Jean W. YAN

China is making strides in providing education for special-needs students who have communicative, sensory, and physical disabilities, but a shortage of special-education teachers poses a challenge China’s educational system must face. Although the needs of children with other types of impairments are beginning to be addressed, China has yet to pay much attention to some other special-needs students, such as the gifted and talented.

Special education in China historically refers to education for children with disabilities—mainly, with communicative, sensory, and physical impairments. With the development of special-education theories and practice, the field of special education has expanded to include education for children with developmental, psychological, mental, cognitive, and social impairments. Other special-needs children, such as the gifted and talented, have yet to receive more attention in China.

History through 1987

Formal special education was first introduced into China by Western missionaries and charitable organizations around the 1870s and was limited to children with hearing, seeing, and speaking impairments. The missionaries to China brought Braille and sign language; later they developed the first generation of the reading system of Chinese characters. This generation of Braille had more than one version to accommodate different dialects in southern regions, especially Fujian dialect, Cantonese, and Nanjing dialect. In addition, this Braille system was limited to areas other than northeastern regions and was in use until the publication of the second generation in 1953. The curricula during that time focused on basic academic knowledge, living skills, and religion.

The first schools of special education run by the Chinese were not founded until the early twentieth century, initially by philanthropists and charitable organizations and later by the government. The curricula included academic knowledge and vocational skills from elementary level to senior high school level. Some students with disabilities pursued college education after graduation from high school. The disabled populations served by the Chinese during that era were mostly the blind and deaf. By the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, there were about forty special-education schools that served about 2,380 blind or deaf students.

From 1949 to 1965 special education developed gradually but steadily. During this period the central government developed and executed a series of laws, regulations, and policies related to special education. To implement these law, regulations, and policies, the government allotted funds; enrolled students with sensory, communicative, developmental, and mental impairments into special schools; and arranged for graduates to work in “welfare factories” (fu li gong chang 福利工厂), or the factories designated specifically for disabled populations. Then special education was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) for more than ten years. Despite the earlier efforts, by 1984 less than 2 percent of all eligible children nationwide went through this progression, and most of that number were children in the cities, while the majority of children with disabilities were left as each family’s responsibility. Special education remained a low priority on the government agenda until China launched its economic reforms in the early 1980s.

The National Conference on Education held in 1985 started recognizing the importance of special education, and the Compulsory Education Law (yi wu jiao yu fa 义务教育法), enacted in 1986, formally called for equal education rights for children with disabilities or special needs. Partially due to this law and partially due to the high costs of special-education schools and to the promotional efforts of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF), change set in. A nonprofit organization headed by the son of Deng Xiaoping, Deng Pufang (disabled himself due to violence he experienced during the Cultural Revolution), began taking shape to accommodate disabled children in schools. Depending on the resources available, students might study in special-education schools, in special-education classes in regular schools (fu she te jiao ban 附设特教班), or in regular classes in regular schools (sui ban jiu du 随班就读). Given the scarcity of special-education resources—notably, qualified special-education teachers and facilities—most children with disabilities or special needs had to attend regular classrooms at general public schools.

According to the First China National Sample Survey on Disability in 1987, China had a population of 51.64 million individuals with disabilities, about 5 percent of the population at that time. Of this number, children under eighteen accounted for 10.74 million, and those between six and fourteen numbered about 6.25 million.

More Recent Statistics

The Second China National Sample Survey on Disability was conducted in the spring of 2006; the preliminary results estimated that the population of people with disabilities had increased to 82.96 million, which was 6.3 percent of the total population, based on the 2005 year-end statistics (1,309.48 million). Out of this number, 12.33 million (15 percent) have a visual disability, 20.04 million (24.2 percent) have a hearing disability, 1.3 million (1.53 percent) have a speaking disability, 24.12 million (29.1 percent) have a physical disability, 5.54 million (6.7 percent) have mental retardation, 6.14 million (7.4 percent) have mental disability, and 13.52 million (16.3 percent) have multiple disabilities.

With the implementation of the Compulsory Education Law, the Protective Act of the Disabled (can ji ren ba zhang fa 残疾人保障法), and the Regulations for Education of the Disabled (can ji ren jiao yu tiao li 残疾人教育条例), the enrollment of children with seeing, hearing, and mental impairments increased from less than 6 percent in 1987 to 77.2 percent in 2000. In addition, 4,567 special classes were established in regular schools, and three special colleges were founded during this period. Furthermore, according to a U.N. Economic and Social Commission report, more than 2.51 million individuals with disabilities had received vocational training by 2003. According to the 2002 statistics of the China Ministry of Education, there were 1,540 registered special-education schools that together employed 40,400 teachers and other staff, with 29,800 of them working full time in the schools. In the same year, about 374,500 students enrolled in these schools, and 44,200 students graduated from their programs. But it was reported that in 2003 about 323,000 school-aged children with disabilities still lacked access to education (China Statistics Press, 2004). Statistics from China’s Ministry of Education show that, by 2006, 362,946 students with disabilities, in grade 1 to grade 10, were enrolled in 1,605 schools of various kinds. Of the 1,605 schools, 672 are in the cities, 857 are in county or town seats, and the remaining 76 are scattered around rural areas. (See table 1.)

