Does the tradition of having a study in one’s house reflect the importance of learning in Chinese Culture?

While visiting a piece of the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s permanent exhibit about China, I found another clue towards the deeply seeded importance of art, scripture and learning in Chinese traditions.  One of the rooms in the permanent exhibit is a reconstructed Chinese home from the 16th-17th century using furniture collected from the time period.  The study constituted one of the most important rooms of the home.  The museum’s commentary explains, “In the quiet of the study (shu fang – literally ‘book room’), the men of the household would practice the classical arts expected of a proper gentleman: calligraphy, painting, poetry, chess, playing the zither (qin), and studying the classics.  Even less erudite members of society had studies in their homes as the presence of such a room added dignified status to a household.”

Basically, a learning room represented a status symbol and an integral part to a gentleman’s daily life. Does this tradition exist in western societies? What does this say about the historical importance of art, scripture and learning for Chinese society? Does this continue today? What impact does the traditional reverence for learning have on today’s China?

One thought on “Does the tradition of having a study in one’s house reflect the importance of learning in Chinese Culture?

  1. Mike:

    Interesting hypothesis. We had a “study” in my house growing up, but it was one of the off-limits-to-kids rooms. My parents used it for quiet conversations, paying bills, etc. Our homework was done at the kitchen table. My husband and I had a similar office/study in our own house until our young daughter’s toys took over our living room. We converted it into a playroom and the office furniter, bookcase full of history and law books, computers, and everything else was moved to a smaller room in our partially finished basement. The office is now less centrally located and therefore used less. The playroom gets all kind of use. While my husband and I certainly value education for our daughter, we believe play can be a part of that education. I would bet other typical American families have similar situations in their homes. I’m interested to see what you find in China this week. Would families in China make this same choice (play before work when it comes to home design)? Or would they have put the playroom in the basement, which is less centrally located?

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