The frame of assessment that this book sets for itself is strictly defined: to disentangle and follow the trends in mathematical education at the primary and middle school levels in China from 1860 to 1970, with particular emphasis on developments undertaken by the Communist government. The documentation that supports this effort is equally specific—it includes syllabi, textbook lists, subject scope descriptions and subject sequences, sample lesson plans, and examinations.
But in addition to fulfilling this program, the book explicitly explores several implications of much wider import. For one, since modern technology is solidly based on mathematics, an index to the development of China's technical skills can be inferred from an examination of mathematical education over the last decades, and some insight into China's potential in the next generation can be gained by studying the way mathematics is being taught to the primary and middle school pupils of today.
For another, the book examines the effects of Western mathematical concepts and teaching methods—imported mainly from America during the Republican and Kuomintang periods, and from Russia during the early Communist period—on the ancient mathematical tradition embedded in Chinese culture. The book also cites the lessons that the Chinese experience in this educational area may have for other developing countries.
Among the other subjects examined are the present effects of the “Great Cultural Revolution” on mathematics instruction and the extent to which courses in “pure” mathematics may have been diluted or tinctured by the introduction of political indoctrination; the influence of Soviet models on the establishment of “Olympiad” competitions to seek out mathematical talent and of seek out mathematical talent and of special schools for students with such talent; the ways in which “practical applications” are being introduced into mathematics teaching; the efforts the Chinese have made to solve their teacher shortage; and the extent to which psychological processes of mathematics learning are being considered in developing programs of instruction.