In China, women’s public education and schooling began and developed with the spread of Christianity. The first schools for Chinese females, from primary school to college, were all founded by foreign missionaries. Chinese-established non-missionary girls’ schools were also inspired by these missionary schools. Moreover, the first Chinese women teachers were all graduates of the missionary schools.
This paper examines the McTyeire Home and School for Girls (Zhongxi nüshu [Chinese-Western Girls’ Academy]) in Shanghai, a representative missionary school for girls in modern China, focusing on its foundation, school system, curriculum, school life, and graduates’ career paths and social activities.
Established in 1892, McTyeire Home and School for Girls went through several changes until 1952 when it became the Shanghai Number Three Girls’ School that continues to exist today. The missionary-founded and managed school gradually accepted Chinese principals and also modified its curriculum several times in response to changing demands by offering diverse courses such as those in humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and arts and physical education as well as bible classes. At McTyeire Home and School for Girls, all the classes were conducted in English and lab classes and practical training were highly valued. The courses taught and the way they were taught were all new to the Chinese, and this new education produced “new women” in China. As McTyeire Home and School for Girls stressed public service and responsibility, it produced many social activists including members of YWCA, and during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), many of its graduates led the war efforts.
McTyeire’s curriculum that required twelve years for completion produced few graduates. The number of its graduating students was less than 10 percent of that of the incoming students since a lot of students dropped out to get married. However, many of the McTyeire graduates went to US to study or went to college in China, and they became teachers, doctors, missionaries, public officers, ambassadors, scientists, bankers, and entertainers. In that sense, Mctyeire was a pioneer in encouraging Chinese women to take up public jobs.
However, since the establishment of People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, all the pre-PRC missionary schools including McTyeire have been branded as imperialist. Notably, the negative labels of McTyeire such as ‘an aristocratic school’ or ‘an idolizer of America’ are often ascribed to its own last principal Xue-zheng who joined the PRC’s anti-imperialist fever through her self critique of McTyeire.
According to the recent memoirs of McTyeire graduates, however, while it is true that some of the McTyeire students were Christians and daughters from elite families, many were non-Christians and from common families. McTyeire’s tuition was high, and yet the donations from the rich students enabled the poor to study. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the positive role that McTyeire played in educating many Chinese women in modern China.