the Yuan, Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties, it fol­lowed the tra­di­tional Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures of govern­ment agen­cies, which used black for dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ments.

The Im­pe­rial Col­lege Re­vived

The chron­i­cle is a trea­sure for re­search into the his­tory of both Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tion and Bei­jing. In 2008, the Bei­jing Con­fu­cian Tem­ple and the Im­pe­rial Col­lege Mu­seum were opened to the pub­lic. As one of the most valu­able exhibits on dis­play, this chron­i­cle pro­vides the pub­lic with knowl­edge about teach­ing, or­gan­i­sa­tion, ad­min­is­tra­tion and reg­u­la­tions for stu­dents at­tend­ing Guoz­i­jian back then.

Guoz­i­jian cov­ers an area of 30,000 square me­tres. It has three court­yards and six halls, in the cen­tre of which is Piy­ong Hall. Three halls that served as class­rooms are on each side of Piy­ong Hall. The east wing and west wing were the of­fices for the Pres­i­dent and Di­rec­tor of Stud­ies, and at the back is Jingyi Pav­il­ion, which was a store­room for im­pe­rial edicts. This type of ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign fa­cil­i­tated both ed­u­ca­tional and ad­min­is­tra­tive func­tions of Guoz­i­jian.

The word piy­ong is an an­cient word that in­di­cates a hall, palace or tem­ple build­ing sur­rounded by wa­ter. In the Yuan and Ming dy­nas­ties, em­per­ors gave their lec­tures in Yilun Hall, but Em­peror Qian­long (reign: 1735–1796) of the Qing Dy­nasty adored an­cient tra­di­tions and rit­u­als, and he wanted his lec­tures to be held in an au­then­tic piy­ong. There­fore, he is­sued an edict in 1783 to be­gin con­struc­tion of Piy­ong Main Hall, which was con­cluded in

the win­ter of the fol­low­ing year.

The hall sits on a tall base and has a pyra­mi­dal roof with four dou­ble eaves. It is en­cir­cled by balustrades made of white mar­ble and sur­rounded by wa­ter on all sides. The foun­tain in the pond looks like a dragon's head com­ing out of wa­ter, or, if looked at from above, a round flat piece of jade float­ing in wa­ter. Such a de­sign is orig­i­nal but still be­fits an­cient in­sti­tu­tions.

Since Guoz­i­jian was the Im­pe­rial Col­lege, staff mem­bers who worked there were also granted of­fi­cial ranks and salaries by the im­pe­rial court. Ac­cord­ing to the nine-rank sys­tem ex­er­cised dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long, both the Chi­nese and Manchu Pres­i­dents were of Rank Four, the Di­rec­tors of Stud­ies were of Rank Six, the Proc­tors were of Rank Seven, the Schol­ars of the Five Clas­sics and the In­struc­tors of the Six Col­leges were all of Rank Seven, and the In­struc­tors were of Rank Eight.

The two Pres­i­dents were the ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cials of Guoz­i­jian. The Di­rec­tors of Stud­ies served as their as­sis­tants in deal­ing with var­i­ous af­fairs. The Dis­ci­plinary Of­fice, headed by one Chi­nese and one Manchu proc­tor, was re­spon­si­ble for su­per­vis­ing the at­ten­dance and per­for­mance of in­struc­tors and stu­dents. It was also in charge of fis­cal man­age­ment and en­forc­ingf dis­ci­plinary sanc­tions, and was the of­fice with the most power. The Of­fice of Schol­ars, headed by one Chi­nese and one Manchu scholar, di­rected the teach­ing of Im­pe­rial Col­lege stu­dents.

Since its es­tab­lish­ment, Guoz­i­jian had been un­der the Min­istry of Rites. In 1725, the po­si­tion of Chan­cel­lor (the head of Guoz­i­jian) was set up to su­per­vise the col­lege's af­fairs. The post was nor­mally as­sumed by of­fi­cials at a high rank, of high pres­tige and with pro­found knowl­edge. The first Chan­cel­lor of Guoz­i­jian was Prince Yunli (1697–1743), the 17th son of Em­peror Kangxi (reign: 1662–1723).

Grand Sec­re­tary Liu Yong ( 1719– 1804) and Ji Xiaolan ( 1724– 1805) were suc­ces­sors to this post. Creat­ing this new po­si­tion of Chan­cel­lor meant that Guoz­i­jian could be in­de­pen­dent from the Min­istry of Rites. The col­lege took di­rect orders from em­per­ors only, and with this change it gained a higher de­gree of au­ton­omy and more space for de­vel­op­ment. The staff of Guoz­i­jian re­ceived an of­fi­cial an­nual salary from the im­pe­rial court.

The Im­pe­rial Col­lege stu­dents were called guoz­i­jian­sheng or taix­uesh­eng, a dream for most stu­dents. How­ever, the Im­pe­rial Col­lege stu­dents didn't live a com­fort­able life. They had their ba­sic liv­ing costs guar­an­teed by monthly sub­si­dies ear­marked for them by the im­pe­rial court, but they weren't fi­nan­cially com­fort­able, and had a heavy aca­demic load. Stu­dents were placed into one of six col­leges based on their aca­demic per­for­mance.

Stu­dents had to take nu­mer­ous tests and ex­ams. The to­tal score of their monthly tests, quar­terly tests, midterm ex­ams and fi­nal ex­ams was taken as the cri­te­rion for the an­nual assess­ment of their aca­demic per­for­mance. Those who didn't meet the stan­dard would be sent down a grade or pe­nalised.

The Dis­ci­plinary Of­fice was the place that stu­dents wished they would never have to go, be­cause it was where im­ple­ments were used to pu­n­ish stu­dents who paid no re­spect to their teach­ers, who were not stu­dious and down- to- earth, or who talked ar­ro­gantly.

In 1905, the Qing govern­ment re­pealed the Im­pe­rial Ex­am­i­na­tion Sys­tem and ter­mi­nated the ser­vices that Guoz­i­jian pro­vided. Guoz­i­jian no longer had the role of be­ing the na­tion's high­est in­sti­tute of learn­ing, and those who made its his­tory sparkle have gone for­ever, leav­ing be­hind only old streets to tell of the rise and fall of this part of an­cient Chi­nese civil­i­sa­tion.

Guoz­i­jian is now a tourist at­trac­tion where vis­i­tors can have a glimpse of his­tory through its cul­tural relics. Just be­fore the Na­tional Higher Ed­u­ca­tion En­trance Ex­am­i­na­tion ev­ery year, peo­ple write down words of good wishes on finely-made wooden boards and tie them to the stone balustrades in front of Piy­ong Hall, wish­ing the can­di­dates a promis­ing fu­ture. This rit­ual be­gan in an­cient times and still con­tin­ues to­day.

A copy of Qind­ing­guoz­i­jianzhi (“a chron­i­cle of Guoz­i­jian made by im­pe­rial or­der”)

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