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Analytical Essay on Single-Sex Schools: The Boys’ School in Old French Concession, Shanghai

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With the development of the first industrial revolution since the eighteenth century and reached its’ peak at 1850s, the output of furniture, wallpaper, carpet, and other interior design elements and the architectural and construction materials was dramatic increased, and the production rushed into the market with a low price. At the meantime, in the traditional Lower Yangtze, Shanghai, a market town at the periphery of Suzhou city, was opening as a designated treaty port after in 1843 and Shanghai began to grow and evolved into a city with three governments – the International Settlement, the French Concession and the Chinese quarter.(Debin, Shanghai-Based Industrialization in The Early 20th Century: A Quantitative And Institutional Analysis,Pg19,2006). Many wealthy foreign businesses man and their families who come from European arrived the French Concession, Shanghai to start their transnational trade, and they introduced the newest western architectural, interior design style and education system to this oriental and young city.

The first single gender school in Shanghai since 1843

The single gender schools were created soon since the European entrepreneur and the missionary settled down in the French Concession. The main purpose and mission of establishment of those school was to cultivate outstanding students to become missionaries, and then help the spread the truth of the specific religion in Shanghai even in China. The most historic single gender school in Shanghai is one Catholic Church school named Xuhui High School, original named Collège Saint Ignace which created by the French Catholic priest Claude Gotteland in 1850 with the motto “LABORA SICVT BONVS MILES CHRISTI”. Collège Saint Ignace uses the Jesuit Association’s charter, special boys, and boarding men’s schools. Most of the students are enrolled in poor families. Because wealthy Chinese families employ tutors, boarding schools do not conform to the customs of China at that time.

Fig. 1, Picture of Collège Saint Ignace in 1880 Fig 2, Picture of the façade of Chongsi Hall in 2010)

As only preserved building of this school, Chongsi Hall was designed and under construction by the Jesuit priest Dixon in 1915 and built in 1918. It is a design of French Renaissance architecture featuring exterior red brick veneer and interior wood construction with mansard roof and French window.

Fig. 3.4, Picture of the details of Chongsi Hall

As a church school with an early education, Collège Saint Ignace has introduced a modern education system and its curriculum is relatively complete. In addition to the necessary Chinese language courses, its foreign language, music, fine arts, science, and physical education were at the forefront of the Chinese education community at the time. Collège Saint Ignace is the first school in Shanghai to teach foreign languages, also the first school to implement Western music education. This school has trained the first batch of intellectuals in modern China, many well-known or unknown educators, general teachers, scientists, engineers and technicians, translators and staff.

As the Prof. Hamlett Jane introduced the typical type and reason why the single gender school was built in the article “Schools for Boys”, the readers can have a contrast of the boys’ school in England and China.

Fig. 5, Graduation photo for the year of 1920

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The European Boys’ school

In the 19th century, schools are open to middle-class children rather than only children of the upper class can be educated. In order to improve the school quality, public school made effort on their education system such as better disciplined and moral. Later, sharing and cohesive public-school culture by games and competition become a mains stream between schools. The different school also has a different experience in boys daily life. Most of the school for the boy are residential, few of day school is based on parents worry about kids bullying. Parents send their children to residential public school in order to separate them from home and feminine. Hall in school plays an important role as it is a place to get students together, the face of the school, given prizes and seen parents. Chapels are also vital in school, it attracts the different religious group and they believe that boys will easily to be inspired in the chapel. The museum is” a -center of interest and culture” in school which boys like it. During 1897, the school classroom moves away from a few big rooms to a much small room. The school pays more attention to the health and curriculum.

Dormitories have a complex relationship with the school as it is located in the external of the main school building and charged by its housemaster. But the different school has their own house system. With the demand for privacy, boys and housemaster live in a separate room. However, it causes some problems such as extreme violence. To prevent violence, the school allows boys to choose the roommate they want to live with. But it will cause a sexual issue when they choose their intimate friends as a roommate. School in different age has its own education system. No matter the boys ‘school or fine art school, they serve for upper and middle-class students. Although fine art school is open for local and foreign people, low-class people still have no opportunity to study because art is the symbol of the upper class. The growing up of the middle class in the 19th century stimulate them to shorten the distance with the upper class. they desire to be educated like the way of upper class. School to be built in order to satisfy the desire of education. the school has pay attention on the improvement of its education system to help the student build their own personality and acquire knowledge. Hall, chapel and museum for the different purpose to develop student in a different aspect. generally, schools have many different levels to separate student which is based on the pyramidal. the higher-level student study, the difficulty they are. It is a way to distinguish the elite and normal student. It is similar with the social level to separate the elite from the middle and lower class. More people have chance to study also stimulate society development, all of them are possible to contribute the society.

