“I love children and they love me.” Chen Heqin, a Tsinghua alumnus and founder of Modern China’s Preschool Education, wrote down those words shortly before his death in 1982. After more than 30 years, we should still remember the great contributions made by Chen whenever the subject of children’s education is brought up in China.
“I have learned a lot of useful knowledge. I have met many friends and I have gained experiences in giving back to my country. These have laid a strong foundation for the love I have for my country.” Born in Zhejiang in 1892, Chen Heqin grew up in a poor family. However, he loved reading and was admitted to Tsinghua Xuetang in 1911. Chen graduated after three years’ study at Tsinghua. Chen mentioned that “serving the society and loving our motherland” were deeply embedded into his heart during those years at Tsinghua.
In 1914, Chen was awarded a scholarship to study in the United States. After much thought, he changed his major from medicine to education. In his view, education is the key in saving a country since children are the future of the motherland. “To serve humanity, to serve the country and to devote my life to China’s education cause” – that became his ambition and lifelong goal.
Five years later and after earning a master’s degree from Columbia University with teaching qualifications, Chen returned back home and went on to teach at Nanjing. He embarked on his journey of saving his nation through education. However, it was not only limited to theoretical knowledge since he also attached great importance to acquiring first-hand knowledge. He believes that it is important to understand children by going into the frontline. The birth of his son Chen Yiming allowed him to make new breakthrough in his education practice. Using his own son as a research subject, he observed and tracked for 808 days both the physical and mental development of a child. For him, this was his way to understand child psychology. He made records of his results and accumulated texts and photographs as well as made summaries and notes that could translate into books and child psychology courses. He wrote two books Research of Child Psychology and Family Education - the former became the first pioneering work of child psychology in China, and the latter put forward 101 principles in family education.
In the Autumn of 1923, Chen Heqin opened China’s first experimental kindergarten - Nanjing Gulou Kindergarten right in his own living room. This is China’s first scientific education center focused on early childhood development. During the war of resistance against Japan, he founded China’s first public normal school of pre-school education in Jiangxi Province. Just like what he had hoped for, Chen devoted his life to the children’s education because he knew that early childhood education is the foundation of all education. It’s not only related to children’s happiness of life, but also related to the future of the country.