Home > China Guide >Education in China 

China Overview

  • Population: 1.3 billion
  • Currency: yuan
  • Guinness World Records: most people painting each other's faces simultaneously in one location (13,413), largest bottle of cooking oil (containing 3212 litres), most couples hugging (3009 couples).
  • Internet users: 135 million
  • Milk beer: from Inner Mongolia, an alternative to the traditional mare's-milk wine.
  • Squirrel fish: whole mandarin fish deep-fried and manipulated to resemble a squirrel.
  • Number of chinese characters: over 56,000

Education in China

Brief introduction to education in China

Education in China is a state-owned system of public education run by the Ministry of Education. All citizens must attend school for at least nine years. The government provides primary education for six years, starting at age six or seven, followed by six years of secondary education for ages 12 to 18. Some provinces may have five years of primary school but four years for middle school. There are three years of middle school and three years of high school.

The Ministry of Education reported a 99 percent attendance rate for primary school and an 80 percent rate for both primary and middle schools. In 1985, the government abolished tax-funded higher education, requiring university applicants to compete for scholarships based on academic ability. In the early 1980s the government allowed the establishment of the first private schools. The population has had on average only 6.2 years of schooling, but in 1986 the government set the goal of nine years of compulsory education for students by the year 2000.

Education policy

The overthrow of the Kuomintang regime in 1949 ended China's "feudal capitalist" system in which education was effectively closed to workers and peasants in practical terms despite Sun Yat-Sen's support of general education in principle.
However, the Marxist ideology of the post-1949 government, in reacting to the overly literary and classical tradition of China, overstressed in turn "practical applications" and the superior wisdom of the worker and peasant, whose hand-skill was assumed to be the "base" to the "superstructure" of science and learning in general.[6] This resulted in various experiments in which peasants and industrial workers were made "teachers" overnight but were unable to gain respect or communicate their tacit knowledge.
The possibility however of re-education and service to the "masses" was held out to bourgeois families as long as they proved their good faith by service to the workers and peasants.
The education provided was practical and made accessible, for example by simplifying many characters for quick learning and by training people in skills they could use, including the basic medical training provided "barefoot doctors", actually paramedics that provided medical care, midwifery and instruction on the evils of footbinding and female infanticide in such rural areas where those practices still existed.
Like most serious Communist and socialist governments before and since, the Chinese Communist government provided "the goods" to the bottom of society in good faith and for this reason received broad support before the Cultural Revolution from the people at the bottom. "Old One Hundred Names" was unaware of, and indifferent to, the fate of intellectuals during the Great Leap Forward and the Hundred Flowers epochs of the late 1950s, but seems on balance that for the first time in Chinese history, something was being done for his children's education and welfare, as it was being done contemporaneously in Russia, in the 1960s in Cuba, and continues to be done today in Venezuela.
Some of the practices taught were adopted by Westerners without much acknowledgement including the Lamaze method of drug-free childbirth and the training of paramedics: American emergency medicine in particular owes much, not only to military "medevac" procedures refined during the Vietnam War, but a Chinese-influenced break in the hold of the medical profession has over practitioner qualification, which allowed nurses and paramedics to fill in for doctors at straightforward procedures.
Other practical results of education reform prior to the Cultural Revolution of 1966 included practical instruction in the evils of opium addiction (cf. Opium Regimes, Timothy Brook and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, eds., University of California Press, 2000). The Japanese and to an extent the Guomindang had fostered or ignored opium and other forms of addiction as a way of social control whereas the educational system and government of China eradicated opium, in part by education and also by harsh penalties (including death for repeat offenders) which are still in use.
But during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), higher education in particular suffered tremendous losses; the system was almost shut down, and a rising generation of college and graduate students, academics and technicians, professionals and teachers, was lost. The result was a lack of trained talent to meet the needs of society, an irrationally structured higher education system unequal to the needs of the economic and technological boom, and an uneven development in secondary technical and vocational education. In the post-Mao period, China's education policy continued to evolve. The pragmatist leadership, under Deng Xiaoping, recognized that to meet the goals of modernization it was necessary to develop science, technology, and intellectual resources and to raise the population's education level. Demands on education - for new technology, information science, and advanced management expertise - were levied as a result of the reform of the economic structure and the emergence of new economic forms. In particular, China needed an educated labor force to feed and provision its one billion plus population.
By 1980, achievement was once again accepted as the basis for admission and promotion in education. This fundamental change reflected the critical role of scientific and technical knowledge and professional skills in the Four Modernizations. Also, political activism was no longer regarded as an important measure of individual performance, and even the development of commonly approved political attitudes and political background was secondary to achievement. Education policy promoted expanded enrollments, with the long-term objective of achieving universal primary and secondary education. This policy contrasted with the previous one, which touted increased enrollments for egalitarian reasons. In 1985 the commitment to modernization was reinforced by plans for nine-year compulsory education and for providing good quality higher education.
Deng Xiaoping's far-ranging educational reform policy, which involved all levels of the education system, aimed to narrow the gap between China and other developing countries. Modernizing education was critical to modernizing China. Devolution of educational management from the central to the local level was the means chosen to improve the education system. Centralized authority was not abandoned, however, as evidenced by the creation of the State Education Commission. Academically, the goals of reform were to enhance and universalize elementary and junior middle school education; to increase the number of schools and qualified teachers; and to develop vocational and technical education. A uniform standard for curricula, textbooks, examinations, and teacher qualifications (especially at the middle-school level) was established, and considerable autonomy and variations in and among the autonomous regions, provinces, and special municipalities were allowed. Further, the system of enrollment and job assignment in higher education was changed, and excessive government control over colleges and universities was reduced.

