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Xiamen University´s Glorious Historical: Participant in 1926 Philadelphia World Expo

XMUICE    Public:ICE    Datetime:2010-12-23
Xiamen University was a participant in the 1926 Philadelphia International Exposition, representing a shining example of the standard of higher education in China, and was awarded the highest honour at the Expo in the form of a first-class medal. However, what exactly Xiamen University put on display remains a mystery. Sadly, neither scholarship nor the records in the Xiamen University archive have been able to provide a clear answer. Nevertheless, some historical material exists which may give some clues.
The material in question shows that, at that time, China was concerned to build up its image as a nation with a long history of higher education. In consequence, the educational displays were chosen with great care. One of the officers who were in charge of the selection of the displays said: "We hope that the latest and best models, films and graphic displays which honestly reflect the status of education in China will be put on display at the Exposition."
China´s educational display at the Philadelphia International Exposition was divided into six sections: "5000 years of education in China","Confucius China´s brilliant master of education", "The latest developments in popular education in China", "The latest reforms in commercial and economic education in China", "Higher education in China", and " Education in the provinces".Clearly, higher education was only one of the sections, so the number of exhibits was quite restricted.This was the backdrop to Xiamen University´s participating in the Philadelphia International Exposition as a representative of higher education in China, and it´s awarded of a first-class medal. We can easily appreciate that, at such a time in our history, participating in the Philadelphia International Exposition was a great honour for Xiamen University, and that it was a matter of special significance and value. We can sum this up under three headings:

1.Xiamen University´s participation in the Philadelphia International Exposition contributed significantly to the development of world expos.

World expos do not merely epitomise world civilisation at that point in time, but also exert a significant influence on their development. A product of the industrial revolution, early world expos focussed more on the material civilisation of a number of industrialised countries and largely ignored developments in the areas of society, education, and culture. In modern terms, early world expos showcased hard power rather than soft power. However, by the end of the 19th century, social issues began to achieve prominence with the progress of industrialisation around the world and education came onto the stage as an important element of world expos, a major turning point in their development and also a moment of historical import in the development of human civilisation. Education assumed ever greater prominence at world expos:
At the 1873 Vienna International Exposition, education was only the last of the 26 categories of exhibits;

At the 1876 Philadelphia International Exposition, "Science and Education" was one of the seven general display categories;
With the turn of the 20th century, education gained increased prominence, with "Education and teaching" listed as the first category for the first time at the 1900 Paris Expo;
At the 1904 Saint Louis International Exposition, education, the arts, the liberal arts and the applied sciences were all listed in the first display category, with the express purpose of benefiting the working classes, and creating their lives, with the aim of educating a citizenship able to accept modern thinking.
At the 1926 Philadelphia International Exposition, the exhibits were organised in five main pavilions so as to give greater clarity to the principal themes, in one of which, on the theme of education and philanthropy, the Xiamen University display was to be found.
Clearly, Xiamen University´s taking part in the Expo was no incidental or minor matter, nor was it merely the only such display amongst all the brilliant exhibits at the Expo; rather it took place at a major turning point and advance in World Expos, a historical juncture when the fundamental value of education became an essential aspect of World Expos. Xiamen University was a significant player in the Philadelphia World Expo, confidently ascending the global stage under the gaze of the whole world. Needless to say, in historical terms, Xiamen University´s participation in the Philadelphia International Exposition was highly significant.

2.Xiamen University´s participation in the Philadelphia International Exposition is important evidence of the trend of global advancement.

The significance of Xiamen University´s participation in the Philadelphia International Exposition should not be understood only from the perspective of the Expo itself, but also from the perspective of trends in advancement around the world.
It is commonly believed that the holding of a world expo is closely connected to a country´s state of prosperity, so it is very easy to think of such an Expo as merely a demonstration of that country´s prosperity. However it is not necessarily the case that the country´s emergence will meet with the recognition of other nations, who may rather regard it as self-aggrandisement. It is difficult to achieve a world-wide influence, and the Expo may lack vitality as a result. In reality, progress towards prosperity of a country normally entails the emergence in that country of new modes of development and new ideas. World Expos, therefore, as indicators of the host country´s prosperity, focus more on following trends in global advancement in order to ensure the recognition and participation of the entire world. The first world expo, the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851, while exhibiting industrial achievement, focussed more attention promoting free trade and calling for fair and friendly competition among countries; the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889 was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the beginning of the French Revolution. It focussed strongly on promoting democracy and freedom; the Expo ´70 held in Osaka had as its theme "Progress and Harmony for Mankind", which struck a chord with people the world over. The 64.22 million visitors to the Expo was a milestone in Japan´s development, and represents the highest number of visitors up to the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.
The US was no different; the Philadelphia International Exposition was not only a demonstration of America´s vigour, but was also important in terms of its theme.
Philadelphia had previously hosted the Centennial World´s Fair in 1876. At the outset, the President, Ulysses S. Grant, called on the American people, saying that the Unites States should not be left behind the countries of Europe; rather, the US should show to the world what progress a people can achieve in only a few years if every one of the people works hard for freedom, prosperity and honour. This call was taken up by the US Congress, which concluded that the 100th anniversary of America´s independence was of global significance. So, the International Exhibition of Arts Manufactures, and products of the Soil and Mine, the official title of United States Centennial International Exhibition, was held at Philadelphia. It proved that America had come out from under the shadow of the European industrial countries and proclaimed to the world, "The era of America is coming".
Fifty years later, Philadelphia held the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, the exposition that Xiamen University participated in. It was held to celebrate the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, and to demonstrate the even greater progress America had made over the 50 years since the Centennial Exhibition, and their pursuit of future values. In contrast with 50 years before, the US had already concluded that education, science and technology were the direction that would lead to the development of the entire world. Therefore, the expo not only displayed new technologies that affected people in their daily lives, such as radio advertising, "talkies" and electronic sound amplification equipment, it also listed education as one of its five main themes. More than 80 years have passed since the 1926 Philadelphia International Exposition; if it had not put its weight behind the advancement of education, science and technology, the US would not be the global superpower it is. From this, we can see that the focus on education at the Philadelphia Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition was like a tide in global advancement.
Given that education was one of the five main themes of the Philadelphia International Exposition, very strict standards were imposed for the exhibits of educational achievement. The organisers sent an invitation to the government of the Republic of China giving strict requirements in respect of educational displays. They expressed the hope that the latest and best models, films and graphic displays which honestly reflected the status of education in China would be put on display at the Exposition.
Xiamen University was chosen through a vigorous process representing China to be at the Philadelphia International Exposition and was awarded the great honour. With the main purpose of the expo being to set up a global trend, Xiamen University´s winning the honour meant that it was ascending the world stage. Its import goes beyond merely participating in the expo; Xiamen University can be regarded as a representative of a major global trend.

