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The reception and use of John Dewey's educational ideas by Hu Shi in the Early Republic of China

Zhao Kang (College of Education, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 3 November 2020

Issue publication date: 13 May 2021




Some studies have claimed that Chinese thinker Hu Shi (or Hu Shih) received and responded to John Dewey's educational ideas only at a theoretical level and did little for education at a practical level. This paper reexamines Hu's reception of Dewey's ideas with a focus on how he used those ideas to solve China's educational and social problems during the late 1910s and 1920s.


This paper draws upon what Schriewer (2012) has called “theories of reception.” Rather than focusing on the international dissemination of ideas and knowledge, this approach emphasizes the reception of foreign ideas from the perspective and needs of the receiver, interpreter and/or reader who apprehends such ideas within a particular socio–cultural context.


This paper finds that Hu not only received — and examined — Dewey's educational ideas in a systematic way, but also used them pragmatically to reform China's systems of education as part of the New Culture Movement after 1919.


This research offers a new understanding of Hu's reception of Dewey's educational ideas. It shows that Hu was not merely a “thinker” in the field of education but also a “doer” who sought to apply Dewey's ideas in practice. This new view allows us to reevaluate Hu's role in the modernization of Chinese education.



The author wishes to thank Professor Adam Nelson for his helpful suggestions for the first draft of the paper, thank two anonymous reviewers and Professor Julie McLeod for their constructive comments to the manuscript and finally thank Zhejiang University for funding this research project.


Zhao, K. (2021), "The reception and use of John Dewey's educational ideas by Hu Shi in the Early Republic of China", History of Education Review, Vol. 50 No. 1, pp. 24-38.



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