Zibo site sheds light on schools of thought

(Xinhua)| Updated : 2022-03-16

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An archaeologist works at the excavation site of Jixia Academy, a state institution built in 374 BC in Zibo, Shandong province, on Feb 24. LIANG BEN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

JINAN-Since the ruins of ancient China's first government-run institution of higher learning were discovered in late February in Zibo city, East China's Shandong province, much curiosity about the school, built in 374 BC, has been aroused.

The building complex was unearthed following a five-year excavation effort, and historical records confirmed it to be Jixia Academy-a state institution of higher learning with multiple roles such as research institute, university and think tank-which existed for more than 150 years.

Four rows of building foundations have been found at the site, measuring about 210 meters from east to west at its widest, and 190 meters long from north to south, with a total area of nearly 40,000 square meters. The site is connected to the ancient capital city of Qi, and it appears as a right-angled trapezoid from above, according to archaeologists.

More than 1,000 artifacts have been unearthed during the last five years of excavation work, among which are architectural components, made using a special technique, that reflect color when the sun shines on them. The high-level decoration proves the prosperity and glory of Jixia Academy, says Zheng Tongxiu, curator of the provincial museum.

Founded by the state of Qi during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), Jixia Academy was the center of the academic landscape during "the contention of a hundred schools of thought" of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 BC).

Chinese scholars call it the "axis "era of China, or the era of Chinese classicism that outlined the characteristics of Chinese culture.

Over a similar period, Plato's Academy was founded in Athens. Along with Jixia Academy, both institutions of higher learning created a glorious time in the history of world civilization.

"The two institutions acted as cradles of thought, seeking ideological and philosophical breakthroughs, which made them quite similar," says Wang Zhimin, director of the Qi culture institute of Shandong University of Technology.

Wang says the two institutions shared the same academic environment. "Dialogues, discussions and even debates were frequently seen at both schools, in a bid to achieve the advancement of academia."

As to the respective institutions' follow-up impact on the world, Wang says Jixia Academy shaped the model of traditional Chinese culture, while Plato's Academy set up a model of higher education, helping the Western world to establish modern universities.

"The two academies constitute a certain match for the development of Eastern and Western civilizations at that time," says Wei Xinyi, a professor at Shandong College of Arts.

Jixia Academy is an unprecedented feat in the history of Chinese education. It had large-scale school buildings, a large number of teachers and students, strict rules and regulations, and regular teaching activities.

Students were free to come to Jixia for study and teachers could also enroll students and give lectures there. Such a free atmosphere greatly promoted the cultivation of talent.

With its open and inclusive academic atmosphere, Jixia attracted countless famous scholars, even sometimes gathering thousands of learners.

"The academy was founded at a time when traditional Chinese culture was reaching its peak," says Jiang Linchang, a professor at Shandong University.

According to Jiang, all the thoughts and knowledge shared at Jixia Academy featured the characteristics of Chinese culture, as well as reflected the character of Chinese people, which are still of realistic significance today.

The archaeological work on the state of Qi has lasted for 80 years. "The new discovery plays a vital role in the study of traditional Chinese culture and enhancing cultural confidence," Zheng says.