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Teaching, Learning, and Reflective Acting: A Dewey Experiment in Chinese Teacher Education

by Zhixin Su - 1996

This article illustrates how Tao Xingzhi, a former student of John Dewey at Columbia University and a most prominent figure in the modern Chinese history of education, boldly experimented with Dewey’s philosophy in Chinese teacher education. Turning a “half somersault" of Dewey’s theories to conform to the social and educational conditions in China in the 1920s, Tao transformed Dewey’s “school as society" into his “society as school," Dewey’s “education as life?into his “life as education," and Dewey’s “learning by doing" into his principle of the “unity of teaching, learning, and reflective acting." On the basis of these principles, Tao established the famous Morning Village Normal School in a small rural area in Nanjing, China. The Normal School served as both a base for preparing rural teachers and a center for village renewal: The students learned to run village schools by running village schools and the whole village became a learning community. Although Tao’s experiment in the Morning Village lasted only for three years due to political pressures and military intervention, his efforts represented the most thorough and creative implementation of the Dewey philosophy in Chinese teacher education. Widely recognized as a viable solution to problems in Chinese teacher education and rural education and an avenue for national development and reconstruction, the Normal School was reestablished in 1949 and has continued to serve as a national experimental site for teacher education reform in China.

This article illustrates how Tao Xingzhi, a former student of John Dewey at Columbia University and a most prominent figure in the modern Chinese history of education, boldly experimented with Dewey’s philosophy in Chinese teacher education. Turning a “half somersault” of Dewey’s theories to conform to the social and educational conditions in China in the 1920s, Tao transformed Dewey’s “school as society” into his “society as school,” Dewey’s “education as life” into his “life as education,” and Dewey’s “learning by doing” into his principle of the “unity of teaching, learning, and reflective acting.” On the basis of these principles, Tao established the famous Morning Village Normal School in a small rural area in Nanjing, China. The Normal School served as both a base for preparing rural teachers and a center for village renewal: The students learned to run village schools by running village schools and the whole village became a learning community. Although Tao’s experiment in the Morning Village lasted only for three years due to political pressures and military intervention, his efforts represented the most thorough and creative implementation of the Dewey philosophy in Chinese teacher education. Widely recognized as a viable solution to problems in Chinese teacher education and rural education and an avenue for national development and reconstruction, the Normal School was reestablished in 1949 and has continued to serve as a national experimental site for teacher education reform in China.

Over the 100-year period after the first Chinese student graduated from an American institution in 1854, Columbia University and its graduate school of education, Teachers College, led all other American colleges and universities in Chinese graduates (Keenan, 1977). One of the most important attractions for the Chinese students was the mentorship by John Dewey, Paul Monroe, William Kilpatrick, and other prominent scholars at the university. A great number of the Chinese graduates returned to China and became educational and political leaders. Between 1919 and 1921, at the invitation of his former students who were then leading teacher educators and education administrators in China, Dewey traveled to eleven cities in China and lectured extensively on social and political philosophy, philosophy of education, ethics, and the main trends of modern education in the Western nations.

While visiting Nanking Higher Normal School (which later became the famous National Southeastern University, widely recognized as the second best university in China), one of his major sponsors in China, Dewey said at the welcoming convocation that he had a special feeling about speaking at that institution because a great many of the faculty had been trained in the United States and many had been his “followers” at Columbia University. Tao Xingzhi, chairman of the Department of Education in the school, was one of Dewey’s former students among the audience. While many of Dewey’s followers tried to implement Dewey’s ideas in Chinese education in the 1920s through the 1940s after his tour of China, Tao was the one who carried the Dewey experiment literally to the extreme, not so much in the Higher Normal School located in the large city, but in a small rural normal school—the Morning Village (Xiao Zhuang) Normal School, which he created in 1927.

The Morning Village Normal School under Tao’s leadership lasted for only three years, from 1927 to 1930, when it was forced by the Nationalist Army to close. Nevertheless, it gained national recognition as a significant force in teacher education and rural education reform, “a great beginning in China’s modern and contemporary history of education” (China Society for the Study of Tao Xingzhi, 1985, p. 4). Tao creatively and critically implemented Dewey’s ideas in the normal school and its surrounding rural setting. In his own words, he did a “half somersault” of Dewey’s theory and transformed Dewey’s “education means life” to his “life means education,” Dewey’s “school as society” to his “society as school,” and Dewey’s “learning by doing” to his “unity of three—teaching, learning, and reflective acting” (Tao, 1929, 1936). This gave rise to Tao’s most famous theoretical and practical system of life education, a system characterized by reflective acting, merging with the masses of the people, taking the world as a whole, and paying attention to historical connections.

At the Morning Village Normal School, faculty, staff, and students integrated themselves into the village community and attempted to promote democratic meetings in cases of disputes. They also created a network of village schools connecting hundreds of families. The schools offered not only basic education to children, but also literacy classes to adults. In addition, they ran hospitals and established a self-defense league for villagers to protect themselves against bandits. For a while at Morning Village, the school and society were effectively joined for the purpose of educating everyone in a democratic community, a goal that Dewey had advocated but had not been able to achieve in the United States (Dewey, 1899). Unfortunately, the larger Chinese society in the 1920s contained many elements hostile to the educational goals of Morning Village and made it impossible for the experiment to survive and thrive in the existing social order. Tao himself died at the age of 55 in 1946 because of “having overworked himself, over-impaired his health, and been over-upset emotionally” about the fate of his educational and social reform experiments (China Society, 1985, p. 23).

Closed in 1930, the Morning Village Normal School was revived after 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded. It continued to implement Tao’s life education theory and the principle of the unity of teaching, learning, and reflective acting. It underwent severe criticism during the 1950s when Dewey and Tao were condemned as “bourgeois education reformers,” and suffered great losses during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. Since 1980, the school has thrived with renewed commitment to Tao’s educational philosophy, a creative and critical development of the Dewey theories in China. In many ways, the story of Tao and the history of his favorite creation—the Morning Village Normal School—represent the struggle of Chinese educators in implementing Western educational ideas in Chinese educational practices. In this article, I shall attempt to compare the educational ideas of Tao Xingzhi and John Dewey, examine Tao’s implementation of the Dewey theory in the Morning Village Normal School during its founding years, and determine if Dewey’s influence is still strong in the normal school at the present time.

