Education in China

The education system in the People's Republic of China is state-run, under the authority of the Ministry of Education. Education has always been valued by the Chinese, and it is considered one of the foundations of public order and civilized life.

The idea that merit and ability are more important than race or birth in state appointments was popular in China as early as the classical era (600 - 250 BCE). Despite this, for a long time only the wealthy and aristocrats had the privilege of receiving education. The Chinese created the first examination system for selecting officials during the Tang (618 - 906) and Song (960 - 1280) dynasties. In medieval China there were also charitable institutions established by Buddhists, including temple schools, that offered education for common people, both men and women.

Imperial China established a nationwide government school system in 3 CE under Emperor Ping of Han, centuries before this happened in Europe. However, this school system was not aimed at providing mass education but was strongly connected to the government examinations for recruiting officials for civil or military service. The government committed financially to the schools, which provided education in classical learning, painting, literature and calligraphy. One by-product of this system was an elite that produced poetry and other literature as well as scholarly works including medical treatises.

The fact that dynastic schools were used for moral and political indoctrination by the imperial state led to the emergence of private academies that often became centers for dissenting views. By the end of the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), there were up to 2,000 private academies in China. At that time Neo-Confucianism, which attempted to merge certain basic elements of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, was common throughout the empire. During the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1912), also known as the Manchu dynasty, and China's last imperial period, the number of private academies increased to around 4,000.

While in Ming China elite status and commercial wealth were firmly linked to high educational status, in contemporary Europe and Japan there were absolute social barriers between aristocrats and commoners. However, as education was not available to common people in China, they could not really take advantage of this openness of the civil service. In addition, there was a clear demarcated line between male and female upbringing. It was not until the 17th century when educating women in classical literacy, or the ability to write elegant essays and poetry, became more common in elite families.

The Manchu rulers used dynastic schools and examinations as a means of cultural control, rather than as a means to promote public literacy. The government's examination system was falling apart by the beginning of the 20th century, when dynastic imperial power weakened. The beginning of the end for China as an empire was marked by the Russo-Japanese War (1904 - 1905), which was largely fought on Chinese soil. Following a common memorial submitted by court and provincial officials government examinations, which were seen as an obstacle to new schools, were abolished at all levels. In December 1905 an Education Board was established and took responsibility for the new schools. This board also monitored the work of the many newly established semi-official educational associations on the local and regional levels.

In the 1980s, under the leadership of the post-Mao Zedong communist party, education in China underwent serious reforms, as it had become one of the country's highest priorities. The government viewed education as the foundation of the Four Modernizations, goals to modernize the country in the fields of agriculture, industry, national defense and science and technology.

By the early 21st century, education in China had been divided into three categories - basic, higher and adult education, according to the China Education and Research Network. Basic education in China includes preschool education, between the ages of 3 and 6, followed by six years of primary education, and secondary education of another six years. Since 1986 all Chinese children must get at least nine years of formal education, which means that primary school and junior secondary school are obligatory. Senior secondary education, which lasts for three years, is not compulsory.

Education in China: Selected full-text books and articles

Learning from the Field: Innovating China's Higher Education System By Ronnie Vernooy; Li Xiaoyun; Xu Xiuli; Lu Min; Qi Gubo International Development Research Centre, 2008
Higher Education in Post-Mao China By Michael Agelasto; Bob Adamson Hong Kong University Press, 1998
Behind before They Begin: The Challenge of Early Childhood Education in Rural China By Luo, Renfu; Zhang, Linxiu; Liu, Chengfang; Zhao, Qiran; Shi, Yaojiang; Rozelle, Scott; Sharbono, Brian Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 37, No. 1, March 2012
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Deaf Education in China: History, Current Issues, and Emerging Deaf Voices By Lytle, Richard R.; Johnson, Kathryn E.; Hui, Yang Jun American Annals of the Deaf, Vol. 150, No. 5, Winter 2005
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