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--what literary museum can learn from Maria Montesorri and Lu Xun

                           (Paper for Annual Meeting of ICLM, 2011, Chiaravalle, Italy)


Huang Qiaosheng (Beijing Lu Xun Museum)




          It is proper that the annual meeting of ICLM is holding in the hometown of the famous children educationist Maria Montesorri, Chiaravalle of Italy.

In China we are commemorating the 130th birth anniversary of Lu Xun, a great literary figure in modern China. There are 6 museums and many other memorial installations dedicated to him, and I come from one of them, Beijing Lu Xun Museum. I choose to be here, the hometown of Maria Montessori, whom I have admired and been interested in and wanted to know more about her. In China, many young parents are familiar with her pedagogic achievements. Many kindergartens set up Montessori classes. As a staff with a literary museum that has social education function, I think something useful can be obtained from the life and work of this great woman.

Now in the National Museum of China is held an exhibition “The Art of Enlightenment”, presented by some German museums, displaying the arts of the enlightenment period of that country. The enlightenment movement was a very important event in the history of human kind, with many yields both in material and spiritual fields. Among the great cultural legacies it left with us such as fine arts, clothes, etc., there was an unforgettable concept, a philosophy of enlightenment, the liberation of human mind from the darkness of ignorance. Post generations have been benefiting from this movement that gaining more and more knowledge is a very important precondition to freedom and make progress.

Meanwhile, when we see these beautiful and unique exhibits, we can’t help admiring the arts which, as a tool of enlightenment, did great contribution in promulgating knowledge and expressing human sentiments. These arts, are the crystals of the movement and its concepts, and at the same time, greatly improved and enhanced the enlightenment.

In reality, we often encounter the cases that arts and concepts improve and help each other. The impact of art to the accumulating of knowledge should be highly emphasized. When knowledge is filled with feelings, and in the forms of literary piece, fine arts, music, etc, it will be above the thought and technique.

The relationship of art and enlightenment lead us to pay more attention to the importance of art to the development of ration and sentiment. Enlightenment movement opened a new world of knowledge, but the quintessence of knowledge sorts to human heart. Knowledge will lose its soul if it is not moulded by art. Literary creations, fine arts, music, dance are indispensable in human life.

Museum diffuses knowledge by displaying arts. Literary and art museums should pay attention to the educational function of the arts and try to do the art enlightenment to visitors, especially to children. To certain art form, some adults are still in need of enlightenment.

In his sense, we can learn a lot from the careers and concepts of Maria Montessori and Lu Xun.




Montessori and Lu Xun are all believers and practitioners of enlightenment. The former has already been famous through many schools all over the world.  The spirit of her method is let children study naturally and teach themselves, that is say, “Education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” One of the keystones of Montessori’s children education is that education begins with the child, rather the teacher.

Lu Xun, under the yoke of imperial examination system, fostered a deep antipathy to the traditional Chinese classic-roting pedagogic prevailing at that time. Even at Lu Xun’s college time, this pedagogic was still very popular, even in the more westernized Japan, as he said in a letter to his friend when he was at Sendai Medical College: “the curriculum here only needs memory, without use of thinking. After a short time, my brain stagnated. I am afraid I will be a puppet four years later.” In his childhood, Lu Xun was forbidden to read picture books, and he never met music in his curriculums.

Chinese intellectuals, who were bored and suffered greatly from this method, stroke a sympathetic chord with Montessori. In the first 10 years of 20th century, Montessori got her book Montessori Method published, pounding out her concept of children education. A Chinese teacher said in a letter to her: “I cannot tell you what a joy it has been to me to read your book. I have always felt that children should be treated as you treat them…and that they should be allowed to do things for themselves. Everyone told me I was mad because I was always hoping a new kind of school would be born, and now I know that I was right.” Lu Xun realized that education needs reform, and he, among many other people, tried to get education on right track. But due to the consecutive rift of Chinese society and other causes, people had not enough time and energy to do it. The outcome is that, the old-style method still has a fairly big sphere of influence.

Although Lu Xun’s tenure as a professor was short, his involvement in the field of education was longstanding. Beginning in 1909 when he taught at Normal School in Hangzhou, until 1927 when he left Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, he worked in education for nearly twenty years. During this time, he served as professor at a normal school, as dean of studies at a middle school, as dean at a normal university, as a university professor, and as an official in the Central Education Administration, all the while paying close attention to matters of education, researching problems in children’s education, social education, art education, etc., while also translating a number of texts related to these issues. During his career at the Central Education Administration, he managed to established libraries, museums, and other social, educational, and cultural facilities. In his spare time he taught at many high schools and universities. He was both an author with creative experience, and a scholar who had received training in traditional scholarship. Thus his lectures were very popular.

Lu Xun was a pioneer of modern China’s enlightenment movement.

Lu Xun paid much attention to the artistic education which, in his opinion, was badly needed in China. Yet unfortunately his point of view was ahead of time and his efforts in promoting artistic education failed as few people gave him applause.

