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Guidelines for school entrance in ancient China

2014-09-10 14:43:19

( By Yu Xiaoou


A painting of the ancient school. Author: Ma Haifang

September is a big month for students in China since the new term begins from now on. In ancient China, the school entrance ceremony was one of the most significant ceremony for the ancient Chinese, as important as coming of age, wedding and funeral ceremonies.

Before the Entrance Ceremony

Children began school between the ages of 4-7 in ancient China. Since there was no scheduled time to begin a new term in ancient China, the most important thing for the parents was to choose an auspicious day for their child to enter school.

Next, the parents would prepare some school supplies for their child, including desks, chairs, and four treasures of the study (writing brush, ink stick, ink slab and paper). They would also prepare sacrifices to worship the sages since there was a sacrificial ceremony on the entrance day. As Confucius became the most famous sage in China, the sacrificial ceremony turned into a ceremony to worship him.

At the time of the Western Zhou Dynasty, people usually worshipped Confucius with celery (pronounced as ‘Qin’ in Chinese, indicating the children will be hardworking) and seaweed (pronounced as ‘Zao’ in Chinese, indicating the children will get up early to go to school). As times changed, people also used pigs, cattle and sheep as sacrifices.

Apprentice to a teacher

In ancient times Chinese people treated teachers with respect, felt deeply from the bottom of their hearts. The teachers were usually a very learned local person. Parents would prepare many gifts and handsome rewards, then formally write a letter of invitation to ask the learned man to be their children’s teacher. There was no fixed tuition fee, generally the parents paid teachers according to their household income.

Filephoto: the First Writing Ceremony [Photo/]

The First Writing Ceremony

On entrance day, parents would take their children to attend the First Writing Ceremony. Before that, children would kneel on the ground to kowtow to the statue of Confucius 9 times, and kowtow to their teacher 3 times.

The First Writing Ceremony, also called Qi Meng (Enlightenment) Ceremony, was a very important ceremony for every student before they were admitted to school. During the ceremony, the teacher would put a red dot on the child’s forehead. The red dot represented opening the wisdom eye, since the words 'dot' are pronounced the same as 'wisdom' in Chinese. Children would also toll a bronze bell to start a new term. After that, they could finally sit down in their seats and begin to study.

Every day, students would arrival at school earlier than their teacher, and kowtow to the statue of Confucius, then go back to the seats. Usually the teacher would give a new name to every child, to be used when taking the imperial examination in the future.

In ancient China, schools also held many kinds of events every Aug 27 to celebrate the birthday of Confucius.

Today some schools are starting to hold an entrance ceremony like they did in ancient times. Students put on traditional costumes and kowtow to Confucius and their teachers. This means that from this moment, they become the disciples of Confucius, and take a step on the lifelong pursuit of knowledge.

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