A shortage of special-education teachers has been a pressing issue for many years in China. By 2006 there were 33,396 full-time special-education teachers, with 72 percent female and less than 6 percent minority. By 2006 there were twenty-two universities and colleges in the nation (including schools in Hong Kong) that offered four-year or advanced degrees in teaching or administering special-education programs. But the number of graduates from these schools is far from meeting the demand for special-education teachers in the whole country.

TABLE 1 Basic Statistics of Special Education (SE)

Total 1,605 14,257 49,838 362,946 45,187
Female 17,990 128,869 16,202
Male 3,1848 234,077 28,985
Schools for the Blind 35 902 41,520
Schools for the Deaf-Mute 629 8,508 115,785
Schools for Retarded 382 4,847 205,641
Other Schools 559
Schools for SE 13,594 20,245 141,127 12,569
Schools for the Blind 888 8,177
Schools for the Deaf-Mute 8,436 88,852
Schools for Retarded 4,270 44,098
SE Classes Attached to Primary Schools 651 749 4,566 501
Schools for the Blind 14 129
Schools for the Deaf-mute 71 461
Schools for Retarded 566 3,976
Regular Classes in Primary Schools 16,419 172,139 20,268
Schools for the Blind 22,207
Schools for the Deaf-Mute 20,620
Schools for Retarded 129,312
SE Classes Attached to Junior High or Vocational Schools 12 55 134 53
Schools for the Blind
Schools for the Deaf-Mute 1 28
Schools for Retarded 11 106
Regular Classes in Junior High or Vocational Schools 12,370 44,980 11,796
Schools for the Blind 11,007
Schools for the Deaf-Mute 5,824
Schools for Retarded 28,149
Urban 672 7,399 14,422 183,737 13,259
County Seats & Towns 857 6,215 17,344 115,174 14,847
Rural 76 643 18,072 143,607 17,081
Source: Ministry of Education of People’s Republic of China.. (2006). Retrieved December 24, 2008, from

NOTE: These statistics vary slightly from data collected by China Disabled Persons’ Federation.

Of the special-education teachers in these schools 78 percent hold an associate or higher degree, and 21 percent hold a high school diploma. The remaining less than 1 percent do not have a high school diploma. Regarding grade placement, 48 percent qualify to teach grades 4–6, and about 36 percent grade 1. Less than 4 percent qualify for teaching senior-high grades, and 6 percent do not have a teaching-grade qualification. As for facilities in the special-education schools, by 2006 the total floor space was 4,222,436 square meters, out of which 1,797,910 square meters were allotted to instruction and related services and 489,883 square meters were for administration and teacher offices.

Further Reading

China Disabled Persons’ Federation. (2006, December). Communiqué on major statistics of the 2nd China national sample survey on disability. Beijing: CDPF.

China Ministry of Education. (2003). Survey and analysis of education statistics in 2002. Retrieved September 1, 2008 from http:\\\english\planning_s.htm.

China Statistical Yearbook 2003. (2004). People with disabilities. Beijing: Bureau of National Statistics.

Epstein, I. (1988). Special education provisions in the People’s Republic of China. Comparative Education, 24, 365–375.

Pang, Y., & Richey, D. (2006). The development of special education in China. International Journal of Special Education, 21(1), 77–86.

Piao, Y. X. (1996). Dictionary of Special Education. Beijing: Huaxia Press.

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Workshop for improving disability data for policy use. (2003). Retrieved December 24, 2008, from http:\\\stat\meet\widd\paperchina3.htm

Yang, H., & Wang, H. (1994). Special education in China. The Journal of Special Education, 28(1), 93–105.

Ye, L. Y. & Piao, Y. X. (1995). The study of special education. Fuzhou, China: Fujian Education Press.

Yu, L., & Zhang, D. (1994). An analysis of Zhang Jian’s vocational education ideology in developing special education. Xiandai Te Shu Jiao Yu, 2, 9–11.

Zhang, E. G. (2006). Inclusion of persons with disabilities in China. Retrieved September 1, 2008 from http:\\\doc\english\asia\resource\apdrj\v172006\inclusion-china.html.

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Xiè mò shā lǘ

Source: Yan, Jean W. (2009). Education, Special. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 687–690. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Education, Special (Tèshū jiàoyù 特殊教育)|Tèshū jiàoyù 特殊教育 (Education, Special)

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