In order to gather information for this article, I used both the historical approach (Thomas, 1990) and the case study method (Sax, 1979). Relevant literature and historical documents were collected from Chinese and American research libraries and museums with the assistance of a Chinese teacher educator and an American graduate assistant, and I made a two day site visit in the fall of 1994 to the Morning Village Normal School located in Nanjing, China. During the site visit, I conducted extensive interviews with the administrators, teacher educators, and teacher candidates in the school, and made observations in many of the classrooms. In addition, I visited the Tao Zingzhi Museum and the Morning Village Elementary School, both attached to the normal school. I also had an opportunity to meet with two of Tao’s former students and with Tao’s former wife. The highlight of my visit was the moment when Kuojun Xin, director of the Tao Museum, handed me an original letter from Dewey to Tao, dated June 10, 1944. I could not believe my eyes. I knew that Tao and Dewey communicated with each other frequently, but I did not expect any original letters to be kept as Tao traveled and moved extensively from place to place during his professional career. I learned that this was the only original letter from Dewey to Tao that was preserved in a Chinese museum. When I held the precious page in my hands and read Dewey’s very own handwriting, “My Dear Dr. Tao, I have been happy to get news of you through your former associate Professor Chu. I am glad to know your health remains good and that your educational work goes on, even under the difficult conditions you experience . . .” I was so immensely moved that I knew I must share the story with the world.


To appreciate Tao’s implementation of Dewey’s ideas in Chinese teacher education, we need to understand, first of all, the historical background against which Tao and Dewey came into contact, the special friendship that developed between the two men, and the similarities and differences in their educational ideas. Dewey was born in 1859 to a family involved in retailing business in a Vermont village. After studying classics and philosophy at the University of Vermont, he became a schoolteacher, first in a Pennsylvania city school, then in a Vermont rural school. In 1884, on obtaining a doctoral degree in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University, Dewey began to teach philosophy at the University of Michigan. By the time Tao was born to a poor farmer’s family in Anhui, China, in 1891, Dewey was already a professor of philosophy at Columbia University, teaching graduate courses in the departments of philosophy, psychology, and education (Jane Dewey, 1939).

Tao and Dewey would never have met if Tao had not come to the United States in 1914 to study political science at the University of Illinois. On receiving his master’s degree, Tao transferred to Teachers College, Columbia University, where he took graduate studies under John Dewey, Paul Monroe, and William Kilpatrick until he returned to China in 1917. From then on until his death in 1946, Tao devoted his life to educational development and reform in China. First he worked as a privileged, Western-educated intellectual—a college professor and administrator in Nanjing Teachers College. After Dewey’s visit (1919–1921) and the subsequent visit by Paul Monroe (1921), which helped open Tao’s eyes to the tragic conditions of Chinese education—over 80 percent of the people lived in poverty in the countryside and over 77 percent of the population was illiterate—he went through a fundamental personal transformation (Kuhn, 1959). He reasserted his identity as a Chinese and rejected the superficial marks of westernization that he, like many other returned students, had acquired. By the mid-1920s, Tao had decided to discard the “foreign upper class air” and “flow back toward the path of the Chinese common man.” He gave up his positions at the university, went to the countryside to live the simple life of a farmer, and devoted the rest of his life to developing teacher education and rural education for the ordinary working people in China (Anhui Society for the Study of Tao Xingzhi, 1983, p. 9.).

Tao kept in close communication with his former mentors, Dewey, Monroe, and Kilpatrick, and frequently sought their advice on his work in China. He believed that the United States was an advanced democracy that could help China develop its own democratic system and that Dewey was a most dear friend and strong supporter of the Chinese people. These sentiments are evident in his personal letters to Dewey (Tao, 1945). In 1936, when Tao visited the United States to gather support and funds for the Chinese Anti-Japanese Movement, he visited with Dewey three times and persuaded him to sign, together with Einstein and fourteen other renowned scholars (five of them professors at Columbia University), an open letter to the Chinese government, urging it to release seven patriotic intellectuals, one of whom, Zhou Enrun, was the first translator of Dewey’s Democracy and Education from English to Chinese. Although Dewey wrote little about China after he returned from his visit to the country in 1921, China was, according to his daughter, the country nearest to his heart after his own (Jane Dewey, 1939) and he was always concerned about China’s fate and his former students’ well being (Zhou, 1988). On Tao’s death in 1946, Dewey and Kilpatrick jointly sent a telegram, which read: “We honor Dr. Tao for his unsurpassed and heroic devotion on behalf of a better education, for the common people of China. We who remain must keep alive his memory and his work” (Chu, 1953).

The lifetime of Tao Xingzhi witnessed the Chinese people being plunged into an abyss of misery; the country was ruled by warlords internally and bullied by big powers externally. The Opium War in 1842 revealed the decay and decline of the feudal dynasty and heightened its social crisis, and by the turn of the century, the moment of transition from the old to the new arrived with the outbreak of the famous May Fourth Movement in 1919, a nationwide student movement opposing Japanese imperialism and domestic Chinese corruption. In every sphere of social activity the old order was challenged, attacked, undermined, or overwhelmed by a complex series of processes—political, economic, social, ideological, and cultural—that were set in motion in China as a result of the penetration of a dominant, expanding, and powerful Europe and America (Su, 1995; Teng and Fairbank, 1954). At that time, the semi-feudal and semi-colonial system of education in China served only the interest of the privileged few and no more than 1 percent of the population had the opportunity for education.

In contrast, the United States at the turn of the twentieth century was already an independent, unified, and democratic state, and universal education in public-supported free schools was widespread throughout the country. For Dewey and his fellow American educators, the task was to expand and extend common schooling for an increasingly diversified population in a democracy, whereas for Tao and his Chinese colleagues, the goal was to save China with sciences and education and, further, to turn China into a strong power by developing sciences and education. For models of educational advancement, the Chinese educators first turned to Japan, then to the United States, after some Chinese students studied in the United States and took home American educational ideas, and especially after the visits to China by Dewey, Monroe, and Kilpatrick in the 1920s.

Tao was the first of Dewey’s Chinese followers to develop his own system of educational theory and practice, and the first to seek to extend Dewey’s influence from the city to the rural area. Unlike some of his colleagues, who blindly adored and adopted Dewey’s ideas, Tao was keenly aware of the great differences in the social and educational conditions between China and the United States; therefore his application of Dewey’s educational theories was an analytical, critical, and innovative process. His most notable achievements were his understanding, transformation, and practice of Dewey’s ideas of education as a means for social reform, school as society, education as life, and progressive, child-centered, experienced-based pedagogy.


