Jean W. YAN

Illustration of a nineteenth-century school. Deng Xiaoping recognized the importance of raising the population’s education level so that China could realize the “Four Modernizations” in agriculture, industry, technology, and defense.

Beginning with the leadership of Deng Xiaoping in 1978, and in the thirty years since, China has put forth great efforts to provide compulsory, free and universal education to children from grades one through nine cross the nation.

After Deng Xiaoping resumed his political career for the third time in 1978, one of his first acts as China’s paramount leader was to redirect the nation’s focus toward economic development. Deng recognized that it was important to raise the population’s education level if China were to realize the Four Modernizations ????? in agriculture, industry, technology, and defense.

In 1984 authorities began to formulate major laws affecting education. One notable idea of 1985 was to provide nine years of compulsory education. On 1 July 1986, the Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China ?????????????? was enacted. The law provides three components: compulsory, free, and universal education. Compulsory means an obligation of the school, parents, and society to guarantee all school-age children the right to receive nine years of basic education. Free refers to no charge for tuition and miscellaneous fees to pupils. Universal indicates setting standards for textbooks, curricula, financial management, and construction. The administrative model had the central government overseeing, local governments executing, and a multilevel government structure managing education. The funding structure was pyramid-like. Lower-level governments—that is, towns, villages, and counties—shouldered most of the costs of basic education.

In 2004 the Economy Research Office at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China conducted a study to evaluate the implementation of the 1986 law in sixteen provinces in rural China. The findings were disappointing. The government’s so-called basically popularized compulsory education impacted only 85 percent of the country. The remaining 15 percent—mainly the impoverished regions—was far from achieving the goal of compulsory education. Even in the areas that did meet the goal, the outcomes and quality of compulsory education were tenuous, evidenced by a comeback of high dropout rates and a lack of instructional instruments and qualified teachers. The officially published dropout rate was about 5 percent, with some areas reaching 10 percent. Findings from the field investigation, however, revealed a rate of 20 percent or higher. Factors such as poverty, transportation, teacher quality, funding resources, and the public’s understanding of educational benefits all contributed to the failure of implementation.

Given this reality, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress adopted at its twenty-second plenum session an amendment to the Compulsory Education Law, which went into effective on 1 September 2006. The amendment generated the following improvements:

? further assurances of compulsory, free, and universal education

? a new funding structure that guarantees funding propositions at different government levels, with the central government shouldering the major burden of funding

? clear specifications of the administrative infrastructure in which both the central and local governments jointly share the management responsibilities of compulsory education

? various strategies to ensure equal opportunity to receive an education for all school-age children and children with disabilities

? further enforcement of efforts to promote quality-based education

? a written social status and compensation structure for primary and secondary school teachers

? an emphasis on no key schools or key classes and the prohibition of changing the nature of public schools by any government above the county level and its education department

Starting on 1 September 2008, all the Chinese students within the compulsory education grades in the cities began to receive their schooling free of charge. Fees and tuitions for the students of the same group in the country had been eliminated since 2007. This means that China has now realized its goal of free education to all students of the compulsory education grades.

Further Reading

Baidu Baike (Online Chinese encyclopedia). Compulsory education. Retrieved from

Economy Research Office, Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C. (2006). 2005, China education development report. [2005, ????????]. Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press.

Xiong, X. J. (2006). Compulsory Education in Contemporary China. [??????????] Wuhan, China: Huazhong Normal University Press.

Source: Yan, Jean W.. (2009). Education, Compulsory. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 684–686. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Exercise or dance is often a part of Chinese education. Here young children of the Uygur minority learn dances of China’s majority population, the Han. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Children put on a performance at the Dragon Well Commune School, 1978. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Students exercise on a rooftop. When the People’s Republic was founded in 1949, 20 percent of school-age children attended primary school. Sixty years later enrollment is over 99 percent. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Education, Compulsory (Yìwù jiàoyù ????)|Yìwù jiàoyù ???? (Education, Compulsory)

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