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Perspectives on Rethinking and Reforming Education

Mingyuan Gu
Jiansheng Ma
Jun Teng

Portraits of
Chinese Schools
Perspectives on Rethinking and Reforming

Series editors
Zhongying Shi, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
Shengquan Yu, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
This book series brings together the latest insights and work regarding the future of
education from a group of highly regarded scholars around the world. It is the first
collection of interpretations from around the globe and contributes to the
interdisciplinary and international discussions on possible future demands on our
education system. It serves as a global forum for scholarly and professional debate
on all aspects of future education. The book series proposes a total rethinking of
how the whole education process can be reformed and restructured, including the
main drivers and principles for reinventing schools in the global knowledge
economy, models for designing smart learning environments at the institutional
level, a new pedagogy and related curriculums for the 21st century, the transition to
digital and situated learning resources, open educational resources and MOOCs,
new approaches to cognition and neuroscience as well as the disruption of
education sectors. The series provides an opportunity to publish reviews, issues of
general significance to theory development, empirical data-intensive research and
critical analysis innovation in educational practice. It provides a global perspective
on the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the implementation of certain
approaches to the future of education. It not only publishes empirical studies but
also stimulates theoretical discussions and addresses practical implications. The
volumes in this series are interdisciplinary in orientation, and provide a multiplicity
of theoretical and practical perspectives. Each volume is dedicated to a specific
theme in education and innovation, examining areas that are at the cutting edge
of the field and are groundbreaking in nature. Written in an accessible style, this
book series will appeal to researchers, policy-makers, scholars, professionals and
practitioners working in the field of education.

More information about this series at

Mingyuan Gu Jiansheng Ma

Jun Teng

Portraits of Chinese Schools

Mingyuan Gu Jun Teng
Beijing Normal University Beijing Normal University
Beijing Beijing
China China

Jiansheng Ma
Beijing Normal University

ISSN 2366-1658 ISSN 2366-1666 (electronic)

Perspectives on Rethinking and Reforming Education
ISBN 978-981-10-4010-8 ISBN 978-981-10-4011-5 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5
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A few years ago, a book titled A Place Called School by the American author John
Goodlad gave me much inspiration and I felt similar in-depth research was in dire
need in China. As the 16th World Comparative Education Congress in Beijing will
be held by the World Council of Comparative Education Society later this year,
I was prompted to introduce Chinese schools to the world. So I applied for a
research project, which was then approved. However, due to old age, poor health,
and declining eyesight, I was unable to conduct the research by myself and had to
ask for help from Jiansheng Ma and Jun Teng, who actually completed the research
Although the work schedule was tight, the research yielded expected result,
a book revealing a true picture of China’s primary and middle schools. In this book,
readers will find the tremendous achievements of education in the People’s
Republic of China since its founding in 1949, particularly after the reform and
opening up. Meanwhile, they will also get to know the problems in China’s basic
education, such as unbalanced development, unsatisfactory education quality, and
the need for teachers’ capacity building. Today, China is pursuing the ambitious
target of rejuvenating the Chinese nation. In this context, China’s educators can
play a crucial role. While summarizing their own experience, they should have a
global vision and learn from the advanced experience of other countries.
I hope this book could serve as a tribute to the 16th World Comparative
Education Congress and all the participants. Any suggestion or criticism is more
than welcome.
Jiansheng Ma and Jun Teng, the editors of this book, insisted that I write a few
words here because I am the nominal project leader. Here, I acknowledge their hard
yet valuable work and thank them for their wholehearted dedication to this task.

Qiushi Studio, Beijing Mingyuan Gu

March 2016


The idea of writing this book came to us three years ago in New Orleans during our
application to host the XVII World Congress of Comparative Education Societies.
After more than three years’ of preparation, discussion, design, implementation,
writing, and revision, this book has finally been completed and translated as
scheduled in time for the opening of the world congress in 2016.
There are many people to whom we owe our gratitude. We would like to thank
Prof. Gu Mingyuan, who suggested I write this book. Shortly after the successful
application to host the world congress, Prof. Gu, based on his insights about the
reform and development of China’s education, proposed to use this event as an
opportunity and platform to introduce the operation and management of China’s
schools to the international community. It is an endeavor not only to show the
achievements of education in China, but also to illustrate the challenges we face and
ask for international support for a better future in China’s education.
It was a tempting but challenging idea to complete this work within three years.
In our rounds of discussions, Prof. Wang Yingjie, Prof. Zhang Dongjiao, Prof. Yu
Kai, and Associate Professor Yu Qingchen from the Faculty of Education of
Beijing Normal University generously shared their research findings and the first-
hand experience with us. Without their great contributions, we could not have had a
clear idea of the overall framework of this book.
Meanwhile, our gratitude also goes to our international colleagues, including
Dr. Lauren Misiaszek, Dr. Gregery Misiaszek, Dr. Kirk Perris, and Dr. Lorin
Yochim, who have inspired us with their consideration as sojourners of the heatedly
discussed educational issues in China.
In the writing process, we experienced both the pain of rewriting and the joy of
enlightenment. We got strong support from many friends to finalize our research
design. We would like to thank Ms. Zhong Hongli from the e-survey platform zkyy.
cc for enabling us to move away from traditional paper questionnaires, Mr. Li Ling
from China Education Daily who offered us free access to their professional edu-
cation social media platform on popular WeChat and helped us to quickly complete

