The University of Nottingham Ningbo China

History of Education in China


Many Chinese scholars believe the history of education in China can be traced back at as far as the 16th century BC. Throughout this period of time, education was the privilege of the elites. The teachings of Confucianism during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, the curriculum were mainly based on The Four Books and The Five Classics. The Four Books and The Five Classics were the acknowledged subjects of the Confucian culture in the feudal society in ancient China. The Four Books refers to The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, Confucian Analects and The Works of Mencius. And The Five Classics includes The Book of Poetry (also known as The Book of Songs, The Book of Odes), The Book of History, The Book of Rites, The Book of Changes, and The Spring and Autumn Annals.

Confucianism probably is the biggest influence in education of China throughout the entire Chinese history. Later in Han Dynasty, a form of public education system was established. Not only elites from upper class families can study in school, common man can also use education as a path to become a better man, known as gentleman.

In Confucianism, a gentleman (Chun Tzu) considers what is right, when the peasant considers what will pay. A gentleman trusts in justice and the peasant trusts in favor. A gentleman is generous and fair, when the peasant is biased and petty. A gentleman looks within for guidance and the peasant looks unto others. A gentleman is easy to serve, and hard to please. The peasant is hard to serve, and easy to please. A gentleman is to know what we know, and know what we do not know.

Civil Exam

On the other hand, the common people should follow the traditions and rules. In ancient Chinese culture, there was no need for the common people to know why. For common people, studying Confucianism and be a gentleman had been the most efficient way for them advancing into upper class. During Han dynasty, the first civil service exam was set up. Confucianism, with no surprise, was one of the key subjects to study for the civil service exam. Provincial schools were established countrywide and the Confucianism tradition of education was spread all over China. "To enrich your family, there is no need to buy good land: Books hold a thousand measures of grain.

For an easy life, there is no need to build mansion: In books are found houses of gold. When you go out, do not be upset if no one follows you: In books there will be a crowd of horses and carriages. If you wish to marry, don’t be upset if you don't have a go-between: In books there are girls with faces like jade. A young man who wishes to be somebody will devote his time to the Classics. He will face the window and read." There were people who spend their entire lifetime studying on Confucianism in order to get respected, not only for themselves, but also for the pride of their family lines.

The civil service exam system from Han dynasty had been used until the Qing dynasty. Changes had been made throughout thousands years of history, more western influence were bought into the Chinese education system during the Qing dynasty. With the humiliating defeat under the hands of British army in the Opium War (1840-1842), scholars and government officials suggested a major restructure of education system, developing new areas such as foreign language, science and technology. In 1911, the Qing Dynasty itself was overthrown by revolution, and a republican form of government was established. At that time, government completely abandoned the traditional way of education. New educational models from European, American and Japanese were set up in China.

New Era

With the adoption of the policy of reform and opening to the outside world in 1978, basic education entered a new era of progress. In 1985, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party issued the "Decision on the Reform of the educational Structure", laying down the principle that local governments should be responsible for basic education. The new policy was an incentive for local governments, especially those of the counties and townships. In 1986, the National People's Congress promulgated the "Compulsory Education Law of the People's Republic of China", thus placing basic education in the country on a firm legal basis. China started a system of 9-year compulsory education.

In 1993, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council jointly issued the "Guidelines for the Reform and Development of Education in China", clarifying the directions and basic policies for the development of basic education till the early years of the 21st century. In early 1999, the State Council ratified the "Action Plan for Educational Vitalization Facing the 21st Century" formulated by the Ministry of Education (MOE), laying down the implementation of the strategy of "Invigorate China through Science, Technology and Education" and drawing the blueprint of reform and development for the cross century education based on the "Education Law of the People's republic of China" and the "Guidelines for the Reform and Development of Education in China". In June 1999, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council jointly promulgated the "Decision on the Deepening of Educational Reform and the Full Promotion of Quality Education", clarifying the direction for the establishment of a vital socialistic education with Chinese characteristics in the 21st century. In 2012, China spent more than 1 trillion RMB on research and development and more than 700 billion RMB on higher education. As a result, research capacity and productivity have grown significantly. Between 2005 and 2012, the number of researchers in China increased by 38% and the number of published research articles from higher education institutions in China increased by 54%.

History of China

It is a long and complex history includes all dynasties with own memorable culture. From Zhou dynasty marks the beginning of Chinese feudal history to the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. (History of China)

Find out more about education in China, please visit China Education

Learn Chinese
HSK Test
Scholarships in China