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The Fusion and Conflict Between Engineering Education and General Education in China After 1949

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Engineering & Our Global Society

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1218.1 - 24.1218.15



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Paper Authors


Zhihui Zhang Chinese Academy of Sciences

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Assistant professor ,Institute for History of Natural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
main research topics: engineering education; philosophy of engineering.

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Xiaofeng Tang Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Orcid 16x16

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Xiaofeng Tang is a PhD candidate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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The Fusion and Conflict Between Engineering Education and General Education in China After 1949The modern engineering education and general education in China both originated fromEurope and US. Instead of serving aims in daily life, engineering education in China hasbeen oriented to national goals since the Self-Strengthening Movement in 1860s, whichfocused on economic prosperity and military efficiency in order to achievemodernization of the country. Also, due to the profound influence of the educationsystem in the Soviet Union, engineering education in the PRC presented a strongprofessionalism and instrumentalism. Due to regime change in China, the western liberaleducation tradition once prevalent in some higher education institutions in the first halfof the 20th century in China (except Hong Kong and Taiwan) disappeared after 1949. Anapproximate of “liberal education” was introduced into China's higher education systemin the format of general education, which until the 1980s acted as the supplement forprofessional education. Since then, it has influenced the development of the laterengineering education in China. Because of the difference both in concept and talenttraining mode, the gradual fusion and intersection between engineering education andgeneral education would be inevitably accompanied by some conflicts and problems inChina's special political and economic environment.Mainly using the method of history and sociology, this article divides the 60 years since1949 into three stages; it elaborates the relationship between engineering education andgeneral education in various periods. From 1949 to 1978 (called as the Mao Era),international relation and political factors affected the engineering education a lot. Inorder to adapt to the needs of national industrial development, China emulated theprofessional education training mode from the Soviet Union. It did this by establishing(or merging) numerous large-scale engineering schools, which trained the so called redand specialized engineering talent. As a result, the number of engineering studentincreased significantly, but the education for natural sciences and general education wasunderemphasized. During 1979 and 2009 (so called post-Mao Era), the national 1economic and social development needed the more diverse talents. Accordingly, thescale of the engineering education decreased. At the same time, China started to learnfrom engineering education in developed countries and to recruit masters of engineering.It also started to strengthen the engineering practice and to include general educationinto the engineering education partly. Overall specialization still got too much attention;engineering practice was de-emphasized and became a major shortage o f engineeringeducation in China. In particular, general education was considered to be an equivalentof the humanistic quality education, which refers to the education for college students inthe literature, history, philosophy, art and other aspects of the humanities social scienceseducation. Since 2010, with reference to the international standards, the Ministry ofEducation launched the national outstanding engineers training plan, in which thedomain of engineering education become more widespread. For instance, it designatesgreater importance to the innovation ability, consciousness of social responsibility ,communication ability, and leadership, all of which indicate more weight for generaleducation.Based on the aforementioned history, this paper analyzes some current conflicts betweenthe engineering education system and the general education in China today in terms ofdifferent educational concepts and modes of training; it also briefly investigates thereasons for the conflicts.Last but not the least, it attempts to put forward a reasonable suggestion for the futuredevelopment. Advocating for a balance between engineering education and generaleducation, this paper suggests a relatively uniform standard by the top-level design, tokeep the right for various colleges and universities to develop characteristic space, aswell as to give students freedom on their personality development and self-improvement,so as to achieve overall balance among the national objectives, demands of socialrealit y, and students' all-round development as humans within the institutionalframework. 2

Zhang, Z., & Tang, X. (2014, June), The Fusion and Conflict Between Engineering Education and General Education in China After 1949 Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23151

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