viii Acknowledgements

the data collection, and Ms. Zhou, a student from the Faculty of Education of
Beijing Normal University, who volunteered to publicize the value of our research.
Of course, our thanks also go to the principals, teachers, parents, and students
without whom it would have been impossible to collect the data for this research.
We would like to thank our team in particular. This has been a young, dynamic,
and creative team. All the team members were busy with data collection at different
schools in the daytime and continued to process the collected data and write
working papers for journals in the evening. They have worked together to present
the panorama of Chinese schools.
The work division has been as follows: Introduction was written by Teng Jun.
Chapters 2–15 were written, respectively, by Li Yang, Rao Shuqi, Shi Chenchen,
Chen Liu, Wu Jiani, Cai Juan, Wang Yangnan, Wang Hanyi, Tian Jing, Zou Wei,
Jin Yixiang, Huang Luhuan, Yang Liu, Duan Hengyao, and Yao Lixing. The
epilogue was written by Ma Jiansheng. The whole book is finalized by Jiansheng
Ma and Jun Teng.
Finally, our special thanks go to Dr. Xu Yang from Higher Education Press for
her professional guidance and warm support. We are grateful to Beijing Normal
University for granting us the independent research project sponsored by the
“Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities.”
No words can express our gratitude to you all. We take sole responsibility for
any errors in this research. Hopefully, our efforts will not be in vain.

Beijing, China Jiansheng Ma

April 2016 Jun Teng

1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools . . . . . . . . . 1

1.1 Chinese Schools in an Ever-Changing World. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
1.1.1 Is China Well Prepared for Globalization? . . . . . . . . . . 2
1.1.2 Digitization: Are China’s Schools Prepared?. . . . . . . . . 3
1.1.3 New Technological Revolution: Are Chinese
Schools Prepared? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....... 4
1.1.4 Policy Guidance: The “Education Dream”
in China’s Leapfrog Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
1.1.5 Under the Veil: Reform on the Way . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
1.2 A Panoramic View of Chinese Schools: Key Factors . . . . . . . . . 12
1.3 Methodologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
1.3.1 Literature Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
1.3.2 Questionnaire Survey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
1.3.3 In-Depth Interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
1.3.4 On-Site Observation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

Part I Chinese Students

2 A Long but Colorful Day . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
2.1 Intensive Classroom Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
2.1.1 35–45 Minutes for Each Class . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
2.1.2 Regular Class and Self-study Class . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
2.1.3 Regular Teacher–Student Interaction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
2.1.4 Flexible and Diverse Ways of Teaching . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
2.1.5 Evaluation Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
2.1.6 Reflection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
2.2 Flag-Raising Ceremony as a Means of Education . . . . . . . . . . . 29
2.2.1 Fixed Time and Site . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
2.2.2 Students in Uniform . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

x Contents

2.2.3 Fixed Procedures. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

2.2.4 Class and Personnel Selection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
2.2.5 Reflection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
2.3 Multi-functional Class Meeting Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
2.3.1 Fixed Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
2.3.2 Head Teacher as the Designer and Leader . . . . . . . . . . 32
2.3.3 Rich Content . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
2.3.4 Reflection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
2.4 Competition for Titles and Honors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
2.4.1 Diversified Types of Honors and Awards . . . . . . . . . . . 33
2.4.2 Diversified Standards of Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
2.4.3 Standardized Procedures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
2.4.4 Reflection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
2.5 Frequent Exams . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
2.5.1 Types of Tests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
2.5.2 Frequency of Tests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
2.5.3 Forms of Tests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
2.5.4 Publication and Ranking of Scores . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
2.5.5 Reflection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
2.6 Rich Activities of Student Societies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
2.6.1 Fixed Activity Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
2.6.2 Joint Participation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
2.6.3 Rich Varieties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
2.6.4 Varied Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
2.6.5 Reflection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
2.7 Homework . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
2.7.1 Higher Grades, More Homework Hours . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
2.7.2 Various Sources of Homework . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
2.7.3 Structure of Homework . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
2.7.4 More Objective Checks Than Subjective Comments . . . 41
2.7.5 Reflection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
3 Chinese Students’ Collective Identity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 45
3.1 Social Grouping: Building Social Identity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 46
3.1.1 “Creating a Collective Totem”: Setting Preliminary
Boundaries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
3.1.2 “Collective Life” with Clarified Boundaries . . . . . . . . . 48
3.2 Social Comparison . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
3.2.1 Avoiding Collective Disadvantages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
3.2.2 Striving to Be the Best Group. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Contents xi