Education system

Educational stages in China
Age Education Compulsory
18-22 University or college No
15-18 Senior high school (middle school)orVocational school No
12-15 Junior middle school Yes
6-12 Primary school
To provide for its population, China has a vast and varied school system. There are preschools, kindergartens, schools for the deaf and blind, key schools (similar to college preparatory schools), primary schools, secondary schools (comprising junior and senior middle schools, secondary agricultural and vocational schools, regular secondary schools, secondary teachers' schools, secondary technical schools, and secondary professional schools), and various institutions of higher learning (consisting of regular colleges and universities, professional colleges, and short-term vocational universities). In terms of access to education, China's system represented a pyramid; because of the scarcity of resources allotted to higher education, student numbers decreased sharply at the higher levels. Although there were dramatic advances in primary education after 1949, achievements in secondary and higher education were not as great.
Although the government has authority over the education system, the Chinese Communist Party has played a role in managing education since 1949. The party established broad education policies and under Deng Xiaoping, tied improvements in the quality of education to its modernization plan. The party also monitored the government's implementation of its policies at the local level and within educational institutions through its party committees. Party members within educational institutions, who often have a leading management role, are responsible for steering their schools in the direction mandated by party policy.

New directions

The May 1985 National Conference on Education recognized five fundamental areas for reform to be discussed in connection with implementing the party Central Committee's "Draft Decision on Reforming the Education System." The reforms were intended to produce "more able people"; to make the localities responsible for developing "basic education" and systematically implement a nine-year compulsory education program; to improve secondary education develop vocational and technical education; to reform and the graduate-assignment system of institutions of higher education and to expand their management and decision-making powers; and to give administrators the necessary encouragement and authority to ensure smooth progress in educational reform.
The National Conference on Education paved the way for reorganization of the Ministry of Education, which occurred in June 1985. Created to coordinate education policy, it also assumed the role previously played by the State Planning Commission and as a State Council commission, the new Ministry had greater status and was in charge of all education organizations except military ones. Although the new Ministry assumed a central role in the administration of education, the reform decentralized much of the power it previously wielded and its constituent offices and bureaus, which had established curriculum and admissions policies in response to the State Planning Commission's requirements.
The Ministry of Education, with its expanded administrative scope and power, was responsible for formulating guiding principles for education, establishing regulations, planning the progress of educational projects, coordinating the educational programs of different departments, and standardization educational reforms. Simplification of administration and delegation of authority were made the bases for improving the education system. This devolution of management to the autonomous regions, provinces, and special municipalities meant local governments had more decision-making power and were able to develop basic education. State-owned enterprises, mass organizations, and individuals were encouraged to pool funds to accomplish education reform. Local authorities used state appropriations and a percentage of local reserve financial resources (basically township financial revenues) to finance educational projects.

Compulsory education law

he Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education, which took effect on July 1, 1986, established requirements and deadlines for attaining universal education tailored to local conditions and guaranteed school-age children the right to receive at least nine years of education (five year primary education and four years secondary education). People's congresses at various local levels were, within certain guidelines and according to local conditions, to decide the steps, methods, and deadlines for implementing nine-year compulsory education in accordance with the guidelines formulated by the central authorities. The program sought to bring rural areas, which had four to six years of compulsory schooling, into line with their urban counterparts. Education departments were exhorted to train millions of skilled workers for all trades and professions and to offer guidelines, curricula, and methods to comply with the reform program and modernization needs.
Provincial-level authorities were to develop plans, enact decrees and rules, distribute funds to counties, and administer directly a few key secondary schools. County authorities were to distribute funds to each township government, which were to make up for any deficiencies. County authorities were to supervise education and teaching and to manage their own senior middle schools, teachers' schools, teachers' in-service training schools, agricultural vocational schools, and exemplary primary and junior middle schools. The remaining schools were to be managed separately by the county and township authorities.
The compulsory education law divided China into three categories: cities and economically developed areas in coastal provinces and a small number of developed areas in the hinterland; towns and villages with medium development; and economically backward areas.
By November 1985 the first category - the larger cities and approximately 20 percent of the counties (mainly in the more developed coastal and southeastern areas of China) had achieved universal 9-year education. By 1990 cities, economically developed areas in coastal provincial-level units, and a small number of developed interior areas (approximately 25 percent of China's population) and areas where junior middle schools were already popularized were targeted to have universal junior-middle-school education. Education planners had envisioned that by the mid-1990s all workers and staff in coastal areas, inland cities, and moderately developed areas (with a combined population of 300 million to 400 million people) would have either compulsory 9-year or vocational education and that 5 percent of the people in these areas would have a college education - building a solid intellectual foundation for China. Further, the planners expected that secondary education and university entrants would also have increased by the year 2000.
The second category targeted under the 9-year compulsory education law consisted of towns and villages with medium-level development (around 50 percent of China's population), where universal education was expected to reach the junior-middle-school level by 1995. Technical and higher education was projected to develop at the same rate.
The third category, economically backward (rural) areas (around 25 percent of China's population) were to popularize basic education without a timetable and at various levels according to local economic development, though the state would try to support educational development. T