Directorate of education (Guo Zi Jian) and the Imperial University (Tai Xue) in the Northern Song (960-1127)-interaction between politics and education in middle period China

  • Ming Kin CHU

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


The Imperial University played a significant political role in China’s imperial past. When established in the ancient Zhou, its mission was predominantly to nurture prospective officials for eventual service in government. This marks the inseparability of education and politics from the very onset of the University’s founding. Nevertheless, its diminished success in producing officials under subsequent dynasties caused a comparable diminution in the political significance of the metropolitan school. Not until the Northern Song, founded by the Zhao clan, did signs emerge of a resurrection of sorts.

Three major educational reforms were attempted in the reigns of Renzong, Shenzong, and Huizong (ca. 1040-1126). In each reform, the emperor and the reform proponents envisioned an expanding role of political significance for the Imperial University. This dissertation focuses on the evolution of the metropolitan educational institutions, namely the Directorate of Education and the Imperial University, in the Northern Song. By investigating the record of conduct and extant writings as pertains to the institutional settings of the Imperial University as well as wide range of biographical sources for Northern Song men, mainly staff, students, and graduates of the Imperial University, the author seeks to gain insights into how Song emperors and policy advocates perceived the Imperial University as a political institution, how the staff and teachers at the University performed their assigned roles, and how students and graduates of the Northern Song Imperial University contributed to the political life.

After highlighting the role of the Imperial University in the previous dynasties, reviewing the secondary literatures in connection with education in Song China, as well as illustrating the sources and methodology to be used in the introductory chapter, a comprehensive survey of the development of the metropolitan schools covering the entire Northern Song then follows. This narrative history not only highlights the innovations in the educational institutions per se, but also sheds light on a range of political phenomena during various stages in the Northern Song: how aristocracy evolved into meritocracy; how the reformers and conservatives created myths for political sake; how emperor Shenzong strengthened its autocratic rule by way of a comprehensive regulatory framework; how scholar-officials rebuffed in defending the “genealogy of the way”; and how the scholarly vision in recruiting officials through a countrywide school network was realized.

The conclusion contains an analytical discussion of the political role of the Imperial University in late Northern Song: a tool of control and indoctrination, as well as a channel to select morally upright officials. The central issue is how successful could the Directorate of Education and the Imperial University perform these political functions. Through this study, hopefully a fuller picture of this elitist educational institution during one of its most flourishing periods in Imperial China can be restored. It is also envisioned that the political impact could be re-emphasized in future studies of political institutions, a perspective which has often been ignored in recent Chinese and Western scholarships where social history is dominant.
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of History
SupervisorRichard Lee DAVIS (Supervisor) & Grace Ai-ling CHOU (Supervisor)

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