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Growing Pains: Chinese Engineering Education During The Late Qing Dynasty

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Engineering Education in India, the Far East, and Central Asia

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Page Count


Page Numbers

15.635.1 - 15.635.12



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Paper Authors

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Junqiu Wang Purdue University

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Nathan McNeill Purdue University

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Sensen Li Purdue University, West Lafayette

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Growing pains: Chinese engineering education in the late Qing Dynasty


With the continued advancement of engineering as a global field of activity, it becomes critical to understand engineering education from a more global perspective. Specifically, Chinese engineering education has been experiencing radical transformation and development over the past twenty years, especially in tandem with rapid economic development. However, few studies have examined the current status of engineering education in China, as well as the historical path of development of a modern Chinese engineering education system. How was a Confucian educational tradition transformed into a modern educational system?

To better understand some of the driving forces behind the current Chinese engineering education system, we need to take a historical journey back to the origins of modern engineering education in China. In this paper, we specifically examine engineering education during the pre- Republic era, or late Qing Dynasty, from the 1840s to 1911. Based on analysis of archival sources and other relevant historical documents, this paper describes a series of key historical events and discusses how a range of political, social, and economic conditions likely influenced the formation of a new engineering education system during this period. This paper reports on three main research themes: 1) How were engineers trained immediately prior to the formation of a modern engineering education system in China? 2) What were the driving forces that initiated the reformation of the engineering education system? and 3) How was a Westernized engineering education system fused with a long tradition of Confucian-dominated education? The paper concludes with some reflections about how the legacy of this transformation lives on in the contemporary context of Chinese engineering and engineering education.


Chinese engineering education has been experiencing tremendous expansion in the past 20 years, in parallel with rapid economic growth in China. According to statistical data from the Chinese Ministry of Education, around 15,000 Ph.D. degrees, more than 100,000 master degrees, and more than 700,000 (Some researchers estimate that these numbers are inflated, nevertheless, the actual numbers are very large.) in engineering were awarded in 20091. These numbers represent an increase of more than four times the number of degrees awarded in 19981, 2. For comparison, the number of engineering degrees awarded in the United States has increased at a much slower rate in the past ten years, with 61,000 graduates in 1999 and 74,000 in 20082. Within the engineering education community, there is growing interest in the current status of engineering education in China due to the globalization of the engineering profession3.

As has been well documented elsewhere, the engineering profession has often historically served larger interests, especially those associated with nation-states and private sector employers5. Yet local and global trajectories? To begin answering such questions, we believe it is necessary to look at

Wang, J., & McNeill, N., & Li, S. (2010, June), Growing Pains: Chinese Engineering Education During The Late Qing Dynasty Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16309

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