During the anti-French war for independence that followed World War II, Vietnam avoided the hostilities by establishing the so-called "Central School Area" (Khu Hoc Xa Trung Uong) in the neighboring Chinese Guangxi Province, where it carried out staff training for the war of independence and nation-building during the postwar period. These Vietnamese schools established in China were generally called "Yucai Schools". Meanwhile China, in spite of the national crisis posed by the Korean War, which immediately followed the establishment of the new People's Republic, demonstrated its national pride by providing support for Vietnam.
This paper examines the history of joint school management by China and Vietnam that evolved during the first half of the 1950s, and which has only rarely been described in the educational history literature on Vietnam. The paper tries to explore the actual situation faced by schools in the area, and describe how the schools contributed to the development of Vietnamese higher education, by using information obtained from the relevant historical documents of both countries, as well as from interviews conducted with those involved.
The Central School Area, from its formal inauguration on October 1, 1951 until its closure in 1958, comprised a basic science school and a higher normal school - higher education institutions, that were established in the earliest stages; secondary educational institutions consisting of a middle level normal school and a lower level normal school; a Chinese language school (providing both teacher training and interpreter training courses); and general primary and secondary schools, plus a kindergarten. This paper focuses on the higher education institutions, including the basic science school and the higher normal school: it describes how these schools were established, how they were managed under various circumstances, and how the people educated and trained in the schools contributed to the formation and development of higher education in Vietnam.
Although the schools existed for only a few years, many talented people, like glittering stars, emerged from them to form an indispensable base for the subsequent development of Vietnamese higher education. Of course, it must be emphasized that it was not only their studies and various experiences at the Central School Area in Nanning, Guangxi Province that were responsible for the alumni's subsequent success. Some frequently went abroad to study and expand their knowledge of their respective disciplines. Therefore the role of their post-Nanning experiences must also be considered. Nevertheless, the Central School Area certainly played an important role and also served as an intensive experimental site for the first reforms of the Vietnamese educational system.
One of the four leaders of school governance in the Central School Area, Nguyen Van Chien, explained why those who studied in the area were able to become leading figures during the anti-French war era and also able to help the nation reconstruct within such a short period of time during the subsequent peace. He pointed to three factors: firstly, the schools emphasized political and patriotic issues, which provided a firm educational base, plus there were many highly specialized teachers; secondly, careful attention was paid to the selection of talented people and students' positive attitudes and self-reliance were fostered; and thirdly, the notion of a sacred resistance to the French was an important driving force.
Educational practices employed in the Central School Area deserve to be carefully explored, and the information handed down from generation to generation, in the historical study of higher education in Vietnam. Moreover, it seems that the practices employed in the Central School Area provided interesting examples as to how education should be conducted during periods of war or during other critical times.