Teachers’ Day is a day to recognize and thank teachers for their hard work throughout the year. In China, this holiday falls at the beginning of the fall semester and involves celebrating the contributions made by teachers by giving them gifts and conducting ceremonies to honor them.
Although celebrating educators is a global phenomenon these days, Teachers’ Day in China is distinct due to its Confucian roots.
Before diving into the ins and outs of this important holiday, let’s first explore its historical evolution.Although not designated as an official holiday until the end of the twentieth century, Teachers’ Day in China has a long and fascinating history.
Teachers’ Day in ancient China
The earliest celebration that resembles the modern holiday first took place, though informally, over 2,000 years ago during the Han dynasty. At that time, Teachers’ Day festivities (庆祝活动) were generally held on the 27th day of the eig hth lunar month, a date widely believed to be the birthday of China’s most influential educator and philosopher, Confucius.
Confucius, China’s first teacher
Confucius (551BC ‒ 479 BC), was born in the Spring and Autumn Period in modern day Shandong Province. His parents were neither peasants nor aristocrats, but belonged to a middle class of common gentry (绅士阶层) called "士".
孔子（公元前551 ‒ 公元前479年）出生于春秋时期，出生地位于如今的山东省。他的父母既不是农民也不是贵族，而是属于一个被称为“士”的中产阶级。
During this period, formal education was generally available only to children from elite families and consisted of a curriculum in the six arts, that is, rituals (礼仪), music, archery (射箭), chariot driving, literacy (识字) and mathematics.
After ascending (上升) through the ranks of various labor and government positions, Confucius quickly earned a reputation as a skilled educator and righteous (正直的) advisor. In addition to serving as Minister of Crime in his home state of Lu, he dedicated his life to educating others by establishing private academies that centered around Confucian ideology and were accessible to students of all social classes.
The status of teachers in ancient China
Confucius is often called the father of all educators, and his emphasis on the importance of education meant that teachers in ancient China were also generally held in high esteem.
In ancient China, comprehensive training in the classics was crucial to passing the Imperial Examinations (科举考试), a rigorous test that guaranteed successful male candidates a promising bureaucratic job. Therefore, many families sought to hire a tutor to help prepare for the exam.
Parents of prospective exam candidates often sent invitation letters to certain teachers, and accepting or denying the invitation was at the discretion of the educator.
Teachers in ancient China were often compensated directly by families who presented tuition (学费) in the form of a customary 束脩（shxi）, which consisted of a bundle of goods that usually included dried meat and other commodities (商品) or cash based on what the family could afford.
Once inside the classroom, teachers were treated with the utmost (最大的) respect by students, who kowtowed to and accepted the authority of their educators without question. This customary student-teacher relationship was rooted in the Confucian belief that rigorous education and strict hierarchies (等级制度) are necessary catalysts (催化剂) for harmonious societies.
Early Teachers’ Day celebrations
Since Teachers’ Day was traditionally conflated with a celebration of the life and contributions of Confucius, commemorating the philosopher remained an important holiday practice throughout much of Chinese history.
Emperors and officials celebrated the holiday by visiting regional Confucian temples, known as 孔庙. These ancient Confucian temples, thousands of which are open to visitors across China today, often house literary collections and cultural relics related to the sage (圣人) and his disciples.
In addition to paying homage to Confucius through temple visits and ceremonies, court educators were also treated to extravagant banquets (奢华宴会), and teachers around the country frequently received extra compensation in the form of 束脩.
Because teaching is generally regarded as an honorable profession in China today, it should come as no surprise that Teachers’ Day remains an important holiday.