Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung

On Education – Conversation With
The Nepalese Delegation Of


Our education is fraught with problems, the most prominent of which is dogmatism. We are in the process of reforming our educational system. The school years are too long, courses too many, and various methods of teaching unsatisfactory. The children learn textbooks and concepts which remain [merely] textbooks and concepts; they know nothing else. [They] do not use use their four limbs; nor do [they] recognize the five kinds of grain.[1] Many children do not even know what cows, horses, chickens, dogs, and pigs are; nor can they tell the differences between rice, canary seeds, maize, wheat, millet, and sorghum.[2] When a student graduates from his university, he is already over twenty. The school years are too long, courses too many, and the method of teaching is by injection instead of through the imagination. The method of examination is to treat candidates as enemies and ambush them. (laughter) Therefore I advice you not to entertain any blind faith in the Chinese educational system. Do not regard it as a good system. Any drastic change is difficult, [as] many people would oppose it. At present a few may agree to the adoption of new methods, but many would disagree. I may be pouring cold water on you. You expect to see something good, but I only tell you what is bad. (laughter)

However, I am not saying that there is nothing good at all. Take industry and geology for instance. The old society left to us only 200 geologists and technicians; now we have more than 2,00,000.

Generally speaking, the intellectuals specializing in engineering are better, because they are in touch with reality. Scientists, pure scientists, are worse, but they are still better than those who specialize in art subjects. [Liberal] art subjects are completely detached from reality. Students of history, philosophy, and economics have no concern with studying reality; they are the most ignorant of things of this world.

As I have said before, we have nothing marvellous, only things we have learnt from ordinary people. Of course, we have learnt a little Marxism-Leninism, but Marxism-Leninism alone won’t do. [We] must study Chinese problems, starting from the characteristics and facts of China. We Chinese, myself included, did not know much about China. We knew that we ought to fight against imperialism and its lackeys, but we did not know how to do it. So we had to study the conditions of China, just as you study the conditions of your country. We spent a long time, fully twenty-eight years from the foundation of the CPC to the liberation of the whole country, in forging step by step a set of policies suitable to Chinese conditions.

The source of [our] strength is the masses. If a thing does not represent the people’s wish, it is no good. [We] must learn from the masses, formulate our policies, and then educate the masses. Therefore if we want to be teachers, we have to be pupils to begin with. No teacher begins [his career] as a teacher. Having become a teacher, he should continue to learn from the masses in order to understand how he himself learns. That is why there are courses on psychology and education in teachers’ training. What [one] learns becomes useless if [one] does not understand the reality.

There is a factory attached to the science and engineering faculties at Tsingua University[3] because students must learn from [both] books and work. But [we] cannot set up factories for arts faculties such as a literature factory, a history factory, an economics factory, or a novel factory; these faculties, should regard the whole of society as their factory. Their teachers and students should make contact with the peasants and urban workers as well as with agriculture and industries. How else can their graduates be of any use? Take students of law, for example. If they do not understand crimes in a society, they cannot be good students of law. It is out of the question to set up a law factory; so society is their factory.

Comparatively speaking, our arts faculties are the most backward owing to a lack of contact with reality. Students and teachers do only class work. Philosophy is book philosophy. What is the use of philosophy if it is not learnt from society, from the masses, and from nature? It can be composed only of vague ideas. Logic is the same. [One] does not understand much of it if one merely reads through the textbook once. But one understands it gradually through application. I did not understand much when I read logic. The understanding came to me when I used it.

I have been talking about logic. There is also grammar which one does not quite understand simply by reading it. But one grasps the use of sentence structure when one is actually writing. We write and speak according to the customary usages and it is not really necessary to study grammar. As to rhetoric, it is an optional subject. Great writers are not always rhetoricians. I studied rhetoric myself, but did not understand it at all. Do you study it before you write?



[1.] A quotation from the Analects by Confucius.

[2.] A quotation from the children’s classic, the San Teu Ching (‘The Three-character Classic’)

[3.] On the western outskirts of Peking.

Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung