Culture Insider: 4 Things You May Not Know About Teachers in Ancient China Explore in China - People and Culture

Fun facts about annual Teachers' Day in China, which honours education's finest for their hard work and contributions to society.


A painting shows the scene of Kongzi teaching his students. [File photo]

We all know of China's long history. It's a history that dates back as early as 1200 BC. A major part of China's history is its education through teachers.

School education in China has a long history. In the spring and autumn periods (770BC - 476BC), private schools prevailed. Many scholars of different schools of thought began spreading their knowledge through various ways of teaching.

Kongzi, or Confucius, the great educator, devoted his life to the private school system. He would go on to hold a legacy as one of the great educators in China. Not only him, but all teachers in China were highly respected by society.

Today we honor teachers by dedicating a special day for them. For the past 31 years, Sept 10 is Teachers' Day in China. It's a day for people to show their respect and gratitude to teachers for their hard work and contributions to society.

The following lists four things you should know about teachers in ancient China.

1. Teachers' Day


Confucius Memorial Ceremony is still very popular in the Chinese-speaking world. [File photo]

Long before there was a Teachers' Day, disciples (students) honored their teacher's birthday with a simple but solemn ceremony during Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 771 BC). The Chinese showed their appreciation for teachers by performing a series of special salutes.

Since Western Han Dynasty (202 BC – 8 AD), more and more emperors used August 27 in the traditional Chinese calendar to worship Confucius as this day is his birthday. They also used this day to entertain Hanzhang (teachers) in Taixue (Imperial College).

In Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), Confucius Memorial Ceremony was held on Confucius’ birthday in the capital of the country as well as the capital of each province. Teachers who were chosen by governments at all levels got bonus from the central government. The custom carried on until Qing Dynasty (1636 -1912), and that day was regarded as Teacher’s Day.

2. Teacher's payment


Xiushu, a bunch of dried meat, is still one of the tributes in Confucius Memorial Ceremony. [File photo]

In ancient China, teachers' payment is called "Xiushu", which means a bunch of dried meat. That's because meat is a luxurious in that time. Only aged people in ordinary families or rich people were fortunate enough to eat meat. People sent teachers dried meat to show their respects when private schools first emerged. 

Normally, a teacher's Xiushu includes salary, accommodation and festival gifts. There was no fixed tuition fee, generally the parents paid teachers according to their household income. Both money and basic foodstuff can be paid in exchange for tuition.

On entrance day and the last day of an academic year, parents used to send extra money or gifts to teachers. Especially when children attend school for the first time, a gift is a must-do for all the parents. 

Masters of family-run private schools also sent teachers extra money or extra gifts on three festivals and two birthdays. Three festivals include the Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Day and the Spring Festival, while the two birthdays include Confucius' birthday as well as the teacher's birthday.

3. Apprentice to a teacher


An ancient painting shows how students salute to Confucius. [File photo]

In ancient China, children began school between the ages of 4-7. Since there was no scheduled time to begin a new term in ancient China, the most important thing for parents was to choose a prestigious teacher or a creditable school.

The teachers were usually very educated locals. Parents would prepare many gifts and rewards for them. They would also write letters of invitation asking the educated man to be their children's teacher.

If the teacher agreed, parents chose an auspicious day for their child to enter school, and prepared some school supplies which included desks, chairs, and four treasures of the study (writing brush, ink stick, ink slab and paper).

4. The First Writing Ceremony


Students were dotted on their forehead by their teacher at the First Writing Ceremony. [Photo/Xinhua]

On entrance day, parents would take their children to attend the First Writing Ceremony. Before that, children would kneel on the ground to kowtow for the statue of Confucius 9 times, and kowtow for their teacher 3 times.

The First Writing Ceremony, also called Qi Meng (Enlightenment) Ceremony, was a very important ceremony for every student before they were admitted to their school. During the ceremony, the teacher would put a red dot on the child's forehead representing the opening of wisdom's eye since the word "dot" is pronounced the same as "wisdom" in Chinese. Children would also ring a bronze bell to start a new term. After that, they could finally sit down in their seats and begin to study.

Every day, students would arrival at school earlier than their teacher, and kowtow to the statue of Confucius, then go back to the seats. Usually the teacher would give a new name to every child, to be used when taking the imperial examination in the future. (

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