Both Tao and Dewey were true believers in the power of education to effect a good society. Dewey argued that what nutrition and reproduction are to physiological life, education is to social life. When lecturing in China, Dewey enthusiastically conveyed his idea of education as an agent for social reform to Chinese educators: “The reconstruction of society depends, to a very great extent, upon the school. The school is the instrument by which a new society can be built, and through which the unworthy features of the existing society can be modified” (1973, p. 213). Not surprisingly, Dewey’s ideas were warmly embraced by Chinese intellectuals who had been engaged in an eager and painstaking effort to save China with science and education. Tao, in particular, was a strong believer in the power of a “new education” to effect change in Chinese society. He expounded on the relationship between education and the establishment of a new republic:

We are in a new era—the 20th century and we should create a new country. This new country should be a rich and strong republic. How can we create such a new country? Of course we need good leaders to lead the people, to make them rich and strong, and to enable them to coexist in peace and harmony. But even if we have good leaders, it is no use if the people do not know which leader is good, and which leader is bad. Therefore what we need now is a new type of education for the people, an education which will enlighten the people, cultivate the people, and mould them into citizens for the republic and for the modern world. (1919, p. 7)

To prepare the Chinese people for citizenship in a new republic, Tao recognized the need to develop a “democratic education,” which included three basic tasks: (1) providing equal educational opportunities for both rich and poor, both men and women, both old and young, and for people in all nationalities and all classes; (2) creating an atmosphere of understanding for learning to take place so as to encourage student initiative and innovation; and (3) learning about democracy by living a democratic life. Tao dedicated himself to the cause of developing democratic education—more popularly called “people’s education”—in China. Recognizing that China was largely an illiterate country, Tao initiated and participated in mass anti-illiteracy programs aimed at educating the poor and common people, most of them in rural areas. He designed prototype village schools in connection with normal schools for many parts of the country. Although the mass education movement itself could not have saved China, Tao’s effort helped pave the way for the preparation of an enlightened citizenry for the establishment of a people’s republic.


Dewey and Tao shared the conviction that school must be closely connected to society in order to provide meaningful experiences for the students and to play a vital role in social reform. Dewey defined the school as primarily a social institution. As education is a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race and to use his or her own powers for social ends (Dewey, 1897). Thus, Dewey formulated an educational plan that both initiated and replicated a democratic society. His hope was to make each school an “embryonic community life, active with types of occupations that reflect the life of the larger society, and permeated throughout with the spirit of art, history, and science. When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with the instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely, and harmonious” (Dewey, 1899, pp. 43–44).

In the first seven years after he returned to China, Tao tried literally to create the Deweyan schools as miniature democratic societies in the Chinese environment. However, he found the method to be a “dead end” and unsuitable for the Chinese social, political, economic, and educational conditions at that time. He came to see that the Chinese students were often limited by what schools could offer them to learn. The school people could not benefit from the knowledge and experiences of outsiders such as farmers, and outsiders could not benefit from the activities in schools. Therefore, in his own words, he made Dewey’s doctrine of education “turn a half somersault” and argued for “society as school” so as to expand the horizon of schooling to include more educational materials, more educational methods, more educational instruments, a larger educational environment, more students, and more teachers. In this new educative community, people in and out of the school could all be teachers and students. Tao (1929) compared his new ideas with Dewey’s thought:

The concept that “school is society” is like taking a lively little bird from the air and putting it into a cage. It wants to absorb all aspects of society into a small school. It is easy, therefore, to do it spaciously. The concept that society is school is contrary to that. It seeks to extend all aspects of the school into the natural world. (p. 63)

In some ways, Tao’s creative transformation of Dewey’s school as society into society as school resembles the modern-day effort made by some American education reformers to go beyond schools to seek educative communities and the educative society (Goodlad, 1984, 1992). Schools alone cannot provide the education we need. The envisioned ecosystem of institutions and agencies in the larger society conscious of their responsibility for developing the knowledge, values, skills, and habits of a free people is a great challenge for both American and Chinese educators.


The guiding principle in Tao’s educational practices is his famous theory of “life education.” Tao admitted that this theory was a natural outgrowth of Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy of education as life and as preparation for social and political life. However, for the purpose of mass education in China, Tao changed Dewey’s theory as education as life to “life as education.” He advocated broadening the scope of education, and changed Dewey’s principle of learning by doing to a unity in teaching, learning, and reflective acting.

Essentially, life education means an education of life, by life, and for life and life education is an education for the common people and for reforming the society (Tao, 1934). Following this principle, Tao and his colleagues mobilized the mass education movement in the larger society that involved more poor and common people than ever in China’s history. Much of the teaching and learning in the mass education movement took place outside of regular and established classrooms and schools; the society was the school, and life itself was education. In evaluating the importance of life education, Keenan (1977) comments that Tao “regarded his reformulation of ‘education is life’ as a change essential to meet Chinese cultural conditions. Yet, all the while he revealed his debt to the Deweyan ground of controversy on which he was arguing—namely, the necessary connection between education and life that originally spurred Tao’s attack on the gap between teacher and learner” (pp. 92–93).


Influenced by Dewey’s progressive pedagogy, Tao enthusiastically advocated a liberating pedagogy for improving the individual development of both teachers and students. He learned from Dewey the principle that education was not an affair of telling and being told, but an active and constructive process in real-life experiences. Further, like Dewey, Tao emphasized the need for school to develop the thinking ability of students. He recognized the grave problem of education in China: Traditionally, teaching consisted of spoon-feeding, and learning was largely by rote. In an attempt to replace the traditional modes of teaching and learning, Tao drew wisdom from Dewey’s child-centered approach and his philosophy on progressive education, and proposed his own pedagogical creed—the unity of teaching, learning, and reflective acting.

