When ev­ery­thing old seems to be gold

From writ­ing cal­lig­ra­phy to recit­ing an­cient po­ems to per­form­ing mar­tial arts, tra­di­tional cul­ture cour­ses for chil­dren are cur­rently the new craze among anx­ious Chi­nese par­ents who want their kids to stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - In Shang­hai


Dressed in clothes styled to look like those from the Han Dy­nasty (206BCAD220) that ruled China 1,800 years ago, a group of chil­dren aged be­tween 5 and 10 years old are recit­ing an­cient Chi­nese verses as their heads sway away from side to side.

In an­other room, chil­dren are learn­ing about cal­lig­ra­phy, wield­ing writ­ing brushes and fig­ur­ing out how to use ink sticks and ink­stones.

In­stead of tak­ing piano lessons or join­ing an over­seas study tour, these kids are spend­ing their sum­mer va­ca­tion learn­ing about tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture in a tran­quil space at the Luheyun In­sti­tute in Shang­hai that fea­tures a min­i­mal­ist de­sign con­cept in­spired by the Song Dy­nasty (960-1279).

Es­tab­lished by Liu Yup­ing, the LuheyunIn­sti­tuteisatra­di­tional acad­emy-styled space that hopes to raise more in­ter­est and aware­ness in chil­dren about tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture which is quickly fad­ing from so­ci­ety in this mod­ern era.

Ac­cord­ing to Liu, tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, or guoxue, refers to any field of stud­ies that is tra­di­tional and na­tive to China, be it Con­fu­cian­ism, Tao­ism, his­tor­i­cal writ­ings, an­cient po­ems, tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ings and tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine.

“In to­day’s world, one where peo­ple are ob­sessed with piano, Olympic-level math and Dis­ney-in­spired English, tra­di­tional cul­ture has been ab­sent in a mod­ern child’s de­vel­op­ment,” said Liu.

“Guoxue is es­sen­tial in help­ing form a child’s way of think­ing and un­der­stand­ing about life and love, al­low­ing them to be con­fi­dent and op­ti­mistic.”

Liu said that the teach­ing meth­ods cur­rently used at Luheyun In­sti­tute, which rely on games, per­for­mances and story-telling to help chil­dren learn more ef­fec­tively, was a re­sult of her ex­pe­ri­ence in Western early ed­u­ca­tion ped­a­gogy, which has an em­pha­sis on learn­ing while play­ing.

She has ex­pe­ri­ence in this field be­cause, apart from run­ning Luheyun In­sti­tute, she is also in charge of Gym­boree Corp’s ex­pan­sion into the Chi­nese mar­ket. The Amer­i­can com­pany is a global provider of chil­dren’s ap­parel and early ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams.

Stu­dents en­rolled in the Luheyun In­sti­tute are mostly aged be­tween 4 and 13. There are cur­rently only half-day and one-day cour­ses where chil­dren learn about cal­lig­ra­phy writ­ing, poem read­ing, tra­di­tional tea mak­ing and tra­di­tional medicine prepa­ra­tion.

“We ap­ply the Analects of Con­fu­cius and Qian­ji­ashi (a col­lec­tion of Tang-Song po­ems) to foster a love for read­ing and en­cour­age the chil­dren to ex­plore the art and beauty in daily life,” said Liu.

“No mat­ter what ca­reer the kids de­cide to pur­sue in the fu­ture, they first have to learn how to be a mo­ral per­son, learn the ori­gins of their cul­ture, ex­plore the wis­dom of an­cient civ­i­liza­tion and pass on the essence of cul­ture fur­ther.”

Mon­ica Mo, the mother of an 8-year-old girl, felt that she had made the right de­ci­sion to have her daugh­ter spend the sum­mer hol­i­day learn­ing the charm of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture.

“The Con­fu­cian­ism thoughts have taught my daugh­ter to be more po­lite, self-dis­ci­plined and gen­tle. She also gets to learn things about Chi­nese his­tory and cul­ture that can­not be found in the cur­ricu­lum in school,” said Mo, who be­lieves the course will have a pos­i­tive long-term im­pact on her daugh­ter.

