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School cultivates philosophy of educational excellence

By Wang Jinhui and Yang Jun ( China Daily )

Updated: 2016-10-27

The bell rang. En masse, the students stood up and bowed to their teacher and the portrait of Wang Yangming, a philosopher and educator during Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). They then bowed to a blank frame.

The stood scene is a occurrence among freshmen who take career planning classes every Saturday at Xiuwen No 1 Middle and High School, some 38 kilometers from Guiyang, capital of Southwest China's Guizhou province.

"The blank frame represents the individual's conscience, and we tell our students to respect what is in their hearts," said the course lecturer, Zhang Wensong.

Zhang, who was previously a lecturer at the Mental Health Education and Consultation Center of Peking University, began teaching career planning to high school students in July, and forged a link between Wang's philosophy and new societal trends. "When I began teaching them, I found that students were unaware of the meaning of 'learning'. They were confused about how they should study in high school and why they were expected to go to college," he said. He continued: "In my class, I want to tell them that the goal of learning is to achieve happiness in the future, or, as Wang Yangming once said: "To make a child become a person of great virtue, we should ask him or her to accumulate knowledge and strength." I saw that the students who had completed my course had a more clear understanding of both their studies and their lives."

A renowned militarist and philosopher in ancient China, Wang was famous for his doctrines of "conformity to intuitive conscience", and "the unity of heart and behavior".

In his thirties, while working as a government official, Wang offended a powerful officer, which led to him being exiled to the underdeveloped county of Xiuwen.

It was here that Wang formulated his best-known doctrines and spread them by giving lectures to both officials and villagers at an academy where Xiuwen No 1 Middle and High School now stands.

Covering an area of 1,075 square kilometers, Xiuwen has been working since May to popularize Wang's philosophy of intuitive conscience among its 320,000 citizens through a project called Promoting Yangming Culture.

The school is located on Longgang Mountain where Wang opened an academy in 1508 to give lectures on his philosophical ideas. The school also oversees conservation of statues of Wang, stone tablets that record the history of Longgang Academy and pavilions where calligraphy works and paintings related to Wang hang on the walls.

In keeping with the theme of harmony, Yuan Yao, director of the Education Bureau of Xiuwen, said students are like seeds, while the school is the soil into which they are planted, take root, sprout, bloom and eventually blossom. "We hold various activities in primary, middle and high schools so that Wang Yangming's ideology can influence people from all backgrounds from a young age, which we hope will lead to a better society," Yuan said. "We hope that, through exposure to Wang's philosophy, students can become more confident, more independent and more able to take responsibility for their actions," he added.

Liu Liping, headmaster of the school, said that students are encourage to absorb Wang's principles and put them into action. "For example, we always ask students to think about what they want to do in the future and to start planning immediately, which is a clear way of applying Wang's idea of setting goals for the future," Liu said. In the corridor that leads from the students' dormitories to the dining hall is a wall adorned with Wang's portrait and profile, as well as some of his poems and essays. His inspiration is all around.

"Wang set out his life's ambitions at the age of 12, and this is what we want students to learn from.

"We teach students to work hard, correct their mistakes and help others to behave well, based on Wang's idea," Liu added.

She emphasized that, besides the career planning course, students are required to read Wang's essays for 15 minutes every morning and hand in summaries of what they have read in the evening. She said: "Educating students is like planting trees. Grades are like the branches and the conscience is like the roots. If we only care about grades and leave the roots to rot, we cannot cultivate excellence."

Zhang Mengjie, a senior student, summarized the philosophy of the school. "Our teacher always tells us to conform to our intuitive conscience, which to me, means having dreams and goals and striving to be a better person."

Chen Meiling contributed to this story.

 School cultivates philosophy of educational excellence

Wang Yangming is memorialized by a sculpture at Xiuwen No 1 Middle and High School, where Wang formulated his best-known doctrines in ancient times.

(China Daily 10/27/2016 page24)

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