3.Xiamen University´s participation in the Philadelphia International Exposition was as a representative of higher education in China as it was in the process of reaching out to the outside world.

Demonstrating to the outside world the achievements we Chinese have accomplished through participating in world expos has been the pursuit of successive generations. During the preparations for the 1926 Philadelphia International Exposition, Xiamen University was chosen through a rigorous process as a representative of China; it was no simple matter. History shows that the requirement was: the selection of the best work from the best universities in every province to show our nation´s glory to the world.
A world expo at that time was quite different from one in modern times. It was more like a competition, so the China´s preparations for the Philadelphia International Exposition was always thought of as preparation for a competition. In order to have a do better at the expo, China prepared for it actively. China set a very high standard for the educational exhibits because of the strict requirement for educational displays demanded by the organisers of the expo. The chairman of the Exhibits Management Committee, Xu Lanshu, who was in charge of the preparations for the expo, stressed that what really mattered was the quality of the exhibits, not the quantity, and that the educational exhibits had to demonstrate specifically Oriental features.
It is also important to understand the following, that at the 1926 Philadelphia International Exposition, a number of other comprehensive universities also won first prizes. They were Peking University, Tsinghua University, Beijing Normal University, and National Southeast University - its name was to National Central University in 1928. At that time, Peking University had already been established for 28 years; Tsinghua University for15years; Beijing Normal University for 24years; and National Southeast University for 24years. However Xiamen University was the youngest of them all, having only been established 5 years earlier. Further more, the other four universities were all national universities enjoying greater resources and stronger financial support. Xiamen University was only one of the five which was not a national university; as a private university, the first university established by an overseas Chinese in the educational history of China, Xiamen University had little foundation. In spite of its youth, materials in the Xiamen University archives show how strong it really was. The materials show that when the war between the North and the South was going on, educational funds were regularly delayed for many months, sometimes even for more than a year. However, Xiamen University had adequate funds. Salaries at Xiamen University were good and never held back, and as a result, many brilliant scholars came to work at Xiamen University, including Lu Xun, Lin Yutang, Gu Jiegang, and Sun Fuyuan.

Xiamen University ascended the world stage as a carefully chosen representative of education in China. It seems miraculous that with such a short history and so little support, it won such great honour at a world expo which focussed so much on education and demanded such high standards.
This success was the result of the exploratory zeal and hard work of the people of Xiamen University, and is a reflection of the Xiamen University motto. "Pursue excellence, strive for perfection".
The patriotic overseas Chinese Tan Kah-Kee, the founder of Xiamen University, said on the occasion of its foundation, "Education is the foundation on which a nation is built; a nation´s prosperity is entirely dependent on its people; and the development of its people is entirely dependent on education." This was a really advanced view of education. Following its establishment, Xiamen University soon set up six main disciplines, the arts, sciences, education, business, engineering and law. These comprehended nineteen departments, including Chinese, Education, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Economics. This exemplary structure was such that, at that time, many universities were unable to match it. Within only a few years of the founding of Xiamen University, it was playing a leading role in China in teaching and research in many disciplines.
In the glorious history of Xiamen University, we should also observe that many majors at Xiamen University were transferred to other universities as a result of the national reorganisation of colleges and departments in 1952. So we can find traces of Xiamen University in many other universities even today, including Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University, Nanjing University, Shandong University, East China Normal University, Tongji University, Ocean University of China, Southeast University, Hehai University, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Inner Mongolia University, Dalian Maritime University and Fuzhou University. In another sense it can be said that Xiamen University has exerted a significant influence on other universities all over the country and given them support on the basis of its own strengths.
No one can deny that Xiamen University´s winning the great honour at the 1926 Philadelphia International Exposition is a matter of great pride for the members of Xiamen University, for education in China, and also for China as a whole. Xiamen University is a shining star of higher education in China and it will remain forever vigorous, incomparably innovative and delightful!

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