Educating Asia, awakening Asia

Education, training and knowledge from the age of empire to decolonisation

Date: 2 September 2017, 09:00–03:00

Venue: Central European University, Nador u. 13, N13 307/A


Please note that there is a break from 12 pm - 1 pm.


This double panel examines the links between the transformation of education in modern Asia and political, social, cultural and religious ruptures across the continent. From the mid-nineteenth century, the professionalisation and institutionalisation of education in Asia unfolded under power asymmetries brought about by European expansion and domination. While the spread of “Western” education resulted from the political hegemony of Europe and the United States, locals within colonised societies were no mere receptacles of Western-imposed reforms. Rather, they played a constitutive role both in the field of education and in the production of knowledge. Some of them saw education as the centrepiece in a much hoped-for “awakening” or “rebirth” of their societies against the backdrop of foreign encroachment. They often asserted their claims in moments of revolution and rapid, violent change: the Indian Rebellion, the Russo-Japanese War, the Korean March 1st Movement and the Partition of India all led from or contributed to anti-colonial struggles that encouraged fractures with colonial education, training and knowledge.The panel scrutinises how and why educational approaches and institutions emerged in connection with these historical ruptures in South, Southeast and East Asia. In times of political and military crises, government officials made use of elite and popular education to bolster the imperial order. Through ambitious educational programmes, they attempted to integrate the offspring of local potentates into imperial hierarchies. Imperial powers also deployed popular education with diverse aims, from “pacifying” unruly societies to increasing the productivity of the masses. Alongside them operated transnational social reformers and missionaries who did not necessarily agree with governmental aims, promoting instead a more liberal “civilizing mission” that made use of education as a means of citizenship training. Crucially, the panel explores education’s potential for subversion of imperial and colonial orders. Anti-colonial proponents utilised education to promote personal and national self-improvement, enable enfranchisement and refute Western claims about Asian inferiority. In colonial and post-colonial Asia, debates among students, educators and the public demonstrated the importance of education in unpicking fundamental questions about self-government, development, and secularization.

The panel raises important issues about the contribution of education to early decolonization in Asia. Approaching the topic from a pan-Asian and global perspective, it encourages the comparative study of local trajectories, ideological confrontations, and subversive tendencies, so as to shed light on the role of education as a battleground for elite and popular mobilization against foreign rule.


Stefan Hübner (National University of Singapore)

Teresa Segura-Garcia (University of Cambridge)


Teresa Segura-Garcia (University of Cambridge)

Catriona Ellis (University of Edinburgh)

Albert Wu (American University of Paris)

Dolf-Alexander Neuhaus (Goethe University Frankfurt)

Stefan Hübner (National University of Singapore)

Jana Tschurenev (University of Göttingen)



Teresa Segura-Garcia: Educating the royal child: The transformation of the education of young Indian rulers in the nineteenth-century

Despite the centrality of the princely states to India and the British Empire, we know remarkably little about the education of Indian rulers in the colonial period. The nineteenth century was a time of immense change in princely education. In royal courts across the subcontinent, succession crises, minority rule and British encroachment turned princely education into a deeply contested enterprise. This was particularly true of primary education, as it involved pupils at their most formative stage. Indian teachers and British tutors, local courtiers and imperial administrators, ruling families and royal pupils — all attempted to define princely education, with varying degrees of success. This paper addresses the issue with an examination of the primary education of three young princes in India’s three leading states: Hyderabad, Mysore and Baroda. This comparative approach evaluates the weight of these agents in each court, while identifying features that apply to princely India as a whole. The paper complicates our understanding of the dynamism of Indian courts, while deepening our knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of British rule, balancing its power with its precariousness in the face of local responses. It demonstrates that primary education of India’s aristocratic elites played a crucial role in reshaping the political thought and culture of India and the empire.

Catriona Ellis: Educating the child: The introduction of compulsory education in the Madras Presidency in the 1920s

This paper considers the introduction of compulsory education within the Madras Presidency. It considers the debates surrounding the Madras Elementary Education Act 1920, demonstrating the consistently high level of support from the Indian political classes in Madras. However, the primary focus is the implementation of this legislation at provincial government and local authority level and the role played by the District Educational Councils, based on the official debates in the Legislative Assembly; the administration reports of the Public Instruction and Education Departments and the verbatim proceedings of the Madras Municipal Corporation.

The paper considers the new claims to authority and responsibility for children by a number of state bodies, the ways in which compulsion was enforced and the disjunction between these new claims to intervention and practical financial responsibility. Finally, the paper looks at the unevenness of educational provision across the Presidency, and the way in which the curriculum - with its focus on vocational education as well as basic literacy and numeracy - was used in the disciplining of future citizens rather than as an opportunity for social mobility.

