Confucian Learning and Liberal Education

In his lecture “The Rise of Asia’s Universities”, delivered at the Royal Society in London in 2010, Richard C. Levin, then President of Yale University, criticized higher education in Asian nations for being narrowly specialized and unimaginative, and for emphasizing rote learning. According to him, higher education in these nations should emulate the ‘world class universities’ as defined by a small group of elite British and American universities, and should borrow from the philosophy of liberal education as articulated by Cardinal Newman and practiced by American universities. His perspective does not take into account the rich insights of the Confucian view of adult learning as a process of intellectual and moral transformation that involves the personalization of what has been learnt and the building of a broad world view. The Confucian model and the model of liberal education are different views of learning set in different cultural contexts, and each has important elements from which the other can benefit. Higher education in China should also learn from its own cultural heritage instead of just unquestioningly emulating a model borrowed from the west.


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