Tao maintained that to teach meant to teach a student to learn, that the teaching method should be based on the learning method, and that teaching and learning should coordinate with each other. As a teacher, one should learn constantly while teaching; therefore a teacher is also a student and a student can also be a teacher (Tao, 1919, 1927a). Tao’s innovation in pedagogy resulted from his concern over the inhuman aspect of education in the traditional Chinese society. He saw the existing schools for Chinese children as “hell,” and he was determined to destroy this hell and to create a paradise for children. In the Chinese tradition, children were often looked down on as “second-class adults,” yet few educators were aware of the need to liberate children from the “cruelty of adults.” Tao urged people to respect the human rights of children, to understand the needs and abilities of children, and to have concern for children’s welfare. In 1944, Tao proposed the famous “six liberations of children”: (1) to liberate their minds so that they can think; (2) to liberate their hands so that they can make things; (3) to liberate their eyes so that they can see; (4) to liberate their mouth so that they can talk; (5) to liberate their space so that they can go out into the larger society to learn knowledge of a richer contexture; and (6) to liberate their time—do not fill their time with homework, do not force them to prepare for exams, do not unite with parents to put pressure on children for doing schoolwork, so that they can have some time to digest what they learned, to learn a little of what they desire to learn, and to do a little of what they feel happy doing. Tao’s concern for a liberating education for children was a radical departure from the traditional educational thought and practice in China and reflected a very strong influence from Dewey and the progressive education movement in the United States.


Given the close contact between Tao and Dewey and the great similarities in their educational ideas, although with some different emphases and directions, it is not surprising that they received similar praise and condemnations in the Chinese ideological struggle and educational reform in the past seventy years. During his visit to China, Dewey was regarded as a sort of modern-day sage, a source of explanation for the modernity in the West, and was even likened to Confucius, especially after his Chinese friends learned that his sixtieth birthday in 1919 fell precisely on the day the rotating lunar calendar indicated as the birth date of Confucius (Keenan, 1977). From the 1920s to the 1940s, Dewey’s pragmatic educational theory dominated the Chinese educational field. Nearly all his works were translated into Chinese and his influence was apparent in major Chinese educational literature (Zhou, 1991). The Chinese educational system went through significant transformation based on the American model and Dewey’s ideas (Ou, 1970). Meanwhile, Tao’s ideas on education and his experiment in the rural schools and normal schools sparked fire across China and made him one of the most famous educators in the country. On his death in 1946, he was extolled as the “A Great People’s Educator” by Mao Zedong, leader of the Modern Chinese Revolution; “A Teacher for Ten-Thousand Generations to Come” by Madame Song Qingling, wife of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, founder of the Republic of China; and “A Modern-Day Confucius” by Kuo Muoruo, a leading figure among the patriotic Chinese intellectuals (Anhui Provincial Society, 1983).

During the 1950s, when Deweyan and other Western educators’ ideas and influence came under attack in China, Tao, identified as a most sincere disciple of Dewey, was also subjected to the standard Marxist critiques, which were rooted in irreconcilable differences between the Marxist and Deweyan views of society (Kuhn, 1959; Su, 1995). The posthumous attack on Tao followed closely the standard criticisms: (1) Tao and Dewey’s brand of pragmatism denied the possibility of a “scientific” system of historical laws, derived from analysis of “objective” situations, and denied that social problems could be solved through the application of a universally valid theoretical system; and (2) Tao and other Deweyan educators failed to understand that education was part of the social “superstructure” and could have meaning only as the instrument of a social class. Tao’s faith that education could be a primary force for social betterment was, in the Marxist view, part of a stubbornly persisting error, the “theory of national salvation through education” (Pan, 1952, p. 41). Education viewed apart from the class struggle was no more than an abstraction, a delusion (Pan, 1952). By the end of the 1950s, Dewey was labeled by his Chinese critics “a sly enemy disguised under a progressive mask” (Teng, 1957, p. 62), “a guardian of modern imperialist forces,” a “speaker for reactionary forces all over the world,” and “an enemy of the Chinese people and all people in the world who love peace and freedom” (Chen, 1957, p. 11). Tao was also condemned as “a petty bourgeois reformist,” and his reform experiments in China were considered “anti-Marxist-Leninist and anti-science” (Dong, 1951) and “a deviant from the Maoist educational thought” (Wang, 1952). Even at that time, however, some scholars dared to argue that Tao was different from Dewey because Dewey was “an out-and-out representative for the interests of American bourgeoise” while Tao “always stood firmly on the positions of the Chinese people against imperialists and their lackeys” (Bai, 1958, p. 6).

Since the end of the disastrous Cultural Revolution in 1976, there have been great changes in the Chinese social, political, economic, and educational structures and development. China is moving from a traditional, dogmatic, and closed society to a modern, pragmatic, and open participant in the world. The ideological climate has also become more open, liberal, and positive toward ideas and influences from the West, especially the United States. A review of the relevant literature in the past twenty years (Su, 1995) and a content analysis of the interview data from my recent visit to several major Chinese teacher training institutions, including the Morning Village Normal School, reveal that Dewey is now regarded with respect by most of the Chinese as “a renowned education scholar who made significant contributions to world education,” and “a friend of the Chinese people.” Dewey’s ideas are also accepted as useful for reforming Chinese educational practices (Ma, 1989; Wang, 1986; Zhao, 1980).

Like that of Dewey, Tao’s reputation was restored in the 1980s. Unrivaled by any in the modern history of Chinese education, Tao’s educational theories and practices have become a special field of study among Chinese educators. In fact, every major province, municipality, and county in China has established a Tao Study Society and there is the national Society and Foundation for the Study of Tao Xingzhi, enjoying the same respect and status as the Dewey Society in the United States. Local and national conferences are held regularly to share discussions about Tao’s educational ideas and how to apply them to present-day educational practices. Frequently, Dewey’s name would appear with Tao’s and in 1986 “Tao Xingzhi and John Dewey” was designated one of the major research topics by the China Society for the Study of Tao Xingzhi.

Contemporary Chinese scholars hold three different views regarding the relationship between Tao’s and Dewey’s educational ideas. Some believe that Tao’s educational theory is a direct product of Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy and that Tao only made certain nonessential changes to adapt Dewey’s theories to the Chinese conditions (Xu & Wang, 1980). A second school of thought maintains that there are essential differences between Tao and Dewey: Dewey’s ideas belong to the old democratic pragmatism in capitalist societies while Tao’s ideas belong to the new democratic culture in socialist countries; Dewey’s education serves the young students in schools while Tao’s education serves people of all ages, especially those from poor, ordinary, and rural families, both in and out of the schools—society is his school; Dewey’s purpose of education is to produce a labor force that serves bourgeois interests whereas Tao’s purpose of education is to enlighten the oppressed and exploited masses of working people so that they become masters of their own fate and serve the interests of the common people; and Dewey’s educational methods try to make school imitate society and education imitate life whereas Tao’s educational methods help students live the real life in the real, larger society (Chen, 1992; Hou, 1988; Huang, 1981; and Quan, 1992).