Over at Jade Bud­dha Tem­ple in Shang­hai, 30 kids aged from 8 to 12 years old are tak­ing part in a sum­mer camp or­ga­nized by Shang­hai Jue­qun Cul­tural & Ed­u­ca­tional Fund.

Dur­ing this five-day camp, the chil­dren live in the tem­ple, con­sume veg­e­tar­ian meals, read an­cient po­ems, per­form mar­tial arts and even learn dizigui, a Chi­nese book dat­ing back more than 300 years that lays out stan­dards for be­ing a good child and stu­dent.

“Tra­di­tional cul­ture should be a nation’s en­gine in in­flu­enc­ing the way of think­ing and be­hav­ing in its cit­i­zens. We are aim­ing to com­bine the con­cept of a sum­mer camp and guoxue to sow the seeds of moral­ity in chil­dren,” said Xiao Yan from Shang­hai Jue­qun Cul­tural & Ed­u­ca­tional Fund.

Since Novem­ber 2015, the fund has been in­tro­duc­ing free guoxue cour­ses for kids aged from 7 to 12 years old to learn about Con­fu­cian clas­sics, cal­lig­ra­phy and Chi­nese paint­ing.

“We don’t have any ex­ams or charge any fees for at­tend­ing the cour­ses as we just want to shape the char­ac­ters of chil­dren and teach them about good man­ners and habits through tra­di­tions,” said Xiao.

“We’re ex­pect­ing to re­ceive an in­creas­ing num­ber of re­quests from par­ents to en­roll their chil­dren in guoxue at an early stage as they be­lieve this is an im­por­tant phase in their de­vel­op­ment.”

In­dus­try play­ers, how­ever, have noted that many par­ents have been mind­lessly jump­ing onto the band­wagon with­out con­sid­er­ing their chil­dren’s in­ter­ests.

Wang Shuangqiang, the founder of Shang­hai QinHanHuTong Ed­u­ca­tion & Train­ing Co. Ltd, said that some par­ents to­day are send­ing their chil­dren for such cour­ses not be­cause they thor­oughly un­der­stand the value of such stud­ies, but be­cause they think learn­ing about tra­di­tional con­cepts might give their chil­dren an edge over their peers.

“More and more par­ents are be­com­ing keen on send­ing their chil­dren abroad to fur­ther their stud­ies so they just see guoxue as a sort of unique Chi­nese la­bel that will al­low their kids to stand out from the com­pe­ti­tion,” said Wang.

QinHanHuTong, which of­fers guoxue cour­ses to adults and chil­dren, has been a mar­ket leader since its es­tab­lish­ment in 2006 and is ex­pected to own more than 40 branches across China by the end of this year. It cur­rently teaches about 25,000 chil­dren aged be­tween 4 and 18 years old and 4,000 adults.

Ac­cord­ing to Wang, his com­pany’s sales rev­enue for chil­dren’s guoxue cour­ses have ex­pe­ri­enced a 100 per­cent growth ev­ery year for the past two to three years be­cause of this craze. This has in turn re­sulted in price hikes from dif­fer­ent guoxue providers.

How­ever, Wang is adamant about not do­ing so as he wants Xiao Yan, to make such ed­u­ca­tion ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able to ev­ery­one. At QinHanHuTong, the cost of hav­ing two 45-minute lessons ev­ery week for a year is about 8,500 yuan ($1,272.6). Most of the other in­sti­tu­tions have hiked their fees to over 10,000 yuan, with some even breech­ing the 20,000-yuan bar­rier.

“We’re still los­ing money in a bid to re­tain our be­liefs in pass­ing on the knowl­edge of tra­di­tional cul­ture, al­though the mar­ket is sadly be­com­ing a prof­i­teer­ing in­dus­try where many greedy en­trepreneurs just want to make a quick for­tune from this op­por­tu­nity, with­out car­ing about the qual­ity,” said Wang, who added that he will con­tinue search­ing for a so­lu­tion to gain prof­its while of­fer­ing high-qual­ity tra­di­tional cul­ture cour­ses.

