Located one hour from central Shanghai, the Meng Mu Tang school teaches methods pioneered centuries ago by Chinese sages like Confucius which have long since been abandoned in modern China.

Lu Liwei, founder of the Meng Mu Tang school, which is named after the Confucius follower Mencius, said: "Parents send their children here mostly because they are keen on Chinese culture.

"Modern teaching using traditional Chinese methods failed because the schools abandoned the ancient approach to education, which asked students to read, read and read."

Meng Mu Tang teaches English using the same Confucian education concept that reading leads to understanding.

She said: "Teachers taught the literal meanings of the characters, and did not require the students to think for themselves. So how could they understand without thinking?"

Heated debate

The school has caused heated debate in China, where parents often scrimp and save to ensure their children get the best education possible, hoping it will lead to hard-to-secure places at prestigious universities and top-notch jobs on graduation.

Many people in Shanghai have expressed support for the school. But the government has a different view. State media says officials have never given the go-ahead to the school, and accuse it of violating the education law.
   

"Local officials are afraid that if many parents send their children to private schools, the public schools will face a lack of pupils"

Chinese Internet news

An official, who declined to be named, at the Shanghai board of education, said: "Meng Mu Tang is not qualified to recruit students. We will shut it down for good once the new school year starts."
 
Pressed by the education authorities, Meng Mu Tang has said it would switch to offering free summer school programmes to temporarily get round the much stricter approval process needed for mainstream schools.
   
Ironically, at the same time that officials are trying to put a stop to Meng Mu Tang, Shanghai's renowned Fudan University is launching a programme for business executives to develop their abstract thinking skills using Confucian principles.

Changing China

Some think the reason for the government's opposition is fear that private schools could drain the best pupils from state schools.
   
A poster on the message board of a Chinese Internet news site said: "Local officials are afraid that if many parents send their children to private schools, the public schools will face a lack of pupils."
   
The tuition fees at Meng Mu Tang and the fact that it has only a dozen or so pupils may ease officials' worries.

It costs 30,000 yuan ($3,753) a year to send a child to Meng Mu Tang, five times the average university fee in China and far beyond the budget of the average Chinese.