Finally and increasingly, many Chinese scholars argue that Tao’s educational ideas originate from Dewey but they are better developed and more suitable for Chinese educational practice (Dong, 1988; Li, 1982; Sun, 1981; Tang, 1988; Zhang, 1989; and Zhou, 1992). They maintain that Tao creatively and critically adapted Dewey’s educational ideas to Chinese education and successfully used education as an instrument in the Chinese people’s anti-imperialist and anti-feudalist struggle, which has far more significant meaning than Dewey’s promotion of education as an instrument in an individual student’s adaptation to the immediate environment. Apparently, their interpretation of Dewey’s views on the relationship among the individual, the school, and the society is narrow and misconceptualized, but the important thing is that they have affirmed the positive and powerful influence of Dewey on Tao’s ideas.


During his lifetime, Tao implemented many reforms based on Dewey’s theories in the Chinese educational system. However, his most famous experiment—the pinnacle of a life’s work—was the creation of the Morning Village Normal School. Tao initially conceived of the Morning Village Normal School as an extension of Dewey’s philosophy, as something that would illustrate what Dewey was after more inspiringly and effectively than words in a journal (Sizer, 1966). From his previous endeavors in the mass or popular education movement, Tao realized that such an effort, although successful to a certain degree in upgrading people’s literacy levels, had a much more limited and slow impact on social progress than he and many other educators would like. Since China was mainly a country of peasant villages, he began to shift his attention and efforts to this very basic cell of the social structure (Xu, 1992). Morning Village, a poor farming community in Nanjing, provided an ideal site for his experiment. Originally, the village’s name was “Small Village” and Tao changed it to “Morning Village” with the hope that it would become a fresh start, a new morning, for a vast nationwide renaissance program. “If we cause every one of China’s villages to achieve a full, new life, then they will unite to build a great new life for China” (Tao, 1931, p. 5).

On March 15, 1927, the Morning Village Normal School was formally opened with thirteen students, ten supervisors, no formal classrooms, and no formal teaching and learning facilities. Life was on the simplest possible material level. The only shelters were tents. Daily chores were performed mostly by the students. The major goals of the school were twofold: teacher training and village renewal. Tao maintained that the purpose of teacher education was to develop in the trainees “healthy bodies, scientific minds, peasants’ skills, artistic interests, and the spirit to transform society” (Tao, 1926a, p. 5). Moreover, he urged and required the students to make friends with the peasants and to actively participate in the political and social reconstruction activities in Morning Village.

The teacher candidates were either junior or senior high school graduates before they were admitted into the training program. All applicants were evaluated for their academic records and examinations as well as practical skills in farming or carpentry. Moreover, each applicant was required to make a three-minute speech in an interview. Once in the program, the trainees learned to run village schools by running a village school—the Central Elementary School, established in Morning Village for the local peasant children. As the Normal School expanded, it established four kindergartens for preschool education training, eight elementary and secondary schools for basic teacher training, and evening schools for adult education.

The curriculum consisted of five parts: (1) teaching-learning-doing educational work in the Central Elementary School (including language, math, citizenship, health and medicine, natural science, farming, and games and recreational activities); (2) teaching-learning-doing educational work in branch elementary and secondary schools; (3) teaching-learning-doing work to conquer the natural environment (including agricultural science, forestry, landscaping, environmental health, and basic carpentry and construction); (4) teaching-learning-doing work to reform the social environment (including investigation in rural areas, popular education, collaborative organizations; recreational activities for farmers; and running a central elementary school); and (5) life skills for taking care of oneself (Huang, 1981). Clearly, in all areas, the dominant teaching method was learning-by-doing. The students were encouraged and guided to learn to teach and to participate in social life through actual activities in the surrounding community.

In addition to being a pioneer venture in the training of rural teachers, the Normal School was also designed as the prototype of the new kind of school that was to accomplish village renewal throughout China. Inserted into the village community, the school was to become the center of all political, social, and economic activity. Tao (1927b) outlined the kind of challenge the school was to meet:

Are all the wastelands in the village developed? Have all the barren mountainsides been planted with trees? Have the roads been fully developed? Is every member of the village able to support himself by his own means? Has the village government become of the people, by the people, and for the people? (p. 4)

The school established a village hospital with a trained nurse in charge. The peasants were taught literacy and agricultural skills. A “self-defense league” against bandits was organized and military training was offered. Students from the school also transformed the village tea houses, by pressure and persuasion, into social centers. There, gambling and opium-smoking were forbidden; lectures and entertainment were organized by teacher candidates. Moreover, the students participated in the decision-making process at the village. For instance, when the water supply became a problem, the school suggested that the village hold a town meeting, which Tao called “A Teaching-Learning-Doing Session on the Question of Water Consumption.” A teenage student chaired the meeting and a group of students participated as an advisory committee. A solution was reached after a democratic discussion and vote. During the process both students and peasants learned problem solving by doing (Kuhn, 1959; Xu, 1992). Thus the Morning Village Normal School was more than a teacher-training center. It extended its influence to the total economic, social, and political life of the village. As Tao himself observed, the school broke the division between life and curriculum and leveled the wall between school and society (Tao, 1927a, p. 49). As a solution to problems in Chinese rural education and an avenue for national development and reconstruction, Tao’s experiment at Morning Village—a thorough and creative implementation of Dewey’s ideas—set a wonderful model and was a great success. It attracted youth from all over the country and multiplied its enrollment to hundreds in only three years. The village itself also thrived with the school, improving its production, living standards, education, economics, and security (Xu, 1992).

Summarizing the experiences at Morning Village, Tao (1929) concluded that there were three historical stages in the relationship of education to life:

At the first stage, education is education, life is life; the two are separated and have no relation to each other. In the second stage, education is life; the two are connected and the doctrine of “the school is a society” is born. In the third stage, life is education and society becomes a school. This stage, we can say, represents a reversal, in that it returns directly to the period of high antiquity because in that period society really was the school. This last stage is, moreover, the highest stage of educational advancement. (p. 64)

Tao saw Dewey’s theory of school as society as a product of the second stage and his own theory of society as school and life as education as the natural product of the third or advanced stage. In fact, Dewey himself recognized the limitation of his theory after visiting Soviet Russia in 1928, where he suddenly discovered a society in which certain of his own ideas—notably the intimate connection of education and society—seemed to have been realized on a national scale. Dewey (1929) came close to stating Tao’s inversion of “life is education” in his own book on his impressions of Soviet Russia: “The Russian educational situation is enough to convert one to the idea that only in a society based upon the cooperative principle can the ideals of educational reformers be adequately carried into operation” (p. 89). Tao (1929) recognized this change in Dewey: “After he returned from Russia, his view had changed; no longer was it ‘education is life.’ . . . If he were at the Morning Village, I believe he, too, would have to advocate ‘life is education’ ” (p. 63).

