The Business of Enlightenment: Journals and Textbooks
Dongfang zazhi may be considered a middlebrow publication under the aegis of the Commercial Press for the urban readership. Begun in 1904 as a monthly, it was changed into a fortnightly, and it continued publication until 1948. Sales for each issue could be as high as fifteen thousand copies. Its table of contents shows its eclectic quality, combining journalistic reports, political commentary, and cultural criticism with translations and learned articles. The journal's "miscellaneous" contents may have lacked a distinct character, but herein lies its purpose and appeal. The lead article in the July 1919 issue of the journal spells out clearly the functions of this general magazine. Whereas on a lofty level the magazine is supposed to live up to three purposes—scholarly pursuit (yanjiu xueli), enlightenment (qifa sixiang), and correction of customs and mores (jiaozheng xisu)—its real function, on a mundane level, is like that of a grocery store (zahuo dian): the goods are diverse and trivial, seldom precious and valuable, but they are nevertheless daily necessities. The article also sets three more goals for the magazine of the future: to stay abreast of world trends, to be adaptable to present conditions, and above all to be suitable for practical life. As an indication of its "world trends" orientation, the journal devoted considerable attention to the European war—with photos, a chronology of events, articles, and translations. The writings of Du Yaquan, its editor, and other authors reveal an obvious disillusionment with the West in general, which led them to caution against excessive Westernization. At the same time, however, the journal contained extensive coverage and discussion of postwar European political, intellectual, and cultural trends and focused rather excessively on discussions of nationalism and socialism (the latter especially after 1919). Conscious of the continued impact of knowledge from the West, the journal's editors and leading authors groped toward a moderate position by seeking compromises between Western modernity and Chinese tradition, which they considered to be still relevant.
During the period 1915–20, the journal had voluminous coverage of subjects related to science and technology. A large number of articles described new weaponry used in the European war, in particular the submarine and the dirigible (thus feeding the fascination with underwater and air gadgetry in late Qing fiction).
Although Dongfang zazhi was the flagship of the periodicals published by the Commercial Press, it still vied for attention with at least eight others by the same company. An advertisement lists the nine in the following order: Dongfang zazhi, Jiaoyu zazhi (Education magazine), Xuesheng zazhi (Student magazine), Shaonian zazhi (Young magazine), Funü zazhi (Women's magazine), Yingwen zazhi (English magazine), Yingyu zhoukan (English language weekly), Xiaoshuo yuebao (Short story monthly), and Nongxue zazhi (Agricultural study magazine). Short Story Monthly, in particular, has been widely described in post–May Fourth accounts as having been a bastion of the old-fashioned Butterfly school of popular fiction until Mao Dun assumed editorship in 1920 and turned it overnight into a journal of New Literature. Still, the imposition of a May Fourth interpretation has certainly not done full justice to this and other journals of the Commercial Press. Even a reading of the advertisement can reveal a common purpose: simply put, it is to provide readers with a certain practical knowledge for their everyday lives. Publication of the nine magazines also represented a new way of categorizing this practical knowledge; whereas Dongfang zazhi had the most comprehensive coverage—from politics, literature, science, business, and news to encyclopedic learning (baike zhi xue), according to the attached explanation in the advertisement—each of the other journals clearly catered to a specific readership: teachers, college and high school students in the new school system, youths, women, students enrolled in agricultural schools, and, most interestingly, self-taught readers. As the Commercial Press's only literary journal, the Short Story Monthly was intended originally for such self-taught learners. Another full-page advertisement for the journal mentioned not only its increasing sales (six thousand copies per issue), its inclusion of color
In accordance with the stated purpose of the Commercial Press magazines, the women's publication, Women's Magazine, was designed as an aid to women's education (nüxue). The history of women's education in this transitional period deserves a long monograph and is too important to be summarized here. However, it is noteworthy that a distinctly modern quality is underscored by the ads and articles in the magazine. In an ad for the "big improvement" of Women's Magazine, published in 1916, the name of the new editor is prominently mentioned: a certain Mrs. Zhu Hu Binxia from Wuxi, a modern woman who had been educated in a women's school in Tokyo and who then went to America for an additional seven years of education, gaining a B.A. from Wellesley and research experience at Cornell. An American degree (printed in block characters) thus added prestige to the journal, which May Fourth leaders like Hu Shi also played to their maximum advantage. The magazine's ads marked a transition of cultural capital: whereas the prime movers of the late Qing reform movement were scholars and officials who knew no foreign language and had to rely on translations, mostly from Japanese, the new generation of elite intellectuals were largely Western educated— some in fact had contributed articles to Dongfang zazhi from abroad—and the countries and educational institutions where they studied were also prominently attached to their names (an editorial practice continued to the present day in some journals in Hong Kong and Taiwan).
