30 Mar, 2023
12 : 10
The YC Gala Day celebrating the 90th Anniversary of Yew Chung Yew Wah Education Network (YCYW) was held on 28 March 2023 at the Hong Kong Palace Museum, a new cultural landmark in Hong Kong. In addition to a series of colourful and heart-warming activities, the YC Gala Day included an exciting performance of classic Chinese theatre, "Romance of the Three Kingdoms—Fire at the Red Cliffs" performed by the Mengxue Institute of the Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education (YCCECE).
Moreover, a group of well-trained "Tongmeng Cultural Ambassadors" conducted guided tours for young children of the national treasures at the Museum. What is the significance of the establishment of the Mengxue Institute? And what are the expectations? Let’s learn from Dr Hui Ching, Director of the Institute.
Regarding to the role of the Mengxue Institute at the YC Gala Day, Dr Hui said that the Mengxue Institute took charge of two major events at the YC Gala Day: the Classic Chinese Theatre performance and the presentation of the "Tongmeng Cultural Ambassadors" programme. We performed Chinese classic "Romance of the Three Kingdoms—Fire at the Red Cliffs". More than ten mentors guided and supported us, and more than 20 primary and lower secondary students from Yew Chung Hong Kong joined the cast. Since the end of last year, we had intensive preparations and rehearsals for more than four months. The creative team consisted of playwrights and directors; Jingju and Kunqu actors; child psychologists; and calligraphers. Most of these participants have PhDs or master’s degrees. The theatre training and the contents of the cultural education were presented in a variety of forms, covering a wide range of categories, including Beijing Opera, calligraphy, Chinese martial arts, dance, history, literature, geography, and even the necessities of the ancients. As such, the audience was able to experience a new approach to ancient Chinese culture.
Another goal was to form a team of "Tongmeng Cultural Ambassadors", comprised of current YCCECE students, who conducted guided tours of the Palace Museum for guests and visitors, with a focus on kindergarten and primary school children. Both activities were tailor-made for the Palace Museum, while incorporating elements of "B to B" (from Baby to Bachelor) and "Learning Through Play". "Play" here refers not only to games, but also role-playing.
Dr Hui Ching (middle) and students
Dr Hui also took this opportunity to elaborate about the concept of the "21st Century New Mengxue".
According to Dr Hui, Mengxue refers to early childhood enlightenment education in ancient China, and Mengxue has both a narrow and a broad definition. The broad sense of Mengxue refers to ancient enlightenment education, including the education system, teaching methods, teaching materials and other elements. The narrow sense refers to the reading and teaching materials for the enlightenment of children. These materials include dozens of classics written during the Song and Ming Dynasties, such as San Zi Jing (Three-Character Classic), Bai Jia Xing (Hundred Family Names of Chinese), Qian Zi Wen (Thousand-Character Classic), Qian Jia Shi (Poems of One Thousand Writers), You Xue Qiong Lin (Woodland of Primary Education) and Long Wen Bian Ying (Chinese Allusions & Legends) , as well as Dunhuang and Xinjiang documents.
The materials also include documents found through recent archaeological excavations. These texts involve exchanges with Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Ryukyu scholars. We have , thus been able to locate texts on Mengxue that are still being compiled and studied by scholars.
Whether it is an heirloom document or a newly unearthed archaeological discovery, these materials reflect how traditional Mengxue classics were more than just a primer for teaching children how to read and write. The materials are an unusually large, diversified, and complete knowledge and education system that includes astronomy and geography; mountains and rivers; plants and animals; historical allusions; ethics and religion; human necessities, and so on. Mengxue is the foundation of Chinese views on life, human nature, and the universe. Most important, it reflects the Chinese people's aspiration for a better life from ancient times.. Mengxue thus forms the guidelines for the aesthetics and values of the Chinese people and transcends time and space.
"Romance of the Three Kingdoms—Fire at the Red Cliffs" performed by the Mengxue Institute
In both ancient and modern times, the fundamentals of Mengxue are about "reaching out from your heart" and teaching by example. The true essence of Chinese education lies not in knowledge alone, but also in the humanistic and caring relationships between teachers and students, and between parents and children, as well as in the lifelong cultural and family connections they share. To understand Mengxue, children must have the opportunity to experience the splendor of Chinese culture. In our cognitive and perceptual world, people always come first. If we learn how to "incorporate emotions into our daily experiences" as children, we can naturally develop a "humanistic thinking" as we grow up. China is not only a political and economic entity; it is also a cultural conduit. As such, Chinese people are the ones who have a profound understanding of Chinese aesthetics.
The differences between Mengxue and Western education thus lie in their distinct priorities. While Western education places a strong emphasis on absolute rationality, abstraction, and objectivity, Mengxue takes a different approach. Instead of focusing solely on absolute truth, it emphasises a more comprehensive, cognitive education that encompasses life, society, and the world. In addition to rationality, Mengxue places greater importance on perception and the integration of emotions and daily experiences. Examples include Chinese poetry, songs, calligraphy, and art. As such, we infuse a myriad of cultural elements into the "Chinese Classical Theatre" and do our best to let students experience Chinese cultural within limited time and space, as well as human and material resources.
Dr Hui noted that actively drawing on our culture does not mean reverting to the past. With our new pursuits in life, we can re-evaluate our understanding and interpretation of the known culture. The so-called passing on and inheritance should focus on how we can help our next generation, or our children, to go further and to live better. Chinese culture, no matter how important and powerful it might be, is only one of our many sources of energy.
The above concepts are reflected in the name of the Mengxue Institute. At the beginning, there were discussions on whether we should use "China" or "Chinese". Dr Hui believes that there should be no distinction between traditional and modern Chinese culture; this is a civilisation that is constantly renewing. Therefore, he thinks it is more appropriate to use the term "Chinese". Chinese civilization has a rich and extensive history that predates its existence as a nation. It is characterised by unconstrained vibrancy and diversity. In other words, Chinese civilisation can be seen wherever individuals possess a mastery of Chinese aesthetics.
Dr Hui explained, "Our Chinese name uses the term 'garden' as in 'kindergarten', to indicate our commitment to extending our educational reach beyond the confines of our campus—eliminating the walls of our school. Our goal is to educate not only our own country, but also the world at large."
Looking into the future, Dr Hui stated that the work of Mengxue Institute, based on the "Chinese Classics Theatre" and the "Tongmeng Cultural Ambassadors” programme, will include three basic elements: an emphasis on early childhood education; performing arts with a focus on role-playing, and in-depth cultural experience with an emphasis on "live teaching".
Following the success of the "Tongmeng Cultural Ambassadors" programme, Dr Hui said they will continue to "train the trainers". This model will be promoted to kindergarten teachers in Hong Kong, and through on-site training at the Hong Kong Palace Museum, where teachers and students will be able to make better use of this world-class venue to experience Chinese culture.
An International Symposium on Early Childhood Education in conjunction with Mengxue will be held at Yew Chung International School of Hong Kong on 5 May 2023. Dr Christine Choi, Secretary for Education of Hong Kong SAR, will share her research on Mengxue as the principal official and scholar. The Symposium will also follow the Mengxue Institute’s focus on innovation, thus breaking boundaries and blending multimedia and creative elements.
The Chor Hang Educational Research Institute will publish a series of six picture books to integrate Mengxue texts into the lives of modern children. Mengxue and Chinese History will be added to the YCCECE curriculum from September 2033, enabling our student teachers to study the "Tongmeng" in a more systematic way to enrich their knowledge, value system, and teaching skills.