Education and Culture

China Table of Contents

SINCE THE REPUDIATION of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the development of the education system in China has been geared particularly to the advancement of economic modernization. Among the notable official efforts to improve the system were a 1984 decision to formulate major laws on education in the next several years and a 1985 plan to reform the education system. In unveiling the education reform plan in May 1985, the authorities called for nine years of compulsory education and the establishment of the State Education Commission (created the following month). Official commitment to improved education was nowhere more evident than in the substantial increase in funds for education in the Seventh Five-Year Plan (1986-90), which amounted to 72 percent more than funds allotted to education in the previous plan period (1981-85). In 1986 some 16.8 percent of the state budget was earmarked for education, compared with 10.4 percent in 1984. Since 1949, education has been a focus of controversy in China. As a result of continual intraparty realignments, official policy alternated between ideological imperatives and practical efforts to further national development. But ideology and pragmatism often have been incompatible. The Great Leap Forward (1958-60) and the Socialist Education Movement (1962-65) sought to end deeply rooted academic elitism, to narrow social and cultural gaps between workers and peasants and between urban and rural populations, and to "rectify" the tendency of scholars and intellectuals disdain manual labor. During the Cultural Revolution, universal education in the interest of fostering social equality was an overriding priority.

The post-Mao Zedong Chinese Communist Party leadership viewed education as the foundation of the Four Modernizations. In the early 1980s, science and technology education became an important focus of education policy. By 1986 training skilled personnel and expanding scientific and technical knowledge had been assigned the highest priority. Although the humanities were considered important, vocational and technical skills were considered paramount for meeting China's modernization goals. The reorientation of educational priorities paralleled Deng Xiaoping's strategy for economic development. Emphasis also was placed on the further training of the already-educated elite, who would carry on the modernization program in the coming decades. Renewed emphasis on modern science and technology, coupled with the recognition of the relative scientific superiority of the West, led to the adoption, beginning in 1976, of an outward-looking policy that encouraged learning and borrowing from abroad for advanced training in a wide range of scientific fields.

Beginning at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in December 1978, intellectuals were encouraged to pursue research in support of the Four Modernizations and, as long as they complied with the party's "four cardinal principles"--upholding socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the leadership of the party, and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought--they were given relatively free rein. But when the party and the government determined that the strictures of the four cardinal principles had been stretched beyond tolerable limits, they did not hesitate to restrict intellectual expression.

Literature and the arts also experienced a great revival in the late 1970s and 1980s. Traditional forms flourished once again, and many new kinds of literature and cultural expression were introduced from abroad.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress