Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2014


The apex of China’s 1911 Republican Revolution, the election in Nanjing of native son Dr. Sun Yat-sen, heralded an historic break with autocracy. Tragically, Sun Yat-Sen’s democracy did not last long. A bitter period of feudal strife followed as warlords sought to carve fiefdoms out of the young republic. Humiliating concessions to Japan under the Versailles Treaty added to the new republic’s problems. Continuing violation of China’s sovereignty spawned the May 4th, 1919 student movement in Peking. Reverberations from May 4th helped launch a small communist party cell in Shanghai and a larger democracy movement across the country.

Trenchant feudalism, aspiring nationalism, and revolutionary communism together serve as the spectacular backdrop to progressive education reform and the journey of a public education missionary named Tao Xingzhi. Born to Christian parents, Tao Xingzhi would move from humble beginnings into the world of the Western-educated elite and would be both revered as a national hero and reviled as a dissident. At one of the pivotal turning points in his adult life, Tao Xingzhi donned the robes of a traditional peasant and, in the highly contested space between budding democracy and revolutionary communism, set out to preach to the common people the values of progressivism. Unwaveringly, with humility and pragmatism, his goal was simply to remake Chinese society through education, to develop “the union of teaching, learning and doing.”


This article was originally published in the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies and has been re-posted here with permission of the author.



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