Dewey never had a chance to visit Morning Village. But Kilpatrick did visit it in October 1929. He was deeply impressed by what he saw. Education in Morning Village was very much alive and real; even the preschool children ran a small farm where they fed their own animals and grew their own plants. Interest in learning was cultivated from a very young age (Zhou, 1988). Kilpatrick understood and appreciated what his former student Tao did in China, as Ou (1970) commented later that Tao’s contribution to extending Dewey’s influence can only be compared to Kilpatrick’s. And since Tao had to work under much more difficult conditions in China, his accomplishment in creatively translating a foreign philosopher’s educational vision into reality in his homeland is truly unrivaled.

In 1930 the Morning Village Normal School was forced to close by the Nationalist troops as the Nationalist Government considered it a threat. Tao Xingzhi had to f lee to Japan for temporary exile. But he soon returned to China and in the fifteen remaining years of his life, he established many more teacher training programs and rural schools in other parts of the country. However, it was at Morning Village that Tao felt nearer his vocation than at any time before or after (Kuhn, 1959). At his death, he bequeathed all his personal belongings to Morning Village and he was eventually buried at Morning Village near the school site according to his wish.


After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, one of the first national education development projects was to reopen the Morning Village Normal School, with a commitment to improving teacher education, promoting rural education reform, and implementing Tao’s principle of the unity of teaching, learning, and reflective acting. However, the school suffered criticism when Tao and Dewey’s educational ideas were attacked as bourgeois reforms throughout the 1950s. Consequently it achieved only minimal success in carrying on Tao’s educational ideas. Then from 1966 to 1976, the tumultuous Cultural Revolution plunged the Morning Village Normal School, as well as all other educational institutions in China, into great confusion and stagnation.

Since 1976 and especially since China opened itself to the outside world in the early 1980s, the Morning Village Normal School has been able to develop itself without the interference of excessive political and social upheavals. It is now one of the four normal schools in Nanjing Metropolitan for training elementary school teachers for both rural and city schools (the secondary school teachers are trained in teachers colleges and universities). Most of its 2,000 students are junior high school graduates from the countryside and they study for three years to obtain graduate certificates that qualify them to teach in the nation’s elementary schools. My site visits to the school left the impression of an exceptionally clean and well-landscaped campus, a warm and friendly staff of administrators and teachers, and a group of very young, enthusiastic, happy, and committed teacher candidates. The formal organization and curriculum of the school do not seem to differ from other teacher training institutions in China—they all follow the same guidelines and syllabus established by the State Education Commission. What appears to be different is that Tao’s pictures and calligraphies are everywhere on the classroom and building walls, constantly reminding people of his spirit and ideas. There is also a portrait of Confucius on the wall of a major classroom building. Tao Xingzhi’s name and quotations come up frequently in the introductions to visitors. However, Dewey’s name and words cannot be seen or heard anywhere unless a relevant question is raised about him. How much influence, then, if any, have Dewey’s ideas exerted on the development of the present-day Morning Village Normal School, and, through it, on Chinese teacher education? In what follows, I shall review the major reform efforts in the school in the most recent decade, on the basis of which we can assess the influence of Tao and Dewey’s educational ideas on the current Chinese teacher education.

Since 1980, the most important national goals for the Chinese people have been the realization of four modernizations—industry, agriculture, science and technology, and national defense. Education has been recognized as the foundation for the four modernizations and teacher education is considered the foundation of the education foundation (State Education Commission, 1993). Naturally, Chinese educators have turned to Tao Xingzhi’s theory of education as a means of social reform, a direct import from Dewey, for reference and support, and they have looked into the practices of the Morning Village Normal School for models. To live up to the high national expectations, the school since 1987 has implemented a reform plan called “Practising Tao Xingzhi’s Teacher Education Ideas” (Xie & Tang, 1991).

The focal point in this reform is to implement Tao’s principle of the unity of teaching, learning, and reflective acting in teacher education. First, the school has created a shared decision-making structure and a democratic management process, in which all teachers, staff, and students are encouraged to play important roles. Although the president still has the highest executive power, teachers and students have increasingly stronger voices in managing and supervising the school’s affairs. Second, the school redesigned its curriculum to break away from the traditional Chinese modes of teaching and learning, which place heavy emphasis on textbooks, memorization, and examination of core academic subjects. The new curriculum consists of four parts: (1) core courses including moral education, academic subjects, foundation of education, and teaching methods; (2) elective courses (about two hours a week) including art, music, nature, English, classic literature appreciation, and vocational skills; (3) educational practice at the central elementary schools with an emphasis on developing cordial intern-mentor relationships, professional development, and occupational socialization; and (4) extracurricular activities including special-theme lecture series and interest groups. The students are particularly encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, which do not exist in great abundance in most of China’s teacher training programs.

Instruction has also been reformed to identify more closely with the principle of unity in teaching, learning, and reflective acting. For example, the foundation of education classes are often held at the central elementary schools and students develop their professional knowledge and competencies by becoming professional teachers dealing with real-life educational problems. It was Tao (1926b) who decided to call the practice schools “central schools” instead of lab schools or affiliated schools because “the practice sites are the centers of teacher education. They are the mother, not the son, of normal schools” (p. 197). Tao recognized the disconnection between the course curriculum and student teaching in teacher education and he advocated and developed site-based teacher training.

The recent reform at the Morning Village Normal School has created a three-layered network of schools for training future teachers: over 100 collaborating schools in the local areas where students can conduct some observation and inquiry and participate in selected school and holiday activities; eighteen exemplary elementary schools in the surrounding community where student teachers are regularly placed; and four central schools (three were newly added) that serve as the major bases for professional socialization and educational research for the Normal School. In some ways, the central schools resemble the professional development schools or exemplary schools in American teacher education reform (Goodlad, 1990). Both have been created under the assumption that schools should be the center of inquiry and teacher preparation.

