Abstract：As a pioneer and practitioner of modern education in China, Zhu Kezhen’s distinctive educational thought and practice have been valued and praised by the academic circles for a long time. In the eyes of quite a few scholars, Zhu Kezhen valued“liberal education” and believed that general knowledge was more important than special knowledge. This idea can be traced indeed to its roots but it is likely to ignore Zhu Kezhen’s ideological change.
Zhu Kezhen received a systematic Chinese traditional education in his early years. Confucianism emphasizes erudition and social responsibility, which paved the way for Zhu Kezhen’s formation of the concept of liberal education. Zhu Kezhen was influenced during his study in America by the Western traditional notion of liberal education which emphasizes liberal education instead of the practicability of knowledge with the aim of nurturing cultured and erudite talents. Zhu Kezhen highly praised the notion of liberal education, which was popular at Harvard University at that time.
With the deep influence of the notion, during his term as President of Zhejiang University, Zhu Kezhen promoted liberal education by following the example of Harvard University. He took a series of measures to strengthen liberal education, such as strengthening students’ basic education, implementing the major and minor system, encouraging students to select courses across colleges or departments, paying attention to cultivating students’ comprehensive quality, advocating the all-round development of morality, intelligence and physique, following Harvard University’s tutorial system, and trying to integrate it into the personality cultivation valued by Chinese traditional education. These measures did achieve some results but later some problems happened as well.
Since 1940s, with the influence of the emphasis on the social function of science in Bernalism and the advocacy of “combination of liberal education and specialized education” in General Education in a Free Society (Report of Harvard Committee), considering the fact that professionals were in a huge and urgent demand in China, Zhu Kezhen had a deeper understanding on “general education” and “special education”. Recognizing the disadvantages of laying stress only on liberal education for erudite talents, which was not in line with China’s national conditions at that time, Zhu Kezhen gradually developed his educational ideology of integration between general and special education.
Although he once advocated the notion of liberal education learned from Harvard University, Zhu Kezhen was constantly updating his educational ideas in China’s educational practice. He absorbed a variety of educational ideas, critically reflecting on them in practice. He combined the Confucian educational thought and the Western general education idea with the current educational practice, and finally put forward the educational concept of “paying equal attention to both general and professional” education in order to explore an educational model suitable for China at that time.
An in-depth study of the transformation of Zhu Kezhen’s educational notion can help us acquire not only a more comprehensive and profound understanding of his educational thought, but also a deeper understanding of the relationship between “general education” and “special education” in today’s university education. Besides, his educational ideology also has important enlightenment significance for us to better promote the organic combination of general education and special education in the new era. First of all, although general education and special education are different types of talent cultivation mode, they are indispensable and should be paid equal attention to. Secondly, the idea of general education should not be opposed to the idea of special education, nor should they be separated. They should be combined. Thirdly, the development direction of general education in China today should adopt the concept of general education, not just liberal education. Eventually, Zhu Kezhen’s spirit of seeking truth from facts is particularly worth noting in exploring an educational model suitable for China.