Ear­lier this year, Wang in­tro­duced a new clas­sic lit­er­a­ture course into the cur­rent cur­ricu­lum at QinHanHuTong which cov­ers tra­di­tional in­stru­ments, cal­lig­ra­phy, Chi­nese paint­ing, weiqi (or GO) and tra­di­tional opera. This new lit­er­a­ture course aims to help chil­dren achieve an open and peace­ful mind through the study of phi­los­o­phy, hermeneu­tics and aes­thet­ics.

“Hope­fully this learn­ing of tra­di­tional cul­ture will help calm peo­ple down and al­low them to feel the quiet and in­ner peace through our nation’s pre­cious an­cient poetry,” said Wang.

Be­sides over-zeal­ous par­ents, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment has also played a part in the cur­rent guoxue craze. In April 2014, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion is­sued a guide­line re­gard­ing the teach­ing of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture from pri­mary school through col­lege. The guide­line stip­u­lated that more lessons on tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture are to be in­cluded in pri­mary and mid­dle school text­books.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping echoed this view too when he vis­ited Beijing Nor­mal Univer­sity in Septem­ber 2014, voic­ing his dis­ap­proval of de­ci­sions to re­move clas­sic Chi­nese po­ems and es­says from text­books.

“China’s cul­tural genes should be planted in the minds of the young,” said Xi.

In re­sponse to this guide­line, China’s Lan­guage and Cul­ture Press, one of the most au­thor­i­ta­tive pub­lish­ers of school text­books, has re­vised the con­tent of its Chi­nese lan­guage text­books by rais­ing the pro­por­tion of tra­di­tional cul­ture from 30 per­cent to 50 per­cent in 2015. The new ver­sion of Chi­nese text­books has been used at schools na­tion­wide since the new se­mes­ter be­gan on Septem­ber 1.

How­ever, cer­tain par­ents are skep­ti­cal about the need to add more tra­di­tional cul­ture con­tent into text­books.

“I don’t think the re­vised ver­sion of Chi­nese text­books will change the mod­ern way of think­ing and be­hav­ing among the chil­dren. I think chil­dren might ac­tu­ally get con­fused with these an­cient lit­er­a­ture texts that are hard to re­late to in to­day’s mod­ern set­tings,” said Hu Qinyan, a mother of a 10-year-old pri­mary school stu­dent in Shang­hai.

Pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties such as Ts­inghua and Pek­ing have also es­tab­lished re­search cen­ters that fea­ture a fo­cus on Con­fu­cian­ism. Wuhan Univer­sity in Hubei prov­ince even of­fers a PhD de­gree in guoxue. The univer­sity pro­duced its first Doc­tor of Guoxue in 2012.

“It is a good sign that more peo­ple are aware of the im­por­tance of learn­ing tra­di­tional cul­ture, but un­for­tu­nately the num­ber of guoxue ex­perts re­mains very low in the coun­try as there has been a huge pause in the ed­u­ca­tion of tra­di­tional cul­ture for years,” said Xiong Bingqi, deputy di­rec­tor of the 21st Cen­tury Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search In­sti­tute.

“The cur­rent trend of guoxue learn­ing can be con­sid­ered healthy, but the in­dus­try needs to be ad­justed so that there is lesser com­mer­cial mo­tives and more guid­ance from ex­perts who un­der­stand the true essence of tra­di­tional cul­ture stud­ies.”


Go­ing back in time: chil­dren learn how to do cal­lig­ra­phy writ­ing dur­ing a class at Luheyun In­sti­tute.


Stu­dents at­tend a class on tra­di­tional cul­ture at Luheyun.


Stu­dents wear tra­di­tional Chi­nese cos­tumes dur­ing class at QinHanHuTong.

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