Dongfang zazhi carried a number of articles about Western universities, particularly those in the United States; it also featured or reprinted from other newspapers and journals accounts of Chinese universities, including the curriculum of Beijing University. But the main goal and market of the educational enterprise of the Commercial Press, insofar as we can gather from its advertisements, was primary and secondary education. From the magazine's founding in 1904 until its closing some forty years later, almost every issue of Dongfang zazhi is filled with advertised lists of textbooks of various sorts, revealing a feverish publishing activity
The Commercial Press was not the first to publish textbooks; two smaller companies—called Wenming (Civilization) and Guangzhi (Expanding wisdom)—had published a set of textbooks by four Wuxi schoolteachers sometime before 1903. Their textbooks were called mengxue duben, or texts for "primary studies"; the term refers to the traditional notion of tongmeng, or children whose "beclouded" minds need to be cleared by the instruction of moral texts (according to the Confucian injunction), which in turn leads to the notion of qimeng, that is, qifa mengmei, or open up the children's state of ignorance, hence "enlightenment." By 1903, the Commercial Press, together with its chief rival, the China Bookstore, began to dominate the textbook market when it started its own textbook enterprise in a big way by setting up a new printing plant, hiring three Japanese advisors, and appointing an editorial board headed by Jiang Weiqiao, of which Wang Yaquan was also a member in charge of science textbooks.
The founding of the Republic was enthusiastically advertised by the Commercial Press: it capitalized on the big event of the Wuchang Uprising in 1911 with a detailed account in Dongfang zazhi and the publication of thirteen volumes of photos and other illustrations, as well as more than three hundred postcards! Not surprisingly, the press also began to issue in 1912 a new set of textbooks, a series appropriately titled Textbooks of the Republic (Gongheguo jiaokeshu). The advertisement in Dongfang zazhi was headed by the following solemn announcement: "With the founding of the Republic, the political polity has been changed to that of a republic. The educational policy is consequently changed…. In view of the present changing circumstances, [this press] respectfully observes Decree No. 7 of the Ministry of Education, and has revised the various textbooks of the primary school level. All knowledge necessary to a national citizen of the Republic, as well as the origins of this Revolution, has been given in detail in them, so as to cultivate the complete Republican citizen."
The subject of the national citizen—the Chinese word is guomin—thus formally entered the new textbooks. A special Primer for a National Citizen of the Republic (Gonghe guomin duben) was issued, clearly a revision of the original Primer for the National Citizen of the Constitutional Era (Lixian guomin duben, referring to the late Qing constitutional period of 1910–11). It also became a topic in the brandnew primary-school textbooks on xiushen, or cultivation—a term preserved from premodern primers on Confucian teaching. The new textbooks for the primary levels included not only the major subjects of Chinese (guowen), arithmetic (bisuan), history (lishi), geography (dili), and English but also quite a number of other subjects, including use of the abacus, singing, physical exercise, brush drawing, sewing, science, agriculture, commerce, and handicraft. Under the history category we find Chinese history, East Asian history, and Western history; and under geography,
I do not intend to discuss the pedagogic contents of the textbooks and curriculum. Rather, I would like to reveal how a publishing company, through concerted effort, succeeded in its self-assigned task of enlightening the public and, in so doing, aided in the nation-building effort of the Republican government. The compilation of textbooks for the education of its new guomin was definitely a priority in the government agenda, since the Ministry of Education publicized, as early as 1912, a set of provisional guidelines for general education. The old term for schools, xuetang, was changed to xuexiao. In the schools, coeducation was allowed for the primary level; reading the classics was abolished, as were some of the Qing dynasty legal codes. In particular, the agency established two bureaux for compiling and censoring textbooks. To be sure, the practice had already started in the Qing period, but the new guidelines made some specific points about how textbooks' approach and contents should be handled, together with procedures for examination and approval by the agency. The Commercial Press turned this new government policy to its own advantage by quoting in its textbook ads the seal of approval of the Ministry of Education (jiaoyu bu shending) together with the ministry's comments on particular texts. Most of the quoted comments are of a practical nature: for instance, "the choice of materials is excellent, the divisions clear; [the textbook] can be used for the physical sciences in higher primary schools." But occasionally a vaguely ideological phrase or sentence enters: "The wording is clear and succinct, and contains rather lively interest; extremely well equipped with the knowledge and morality necessary for the national citizen" (in reference to Jianming guowen jiaokeshu [The concise textbook for Chinese literature]; emphasis mine). All these endeavors pointed to the overriding objective of training the nation's people to be good citizens.
How should the people of a new nation be trained properly? The decrees issued by the Ministry of Education reflected many changes in approach. Whereas the 1912 decrees seemed to focus on practical education (primary-school curriculum must include handicraft, physical exercise, use of the abacus, etc.), the 1914 decrees—reflecting the power of the then president, the conservative warlord Yuan Shikai—restored the classics and honored the words of Confucius, with the special injunction that the curriculum in education must "emphasize the special national character of the people of this nation." In 1919, two years after the Literary Revolution, the ministry formally decreed the use of the modern vernacular and new punctuation in all textbooks for the beginning two grades of primary schools.
Given the turmoil of the period, we cannot be sure whether these changes in policy were strictly followed by the publishing companies. The Commercial Press,