There are many differences of the boys’ school in China and western countries. Firstly, the students in China original come from poor family or the child lose parents rather than middle class family. And then, it is clear to understand the purpose for Chinses boy school is to help poor children to survive first and hope them can work for the spread the truth of the Jesuit, but for other countries, the jobs of schools do is to introduce to knowledge of the children from rich family to extend their abilities to make sure those children can keep creating wealthy and or keep the class of their family. Thirdly, due to the bad background of 1900 in Shanghai, students in the boys’ school did not have many choices to choose the situation of classroom or dormitory. On the other hand, the boys’ school is one type of education in China and the number of students and teaches is limited, therefore the students cannot and not be encouraged to choose their own friends.

The benefit and shortage of single gender school

In the article “Schools for Boys” by Prof. Hamlett Jane, she announced some advantage and couple disadvantage of the single gender school in 19th century. And in the article “Are single-sex schools better than co-ed schools?” which published on the website, the writer discusses about how to keep the balance with the topic of gender and education. As the read can read from the article, the fact of gender in China is that “Boys and girls are socially ignorant about each other or what they like and need. As they are then encouraged to marry early in their lives, they fall for the first person to show interest in them. They have little experience of the opposite sex until after marriage.” (Are single-sex schools better than co-ed schools,2016) And the writer wrote down confidently that teachers are easily to teach same gender in one classroom and the outcomes is better than the mix-gender environment. However, many Chinese metropolises the girls in high school and junior school are stronger than the boys. And even students at a single sex school, may get better behaviors in academic studies, they lost opportunities to improve the student’s socialization with opposite sex.

The idea was pointed out by an Australian educator Sara: “Same-sex schools have their advantages but so do coed. I do believe that men and women could be taught differently and could still reach their fullest potential. However, that does not mean same-sex schools are necessary. Coed schools provide a real-world scenario of how men and women are treated the same or at least they should be. For many years now women have been speaking up and fighting to be treated the same as men, so why back down now? Coed schools will help with social, educational, and management skills, so don’t separate men and women, let them work together.” (Are single-sex schools better than co-ed schools,2016)

The single gender school revival in China

The single gender school in Shanghai did not leave a heave historical trace in Chinese education history. Most of the schools belong to the government and open to recruit the all public of the society since the People’s Republic of China establishment at 1949 because the government need space and resource to improve the education level of all citizen rather than middle class and upper. However, there are few single female schools survive, like Shanghai No.3 Girls’ High School and now the single gender school may revival in China. There is one program happening in Shanghai No. 8 Senior High School. The program gathered 60 boys enrolled in one boys-only class test which boys stay in an environment radically different from that of their peers in co-educational classes following the competition from 210 applicants.

According to a recent study by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the academic performance of girls has surpassed boys in nearly every subject from third to ninth grade over the last two decades.(“Single-sex schools see a revival in mainland China”2014) During the same period, girls outnumbered boys in prestigious high schools, while 80 per cent of student union presidents among national government-supported experimental high schools are girls.

And for the man only group, physical exercise is not the only feature of this programme. The students enjoy a highly diverse course of subjects, including elective courses in topics such as fire safety, information technology and repair and maintenance of computer hardware, to name a few. Highly gifted students can also be accelerated to tackle challenging subjects such as higher geometry, science and mathematics in their first year. The single gender school need more space for specific function for students to use but not every single gender school in Shanghai could provide space for students. In the 19th century, most courses for students are required and make sure them can be the top in the society, therefore the school need enough space for students to do different and various actives which depend on the student’s talent, personal character and other condition. In Shanghai, most famous school which can offer the single gender do not have extra space actually due to the over-develop of the city center. Some school use the roof area and the corridor and in class space to do exercise. It is true that the small size school is unable to explore and discover the benefit of one gender school.

To sum up, the single gender school is easy to find in Hongkong, and other western counties, but there are just couple in the mainland of China. The history of single gender in Chinese education history is undoubtedly important because the people came from the west brought the newest knowledge and skill to teach the chinses generation since 1850, and most of them become the successful workers in Modern China. Unfortunately, the history of the type of school not long enough to influence the major education in China, but there is a wish to the education in China that to improve the average education level to all students, with the time changing, girl should not be worse than boys, and the educators need to understand and explore one or more educational path to help the younger generation to be a valuable citizen for the society.


  1. Hamlett, Jane. “Schools for Boys.” In At Home in the Institution: Material Life in Asylums, Lodging Houses and Schools in Victorian and Edwardian England, 62–87. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015
  2. Ma,Debin. “Shanghai-Based Industrialization in The Early 20th Century: A Quantitative And InstitutionalAnalysis”,19, Working Papers of the Global Economic History Network (GEHN) No. 18/06
  3. 上海“西学东渐第一校”徐汇中学迎来建校 160 周年. 新华网. 2011-11-06.
  6. “Single-sex schools see a revival in mainland China” THE CHINA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK,, 2014
  7. Are single-sex schools better than co-ed schools?

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