Yuelu Shuyuan Introduction
The evolvement of the Yuelu Shuyuan illustrates the breaking of limits of education in China over a thousand years with the development of ideas and techniques.
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One of the oldest private institutes of higher learning in the world and founded in 976, Yuelu Shuyuan (academy of Chinese classical learning) is about two centuries older than Oxford University (founded in 1176) and the University of Paris (established in 1150). The evolvement of the Yuelu Shuyuan illustrates the breaking of limits of education in China over a thousand years with the development of ideas and techniques. At that time, Yuelu Shuyan has cradied numerous celebrated philosophers, scholars, politicians, diplomats, generals, economists, writers and artists, including Peng Guinian (1142-1206), Wu Lie (1142-1213), Wang Fuzhi王夫之(1619-1692), Wei Yuan 魏源 (1794-1857) and Zeng Guofan 曾国藩 (1811-1872). The academy, which encompasses 21,000 square meters, became the most important educational center of Confucianism, was founded by two Buddhist monks in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), with donations from local residents. It was one of the first private institutes of higher learning in China. Education at private shuyuan, which were unique in China, was free to all, with expenses covered by rent from donated farmland. Anyone with a desire to learn could apply for admission. Yuelu Shuyuan broke away from the rigid curricula and research atmosphere in the government-run universities at that time. The government-run universities of the feudal age, like the Hanxue 汉学 (the Han school of classical philology ) of Han Dynasty and the Guozixue 国子学 (the highest educational administration in feudal China) of Tang Dynasty, became servants of the imperial examinations and lost the independence of education. Officials serving the dynastic empires were, from the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), selected by imperial examinations. Passing the exam gave students a fast-track ticket up the social ladder. The appearance of Shuyuan in the Song Dynasty provided independence from and transcendence over worldly affairs, which are necessary for education and research. Besides Yuelu Shuyuan岳麓书院, other well known Shuyuan in the Song Dynasty included the Yingtianfu (Suiyang) Shuyuan 应天府书院 （即睢阳书院）, Shangqiu, Henan Province and Shigu Shuyuan 石鼓书院of Hengyang, Hunan Province, and the Bailudong Shuyuan 白麓洞书院 of East China’s Jiangxi Province. These were the four most famous academies in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). These Shuyuan were all hidden in famous mountains with beautiful scenery, away from the government-run institutions of higher learning in big cities. Yuelu Shuyuan, for example, was built on the Yuelu Mountain, which has long been famous for red maple leaves in autumn. The academy, circled in carved stonewalls, boasts well-designed architectures, red lotuses, graceful willows, and a number of inscriptions by scholars and calligraphers throughout the Chinese history.
Away from cities, the Shuyuan offered a relatively free atmosphere for students and teachers to expound and even debate on philosophy and current social affairs, like the legendary Academy of Athens. The philosophy dominating Yuelu Shuyuan in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), renowned at the academy, was the lixue理学(a rationalistic Confucian philosophical school that developed during the Song (960-1279) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, known to the West as Neo-Confucianism) philosophy of Zhu Xi朱熹 (1130-1200) and Zhang Shi 张轼 (1133-1180). The mentioned lecture, which stands out in Chinese history, attracted more than 1,000 students from around China when it was given in 1167. The students sat on the ground of the lecture hall in respect during the two-month lecture. In the center of the 500-square-meter lecture hall, two wooden chairs stood arm to arm on the platform, seldom Seen in common lecture halls. Documents say Zhu Xi and Zhang Shi were seated in the chairs at the same time, lecturing and debating with students on their different opinions about lixue. The two chairs indicated Yuelu Shuyuan’s emphasis on the co-existence and clash of different ideas. Though Zhu Xi’s philosophy was praised at that time, his books were forbidden and his students killed 30 years later. Years after the philosopher’s death, his theory was adored by the then emperor and regarded as the orthodox school of Confucianism. Despite the tragedy of Zhu Xi, the Shuyuan got strong support from dynastic rulers throughout the Chinese feudal history, and this support has been “vital to its continuation for another millennium.” Today, the museum of the academy displays the plaque “Yuelu Shuyuan” inscribed by Emperor Zhenzong of the Song Dynasty it was sent to the academy in 1015 together with classics in the emperor’s collection. Yuelu Shuyuan broke away from its lixue traditions and changed to Yangming philosophy in the early 16th century, when philosopher Wang Shouren 王守仁(1472-1529) lectured here. Four centuries after Wang Shouren, the Shuyuan system came out its end in the turbulences of the late 19th century when the traditional education system was challenged by the emergence of Western-style schools and universities. Yuelu Shuyuan was among the first to leave this Shuyuan tradition. It changed to the Hunan Institute of Higher Learning in 1903, Hunan Institute of Industry in 1917 and Hunan University in 1926 and offered modern education.
Graduates of Yuelu Shuyuan played important roles in the turbulent Chinese politics of that time. Among them were Zeng Guofan (1811-1872), a controversial politician and militant who was also an avid advocate of modernist reforms; Zuo Zongtang左宗棠(1812-1885), one of the most important court officials in the late Qing Dynasty; Cai E蔡锷(1882-1916), an army general who led the battles against the Northern Warlords; and Xie Juezhai谢觉斋 (1883-1971), a veteran revolutionary.
Today Yuelu Shuyuan, now part of Hunan University, is an important base of humanity and social science studies in China. It unrolls postgraduates in the History of Chinese Ideology, History of Chinese Culture, History of Confucianism and Human Scholastic History. Where Zhu Xi and Zhang Shi used to discuss lixue has become a meeting place of leading modern scholars from around the world, Lectures take place in the academy twice a month, from social science and literature to information technology, biochemistry, enterprise management and gongfu stories.
The United States-based EDAW Corporation saw Changsha as a successful and unique modern city, with its uniqueness lying in the fact that it is endowed with such natural beauties as rivers, islands and mountains. The city is divided into two parts by the Xiangjiang River, which is regarded as the mother River by the people of Hunan. Among the islands in the Xiangjiang River, the most famous is Orange Island. With a length of five kilometers and a width of 40 to 140 meters, the island is one of the city’s landmarks.
On the western bank of the river, the 300-meter-high Yuelu Mountain is the holy place for Confucianism, Taoists and Buddhists, who live together in harmony. Established in 956, the well-preserved Yuelu Academy at the foot of the mountain is the most important of the four famous academies of ancient China. It is the cradle of Huxiang Culture, a special school of Confucianism and the shaping force of the collective character of the intellectuals of Hunan Province. Today, home to many famous universities and research institutes, the area is still the most important cultural center in Changsha as well as in Hunan Province. EDAW plan specifies that the development of the area should focus on these cultural and historical achievements and it calls for Changsha to build a brand name based on its heritage, to make it better known around the world. With a History of more than 60 years, EDAW is one of the world’s biggest design and planning. It has undertaken such projects as the overall plan for the Haihe River in Tianjn and the scenic design and plan for the Suzhou River in Shanghai. EDAW was the winner among four international bidders for a development plan for the Xiangjiang River littoral and Orange Island in Chingsha in 2002.