How did children read and write 500 years ago? What were the elementary textbooks in the 15th century’s China? On the morning of January 10, the 5th Education Photo Exhibition titled “Lost Stories: The Legend of Graphic literacy textbook”, co-hosted by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Education and the Museum of ECNU, was unveiled at the exhibition hall of ECNU Museum and will be on show for 10 days. The exhibition, inspired by the finding of Hsin-pien tui-hsiang szǔ-yen, the most representative illustrated elementary textbook in China, traces the emergence and development of elementary textbooks.
As early as the Zhou-Qin Era over two thousand years ago, there were elementary textbooks for children to learn and practice reading and writing. Afterwards, these textbooks were divided into two categories in the Northern and Southern Dynasties and the Sui and Tang Dynasties. Some were well-known textbooks acknowledged by the authorities, such as The Three-Character Classic and The Book of Family Names, which were used most widely and remained influential for more than one thousand years. The others, mostly popular among the public and formed with words encountered and used by people in their daily life, were informal literacy textbooks compiled and organized based on categories.
Hsin-pien tui-hsiang szǔ-yen aims at the routine needs of ordinary children and integrates literacy, knowledge and professional life instead of useless preaching. It reflects a unique way of education, imparting practical skills related to agriculture, industry and commerce.
The complete edition of Hsin-pien tui-hsiang szǔ-yen is on display at the exhibition. There is no information about the author’s name or the date of publication. The book, currently stored in C. V. Starr East Asian Library of Columbia University, is a block-printed edition in 1436. Its photocopy was published by Shanghai Bookstore Publishing House in 2015.
At the exhibition, you can also find illustrated textbooks in different historical periods, such as Illustrated Book for Daily Chinese and English Words published by Guangji Publishing House in 1912 which covers astronomy, geography and life encyclopedias. Interestingly, in the English part of this book, the pronunciations of the English words were marked with Chinese characters to aid learning, a unique way of learning that witnessed cultural exchanges between China and the West in modern times.
Source: Institute for Advanced Studies in Education, the Museum of ECNU
Copy editor: Philip Nash
Editor: Yu Wenxi