For students at the Morning Village Normal School, learning to teach by doing and reflective acting takes place not only at the central school sites, but also within the Normal School itself. A unique invention in the current reform is the so-called Practice Week for teacher candidates (Zhou & Yang, 1991). Like their predecessors in the 1920s, the future teachers learn to manage schools by actually managing them. Each week, a whole class of forty-five to fifty teacher candidates put their student roles aside, and become real staff and workers in the school’s different administrative branches—the president’s office, the library, the Tao Museum, the cafeteria, and so forth. More importantly, they go out to the larger society to conduct case studies and inquiries while participating in voluntary work and various social activities. Their case study reports are shared with all the students and teachers in the school. Between 1987 and 1990, over 267 case reports were written by students based on their investigation in 186 social institutions including industrial companies, farming villages, schools, hospitals, and emerging private enterprises (Xie & Tang, 1991). This is highly uncommon in China as students in most schools and colleges are still very much confined to their classrooms and institutions, engaging in textbook-dependent, teacher-centered learning with few hands-on and experience-based activities.

According to the teachers and students interviewed for this study, the Practice Week has enhanced students’ sense of autonomy and self-confidence, developed positive feelings of ownership of their own classes and the school, strengthened their commitment to serving the ordinary people, and promoted a healthy relationship among administrators, teachers, and students and between school people and the people in the larger society. In a survey administered to the students, 95 percent of the respondents wanted to continue the Practice Week activities (Xie & Tang, 1991). The project has been hailed as a successful adaptation of Tao’s ideas and has already been recommended to teacher educators in other parts of the country.

Another notable feature in the reform at Morning Village is the emphasis on cultivating students’ creativity. In adapting Dewey’s progressive pedagogy, Tao advocated the six liberations—of students’ minds, hands, eyes, mouths, space, and time—through creative and real-life activities, in direct opposition to the traditional rote-learning approach in the Chinese classrooms, which is still strong in most Chinese schools. At the Morning Village Normal School, although there are some heavily teacher-centered and textbook-oriented classes, such as the language methods courses I observed on the campus, learning can be fun and stimulating on many occasions. For example, music and art are elective courses for each teacher candidate. On my site visit, I was happily surprised to find a well-built, award-winning music hall with more musical instruments and activities than any teacher training program in the United States that I know of.

What is more impressive is the great variety of schoolwide special activities that teach students important norms and values with a focus on Tao’s principle of the unity of teaching, learning, and reflective acting. For example, there are four major annual festivals in the school. First there is the “Creativity Festival” in March in connection with the celebration of the birth of the first Morning Village Normal School on March 15, 1927. The students are encouraged to submit their creative work for exhibition and competition. Then in April the school holds its annual “Sports Festival” in which students participate in different athletic competitions and events. Children and senior citizens in the surrounding community are also invited to the school for sports programs specially designed for them. Around the Teachers’ Day on September 10, there is the “Respecting Teacher Festival,” during which students pay special respect to their teachers and outstanding teachers receive awards for their accomplishments. At the end of October, the school opens the “Golden Autumn Art and Music Festival,” at which students put on all kinds of performances and exhibitions. Each festival has a special theme: intellectual development for the Creativity Festival, physical well-being for the Sports Festival, moral and character development for the Respecting Teacher Festival, and aesthetic appreciation and development for the Golden Autumn Art and Music Festival. The four themes correspond with the four goals of education and schooling in China. Through these activities, the students are encouraged to achieve all-round development and have a lot of fun doing it. Unfortunately, such activities are rarely seen in most Chinese—and American—teacher training institutions.

What seems to be lacking in the new reform at the Morning Village Normal School is the daily dynamic interaction between the school and the larger society, and between the school people and the ordinary people outside of the school, which was the most important feature of the Morning Village Normal School that Tao founded. Tao’s Normal School was indeed a real society and there was no wall between his school and the surrounding community. The present-day Morning Village Normal School, on the other hand, adheres to the same national curriculum in teacher training and has an organization and structure similar to that of other normal schools. There is a definite borderline between the school and the society although the students receive more encouragement to venture into real-life experiences both in and out of the school here than in many other Chinese schools. It is fair to say that the present-day Morning Village Normal School is more like a school than a society, and by being so it comes closer to Dewey’s idea of school as a miniature society than to Tao’s idea of society as school.

One important reason for the differences between the former and present Morning Village Normal Schools in the school’s relationship with the larger society is perhaps the urbanization of the surrounding community. On my site visit, I could not find a “village,” or a “tea house,” or even a peasant to talk to. The school, with its surrounding walls and gated entrance, did not appear to be much different from any other normal schools in China. There is no shared destiny and identity between the people inside the school walls and those outside of them. I learned that Tao’s “society is school” is more true in some rural areas, where normal schools or experimental schools have been established for both teacher education and village renewal, thus fulfilling the original mission of the Morning Village Normal School.

Fortunately, practicing Tao’s educational principles is no longer just an experiment or reform effort at the Morning Village Normal School; it has become a national education reform movement, especially in the countryside (China Society, 1989, 1995). Frequently, the Morning Village Normal School serves as a site for local and national conferences on teacher education research and reform, and educators from all over China, and some even from other parts of the world, have come to visit the Normal School and the Tao Museum, and to get inspiration for developing more democratic and experience-based educational practices.

All the teachers and students at the present Morning Village Normal School are required to study Tao’s theories. There are over 500 books on Tao in the school’s library. The school has also compiled a textbook entitled The Study of Tao Xingzhi’’s Educational Thought and requires every student to read it. But the school does not require students or teacher educators to read Dewey’s work. There are only a few books by Dewey in the school’s library—Democracy and Education (1916), School and Society (1899), and My Pedagogical Creed (1897) (all translated into Chinese). Although the library also contains over 1,000 copies of education theory books, which mention Dewey’s name and work, not many students have read these books. In the third year of their training, the students are required to take the course Tao Xingzhi’s Educational Ideas, in which a comparison between Tao and Dewey is briefly introduced, with an emphasis on how Tao creatively and critically transformed Dewey’s ideas for use in China. Nevertheless, at this stage, the students are still not expected or required to read Dewey’s original works. The teacher educators and administrators at the Normal School simply saw no need for the students to read Dewey’s books. I was told that Dewey’s work was too difficult for the young teacher candidates to understand. In addition, it could still be dangerous for one to engage in the study of Western philosophy and educational theories. It is not difficult to be labeled as “having been contaminated by bourgeois and capitalist ideas” in the Chinese political movements, which are less frequent now but still occur from time to time. Comparison of Tao and Dewey’s ideas is a field of study reserved only for specialized scholars. This is also true in other teacher training institutions in China including the higher-status, more prestigious teachers universities.

