Built in 940 and located in Jiujiang, Jiangxi Province, Bailudong Shuyuan was the first full-fledged academy in China and the only central academy founded by government outside the capital. Zhu Xi, who established rules of education which have since been imitated across the country, used to teach here personally. (File photo/CNTV)
Since the 5th century B.C., there has been a long history of private education in China. Confucius, the prominent philosopher and educator, taught students regardless of their background and job, establishing the model for private schools in China apart from the official academies run by the government.
During the Tang Dynasty (around 8th century), the first shuyuan, which literally means “a place to collect books,” was established by Emperor Tangxuanzong in Luoyang, Henan Province. As the earliest government-funded shuyuan, this institute established the Confucian educational system which lasted for more than one thousand years.
Under the support and encouragement of the Song government, more and more shuyuans were built in the Song Dynasty. These educational institutes were managed independently, from both an economic and academic standpoint. The top four academies, including Yuelu Shuyuan in Hunan Province, Bailudong Shuyuan in Jiangxi Province, Songyang Shuyuan and Yingtian Shuyuan in Henan Province, also gained considerable fame during this period.