Albert Wu: Religious and secular visions of the Chinese body

This paper examines European secular and religious medical schools in China, focusing on how doctors and teachers constructed and portrayed images of the Chinese body. Comparing the work of the German-run Tongji University, the French Pasteur Institute in China, and the French Jesuit University Aurora, the paper studies how European and Chinese doctors conceived of Chinese health and envisioned the place of European medical practices in Chinese society. All located in Shanghai, the three institutions shared similar goals: they all conceived of their mission as bringing Western medicine to China. But they also differed in critical ways. Run by French Jesuits, the medical institute of Aurora University sought to facilitate dialogues between religious and secular approaches to medicine. The radically secularist Pasteur Institute, on the other hand, advanced an anti-clerical agenda, while the doctors at Tongji were tasked with expanding the influence of the German state in China. Pushed to interact in Shanghai, how did doctors with divergent ideological assumptions speak to and negotiate with one another? How did they train students differently? And how did their disagreements and discussions lead to new ways of conceiving of Chinese health and the Chinese body? By studying the convergences and divergences between these three institutions, this paper interrogates new ways that European and Chinese doctors began to “see” the Chinese body in the 1920s and 1930s.

Dolf-Alexander Neuhaus: Transnationalizing Independence: Education of Korean Elites and Asian Solidarity in Japan

The incorporation of Korean society into emerging global networks at the beginning of the 20th century was defined by nascent nationalism and the ensuing resistance to Japanese colonial rule. Inspired by President Wilson’s principle of “national self-determination,” activists of the anti-colonial independence movement of Korean students in Japan campaigned for the liberation of their country and at the same time began to reach out to Asian activists residing in Japan in the wake of Japan’s entry into the First World War and the Twenty-one Demands raised against China. While scholarship rightly interprets the March First Movement of 1919 as a significant rupture in colonial policy, this presentation seeks to shift the focus on the (dis-)continuities of the independence movement of Korean students in Japan.  After the ethnic-nationalist interpretations and hopes in the principle of self-determination failed to materialize, the suppression of the independence movements of 1919 caused a fraction of Korean and Asian thinkers to formulate alternative conceptions of Asia as the cradle of a new world order based upon equality among all peoples. While Asian solidarity was already a recurring theme during the War, the disenchantment with the West after the end of the war sparked a recourse to “Asian” values put forward by Korean, Taiwanese and Indian authors in the journal Ajia Kōron (The Asia Review) which has so far been largely neglected by scholarship but aroused much public interest at the time. The presentation aims at adding new insights to the history of Pan-Asianism among Asian students and intellectuals. In the case of the journal The Asia Review formulations of Asian unity were not only directed against the western-dominated world order but at the same time served as an ideology of liberation from Japanese imperialism.

Stefan Hübner: The International YMCA College in Springfield, MA, sportive citizenship training, and the struggle for self-government in interwar Asia

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, physical education and public health experienced a scientific boom in the US. One important institution was the International YMCA College in Springfield, MA. Inspired by the vision to bring Protestant American ideas of Christian internationalism, Christian egalitarianism, and a “Protestant Work Ethic” to the rest of the world, YMCA physical (education) directors, many of them graduates of the International YMCA College, moved to Asian countries, where they engaged in Christian social work. As a consequence of the First World War, when the medical examinations of US recruits had revealed serious physical deficits caused by the negative impact of urbanisation and industrialisation, improving public health and fitness became even more important. Simultaneously, sportive character building, another dimension of “muscular Christianity”, should shape democratic citizens and support the transformation of Asian societies according to Protestant American norms and values. Fulfilling the rising demand for physical education and public health experts while taking the growing anti-colonial sentiments in Asia into consideration, the YMCA encouraged the training of its Asian members in the US, while it also founded several colleges abroad. The emergence of a first generation  and new elite  of Asian physical education and public health experts thus paved the way for self-government in sports and public health affairs, which was part of the more general struggles for self-determination and the end of colonialism. My presentation addresses the role of academic institutions, transnational educational exchanges, and sports-related mass education. I am particularly interested in how the YMCA’s social transformation plans shaped and were shaped by social and colonial inequalities, global “ruptures” such as the First World War and the Great Depression, and ideological conflicts between and among missionaries, colonial administrations, and local nationalist or communist movements.

Jana Tschurenev: Women, ‘nation building’ and bio-politics: ‘Childhood education’ in India (1920s-1960s)

Since the first decade of the twentieth century, the critique of colonial education  as being underfunded, not suited to inculcate moral values, and not fit to Indian conditions  became closely linked to efforts to ‘nationalise’ the education system. While this implied a struggle for educational control, the core of the movement for ‘national education’ was curricular reform. In the interwar period, efforts to universalise and ‘Indianise’ education culminated in the Gandhian scheme of ‘basic education’/ ‘nai talim,’ which combined a curricular re-orientation towards manual labour with new pedagogical methods (‘learning by doing’). This paper explores the efforts of women’s organisations to promote a system of science-based early childhood care and education as a basis for nation building. This was crucially linked with debates about public health and poverty, but also with a tendency to professionalise care-work. The paper analyses how international pedagogical currents, such as the proliferation of the ‘Montessori method’, were combined with ‘nai talim’, and Gandhian notions of rural reconstruction to devise schemes of early childhood care and education for the urban and rural poor. Such schemes, the paper argues, proved influential for policies of rural development and the governance of poverty in post-independence India.

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