When Lu Xun worked in Beijing as a government official in charge of education, Maria Montessori’s method has already been introduced into China. Lu Xun was in agreement with Montessori’s pedagogic even though he never mentioned this pioneer woman in his literature.

Both in Lu Xun’s literary creations and in Maria Montessori’s practice with children education, they had a shared commitment that the feelings of the readers and children should be respected. Historians say that woman was found out in 18th century and child was found out in 19th century. These discoveries were the wakening of human souls, and the great contributions of the enlightenment. Maria Montessori was a discoverer of children and Lu Xun, in his life and work, was deeply concerned with the issues of woman and child.

Lu Xun said that play is a child’s best occupation and playthings his good angels.” He learnt much from foreign authors and translated several essays about children education such as A Study on Children’s curiosities, Social education and Fun, Art appraisal, A study of Children’s Cognitive Abilities, etc. He also spent much time on translating children’s books, fairy tales, novels and plays.

A rational and an upright man, Lu Xun wrote an article about how to behave as a father when he hadn’t a child. “Parents who want to emancipate their children should also equip themselves with certain ability. For then, even though you are tainted by the past, you will not lose the power to think and act independently, and will have wide interests and cultivated pleasures.”(What is required of us as fathers today) Eventually the issue of children is an issue of parents and teachers who are both enlighteners. Lu Xun realized that in order to improve the society and to carry on the reform of national characteristics, we should start from children education.

As to the art education, Lu Xun was outstanding in promoting the art of painting. In his childhood, reading picture books was a great entice and an unquenchable desire. As he described in his memoir:


What did we have to read? Any book with a few illustrations was banned by our teacher,and we would be reprimanded for reading it or even have our hads caned. When my young classmates got bored to death by reading nothing but Man is by nature good, they could only turn surreptitiously to the first page to look at the monstrous picture of literary talent god, to satisfy their innate childish love for beauty. Day after day this was all they had to look at, yet still their eyes gleamed woth growing comprehension and delight.


Lu Xun loved fine arts, and he tried all his means to borrow or buy picture books, and he traced the fine-lined portraits of heroes out of illustrated novels, often to the point of infatuation. Afterward he began cursorily reading ancient records, dabbling in stele rubbings, repeatedly paying high regards to Chinese traditional arts, and achieving an original understanding of these arts. He collected ancient art pieces, as much as possible, for research purposes; although not systematic, these intellectual pursuits were quite distinctive.

Lu Xun encouraged Chinese artists to actively borrow from foreign arts.  He devoted great effort to initiate creative woodcut, everywhere seeking out Western prints, organizing exhibitions, publishing art collections, and fostering talented youth artists. Lu Xun’s exertions yielded tremendous achievements, and as a result he is respected as a founder of Chinese modern woodblock art and as spiritual leader of modern Chinese woodblock artists. Lu Xun promoted aesthetic education, believing that fine art pleases one’s temperament and enriches life. The book covers he designed, and the book advertisements he created, though not works of great accomplishment, all reveal the expansiveness of his spiritual realm.





The enlightenment of arts needs more hard work, especially in literary and art museums. The followings should be taken in consideration:

First, Montessori method should be used to receive the museum visitors. The enlightenment of Arts means that the exhibition designers should use not only words to explain, but also various artistic means to influence visitors; not to take a didactic attitude, but to sinuate invisibly and to move silently. Museum sorts to visitor’s sentiments and let them get an aesthetic reaction to the exhibits.

Second, the teaching methods of Montessori let visitors have more freedom to imagine, not just give them a fixed concept or final verdict. Literary museum should organize discussions or debates about certain work or exhibits.

Third, artistic activities refuse forcing and duck-feeding method. Literary and arts museum should arouse the interests of visitors and give them a method of self-taught. Only by this can visitor get special enlightenment.

In all, the concept of Montessori can help us make a balanced recognization of the relationship of the enlightener and the enlightened. Our visitors can be children and adults—who are grown-up children—they may less of knowledge than us, but there are many that we can learn from them, just as Montessori said: “Each of us has not always been a grown-up person. It was the child who constructed our personality.”

Literary and arts museum have much to cultivate in the enlightenment of arts. Literary museums can use other forms of arts such as paintings and music to enhance the effectiveness of its exhibitions of materials. Take Lu Xun Museum as an example, we should take advantage of the rich collections of graphics, make exhibitions of woodcuts, and let students and children learn the art by touching and doing themselves.

The time and venue of this conference give me an opportunity to think more about the relationship between literary creations and other arts, and the important role that art should play in the education. We need artistic cultivation as well enlightenment in knowledge. The staff of literary museum should not only possess knowledge of enlightenment movement, but also should do more work in the enlightment of arts.



Huang Qiaosheng, vice director of Beijing Lu Xun Museum and professor of Chinese Literature of China Renmin University

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