Epitaph for Cai Jiemin
Cài Yuánpéi (Chinese 蔡元培, Wade-Giles: Ts’ai Yüan-p’ei), Courtesy NameHèqīng, Sobriquet “Lone Citizen”, was born on January 11, 1868, in Shānyīn Village, Shaoxing Subprefecture, Zhejiang Province. His father,Mr. Yi Shan, was a well-known honest and kind businessman. His
mother taught him how to establish himself and to manage getting along in society. Cai earned the title of jinshi (doctorate) and became a member of the Hanlin Academy, the highest honor accorded to a scholar in feudal China.
However, as the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 demonstrated China’s weakness in the face of Western science and technology, people in the government and public turned away from compiling the classics and began to soak up new facts. For the first time, they endeavored to study the western books to understand the reasons behind their successes.
After the Coup in Wu Xu Year, the Qing Dynasty went from bad to worse. Mr. Cai did not satisfy the vanity, and left Peking resolutely. He purported to save the country by education, becoming the Superintendent of Shaoxing Chinese-Western School and later the Director-Teacher of the Special Class of Nanyang Public School. He was also the founder of the Chinese Educational Association and the Patriotic Study Society. He went on secret revolutionary activities and later was detected by the Qing Government. This detection lead to his escape to Qing Dao where he studied German in preparation for his future studies overseas. Cai joined Tongmenghui in 1905 and went to Germany in 1907. He enrolled in Leipzig University where he studied philosophy and concentrated on aesthetics. During those three years, he compiled a series of textbooks on moral education to replace that of religion.
The Xin Hai Revolution took place in Wu Chang. Sun Zhong Shan was the first provisional president of the Republic of China. Cai was appointed Minister of Education by the Republican government. He set up the policy for education, the school system and the course syllabus, laying a new foundation for the country’s education. In protest against Yuan Shikai’s autocratic rule, Cai resigned from the post in 1912 and returned to his studies in Germany for two years. The Shanghai Government clapped him a telegraph to urge him back to condemn Yuan Shikai after Song Jiaoren was assassinated. In 1913, he moved to France where he studied French and assisted Li Shizeng and Wuzhuihui in running the Educational Institute for Chinese Labourers and in organizing the Sino-French Educational Association.
In 1916, Cai was appointed Chancellor of Peking University. As chancellor, he weeded through the old and brought forth the new policy, advocated academic freedom and held tolerant views to Chinese classics and new ideas. His pioneering work in reforming the system of traditional education and his efforts to synthesize Chinese and Western educational ideas had a huge impact on the academic atmosphere among China’s institutions.
In 1919, the May Fourth Movement took place in Beijing, growing out of student’s demonstrations protesting the Chinese government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles. Many students were arrested and put into jails. Cai rescued students by asking for bail. He left Beijing after issuing a statement. Students, workers and businessmen went on strike in China’s major cities to support the movement. Under intense public outcry, the Chinese representatives in Paris refused to sign the peace treaty, and the Beiyang government had to dismiss Cao Rulin, Zhang Zongxiang and Lu Zongyu from their posts. Cai was persuaded to return to his post, although he continued not to cooperate with Beiyang Army.
In 1927, the Northern Expedition succeeded and Nanjing became the capital of Nationalist China. Later, Cai was named President of the Daxueyuan (the University Council) and President of Academia Sinica. He was instrumental in founding the Academia Sinica, which was designed to advance national research in science and technology. After the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the capital of Nationalist China changed from Nanjing to Chong Qing.
After retirement from public life, Cai fell ill in 1936 and went to Hong Kong to see a doctor. He died on March 5, 1940 in Hong Kong at the age of 74. The bad news of his death was a terrible shock to Chong Qing. The government spoke very highly of him; however, due to the hardships of war, Cai’s body was not buried in his hometown but in Aberdeen Chinese Permanent Cemetery. During his life, he married Lady Huang after his first wife Lady Wang died, and married Lady Zhou after Lady Huang’s death. His four sons died recently:Wu Ji, Bo Ling,Huai Xin and Ying Duo. His two daughters Wei Lian and Zui Ang live scattered around the world.
The Hong Kong Alumni of Peking University visit Cai’s tomb every Spring and Autumn. The tomb had been out of repair for many years thus we suggested a reconstruction. Zeng Zi’s praise to Confucius “Your purity and brightness is no one can compare” can only be applied to Cai. Cai’s student, Chancellor of Peking University Jiang Menglin, wrote a lament like this: “Your pioneering work in synthesizing Chinese and Western educational ideas demonstrated your noble spirit, your broad and profound knowledge and your tolerance. ” This saying best describes Cai’s life. We wrote down this saying, together with the epitaph, for visitors to read.
5 March 1978, by Hong Kong/Taiwan Alumni of Peking University
Translated by Zhao Han