When he was a teacher educator, Tao always used Dewey’s original works as required textbooks as he was not afraid of standing by what he believed to be right and he sincerely hoped that Dewey’s ideas could help China develop its education and democracy. His admiration for Dewey and for American democracy had never diminished even after he transformed Dewey’s ideas to conform to China’s social conditions. In one of his last letters to Dewey, shortly before his death, he still asked Dewey for lessons from American educational and political experiences. He regarded Dewey as “a most dear friend to the Chinese people, one who understands what China needs the most” (Tao, 1945).

Unfortunately, Tao’s unswerving faith in Dewey is not shared by his fellow countrymen in China today, who have recognized Dewey as a friend of the Chinese people and a great educator but still hesitate to embrace his ideas as warmly as they do Tao’s principles. This is in part due to the long years of antagonism between China and the United States and the differences in social systems and political ideologies in the two nations. While the United States is a capitalist, decentralized, and developed nation able to provide free primary and secondary schooling to most children, China is a socialist, highly centralized, and developing nation struggling to realize nine-year compulsory schooling for all children. Within the Chinese educational system, there is great disparity among different regions and for children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, key schools—academic track schools—in major cities provide decidedly better education and consequently better opportunities for higher education and work to their students, many of whom are children of intellectuals, office workers, and employees from big companies/enterprises, than do the ordinary schools located in the countryside, where 70 percent of the population still resides. Therefore, the focal point of educational reform has been identified as “rural education improvement” and Tao’s ideas of teacher education both for developing new teachers and for revitalizing the village life are particularly appealing to education reformers and policymakers. Indeed, one cannot finish a conversation on Chinese education reform without mentioning Tao’s name and educational ideas. There is the national Tao Study Society and many provinces, counties, colleges/universities, and even schools have established their own research groups on Tao Xingzhi. The Morning Village Normal School originally created by Tao Xingzhi has become both a hotbed for implementing Tao’s ideas and a symbol of success in the larger national teacher education and rural education reform movement.

In contrast to the hero treatment of Tao, the Chinese teacher educators remain ambivalent and reluctant when they are pressed with questions regarding Dewey’s ideas and influence on Chinese education. While Tao was able to freely and thoroughly transplant Dewey’s philosophy in his Morning Village Normal School, his reform efforts threatened the existing authority and social norms and the school had to close only three years after it was opened. In the modern, socialist China, teacher educators are clearly attracted by the reform ideas in Dewey’s philosophy, but it is politically incorrect to directly import and implement Western educational ideas in Chinese educational practices. No matter how progressive Dewey’s ideas are, he is, by Chinese definition, a “reactionary in his political ideology and class position” (Su, 1995). In addition, many Chinese educators, including some administrators and teachers that I encountered at the Morning Village Normal School, still misinterpret Dewey’s chld-centered approach as a possible cause for the lack of discipline, lack of teacher authority, and therefore the lack of rigorous teaching and learning in schools. Consequently, the implementation of a Dewey-based approach in Chinese education has never been a smooth process except for the brilliant three-year experiment that Tao directed in the original Morning Village Normal School. Dewey’s influence on current educational development in China is indirect and inconspicuous, largely through the manifestation of Tao’s educational ideas.


The educational ideas of Tao Xingzhi derived largely from the central Deweyan premises on school and society, education and life, and progressive pedagogy. However, to make them applicable in the Chinese reality, Tao transformed them to meet the challenges and needs in China, so unlike those in the United States. Tao’s experiment in Morning Village exemplifies the most creative interpretation and imaginative implementation of Dewey’s theory in Chinese education and society. At the village level Tao succeeded in a full integration of education with social and political institutions in a tolerant democratic political environment. The experiment is a watershed in the history of Chinese education because the unity of teaching, learning, and reflective acting represents a complete break from traditional Chinese education. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to say that the dawn of new education in China began at Morning Village (Quan, 1992).

In the present Morning Village Normal School, Tao’s life education and the principle of the unity of teaching, learning, and reflective acting, which evolved from Dewey’s theory of “education as life” and “learning by doing,” are very much alive in the various social experiments and educational reform activities, although Dewey’s name and words are rarely mentioned. While the former Morning Village Normal School used the large society as the school, the present Morning Village Normal School is more like Dewey’s school as a miniature society, as exemplified by its Practice Week and special festival activities. Tao admired Dewey as a mentor, loved him as a friend, and respected him as a fighter for the true cause of democracy. He also regarded the United States as an advanced democracy best qualified to help establish democracy in China (Tao, 1945). Consequently, Tao advocated and implemented Dewey’s theories on democracy and education in Chinese teacher education and rural education reform with courage and creativity and without reservations. In comparison, his successors at the presenty Morning Village Normal School are more conservative and less enthusiastic in their approaches to American education ideas including Dewey’s theories largely because of the political, social, and ideological differences, as well as the lack of mutual trust, understanding, and friendship, between the United States and China.

Despite these limitations, the present Morning Village Normal School has been a seedbed for developing democratic, experienced-based, and community-focused education in China and through its cautious steps in implementing Tao’s educational principles, Dewey’s ideas continue to thrive in different forms in Chinese teacher education. Whether successes or failures, the Morning Village Normal School’s experiences should enlighten and benefit educators and Dewey scholars all over the world. On reading the names of Tao Xingzhi and the Morning Village Normal School, one of my colleagues here asked in great puzzlement, “Who [in the United States] cares for them?” To which I shall reply with the last words from Dewey’s (1944) personal letter to Tao, which I found in the Tao Museum in Nanjing: “The world is so bound together now that unless democratic aims and methods are established everywhere throughout the world, I fear they will not long flourish in this country.” That explains well why Dewey cared and why we should all care.

The first draft of this paper was presented to the John Dewey Society at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Francisco, on April 22, 1995. I would like to thank Dr. Dean T. Jamison and Dr. John N. Hawkins for guidance and encouragement throughout the study, Xian Chen and Suzanne Goldstein for valuable research assistance, Tianliang Chi and Chuiying Tang for gathering relevant research literature, and Zenong Wang and Lunyuan Wang for arranging my site visits in China. In addition, I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Center for Pacific Rim Studies and a grant from the International Studies and Overseas Programs, University of California, Los Angeles, without which I could not have returned to my beloved China to conduct this study.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 98 Number 1, 1996, p. 126-152
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 9615, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 9:23:28 PM

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  • Zhixin Su
    University of California, Los Angeles

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