3.3 Positive Distinctiveness: Self-motivation of Group Members . .. 53

3.3.1 “I’m Half of the Head Teacher”: Standing Out
in the Group . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 53
3.3.2 “I Think I’m Getting Better”: Reinforcing
Individual Self-esteem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 55
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 56
4 The Gaokao Experience of Chinese Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
4.1 A Chinese Student’s Gaokao Journey to University . . . . . . . . . . 60
4.2 Year 3 Preparation Stage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
4.2.1 Well-Organized Review Schemes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
4.2.2 Mental Turmoil . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66
4.3 The Day of the Gaokao . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
4.3.1 “I Wasn’t Nervous at All”: The Feeling at the
Beginning of the First Exam . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 67
4.3.2 “Has the Gaokao Ended as Such?” Feelings After
the Last Exam . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 69
4.4 The Follow-up Stage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 70
4.4.1 “I Should Have Gained Higher Scores”:
A Reflection on the Exam Result . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 71
4.4.2 “It’s Really a Science”: Feelings Towards
University Applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
4.5 Reflection on the Gaokao Journey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
4.5.1 “I’ve Learned not just Knowledge”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
4.5.2 “We Were All the Same” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
Reference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75

Part II Chinese Parents

5 A Tiring but Happy Day for Chinese Parents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
5.1 Excessive Love . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
5.1.1 Taking Duoduo to School . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
5.1.2 Some Thoughts on the Image of Chinese Parents . . . . . 85
5.2 Parent-School Cooperation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86
5.2.1 Being on Duty at School . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86
5.2.2 Thoughts on Parent-School Cooperation . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
5.3 Pervasive “Shadow Education” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
5.3.1 Sending Duoduo to Supplementary Tutoring
Classes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
5.3.2 Thoughts on Shadow Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
5.4 Lack of Proper Family Education. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
xii Contents

6 Upbringing Methods and Educational Philosophy

for Chinese Parents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
6.1 Features of the Chinese Family . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
6.1.1 Chinese People’s View on Family and Country . . . . . . 96
6.1.2 Chinese Family Structures. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97
6.1.3 Relationships Between Family Members in China . . . . 98
6.2 The Multiple Facets of Chinese Parents and Their
Educational Philosophies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 100
6.2.1 The Multiple Facets of Chinese Parents . . . . . . . . . . .. 100
6.2.2 Chinese Parents’ Educational Philosophy . . . . . . . . . .. 102
6.3 Understanding and Reflections from a Cross-Cultural
Perspective . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 106
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 108
7 School Choice: A Harsh Journey for Chinese Parents . . . . . . . . . . . 109
7.1 Motivations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
7.1.1 “Everyone Loves Key Schools” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
7.1.2 “Go to the Good School Near Home” . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
7.1.3 “He Is My Only Child, My Precious Son” . . . . . . . . . . 112
7.1.4 “Like an Army on a Single Foot Log” . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
7.2 Criteria . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
7.2.1 A Good School . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
7.2.2 Good Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
7.2.3 Good Classmates. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
7.3 Capabilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
7.3.1 Financial Status . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
7.3.2 Relationships . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
7.3.3 The Child’s Academic Performance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
7.4 Instruments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
7.4.1 Excellence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
7.4.2 Fortune . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
7.4.3 Relationships . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
7.5 The Dilemma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
7.5.1 Driving Factors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
7.5.2 Consequences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119
7.5.3 Government Interference: Prohibition of School
Choice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 120
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 122
Contents xiii

Part III Chinese Teachers

8 A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
8.1 Busy Schedule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
8.2 Supervising Studies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
8.2.1 Ms. Guo: Focusing on Students’ Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
8.2.2 Supervisors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
8.3 Promoting Students’ Healthy Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
8.3.1 Ms. Gu: Caring for Students’ Health . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
8.3.2 Ms. Han: Helping Students Get Rid of Perplexity . . . . 136
8.3.3 Playing an Important Part in Students’ Growth . . . . . . . 136
8.4 Organizing Various Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137
8.4.1 Ms. Qian: Students’ “Leader” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137
8.4.2 Organizer of Students’ Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
8.5 As a United Group . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
8.5.1 Mr. Zhang: I Have Great Helpers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
8.5.2 The Builder of the Group . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
8.6 Coordinating the Trilateral Relations Among Students,
Families and School . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 140
8.6.1 Ms. Sheng: Communicating with Parents Is
Rewarding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140
8.6.2 Coordinator of Trilateral Relations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
8.7 Active Participation in School Affairs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
8.7.1 Mr. Liu: Multiple Duties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
8.7.2 School Affairs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
8.8 Seeking Self-improvement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
8.8.1 Ms. He: Seeking Perfection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143
8.8.2 Improving Themselves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143
8.9 Head Teachers’ Views of Themselves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144
8.9.1 The “Almighty” Me . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144
8.9.2 With a Challenging Job . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
8.9.3 Tired but Happy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146
9 Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149
9.1 The Traditional Image of Chinese Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149
9.1.1 The Personality of Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150
9.1.2 Teacher–Student Relationships . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
9.1.3 Teachers’ Responsibilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
9.2 Images of Teachers During the New Curriculum Reform . . . . . 153
9.2.1 Teachers’ Personalities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
9.2.2 Teacher–Student Interactions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
9.2.3 The Responsibility of Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
xiv Contents

9.3 Teachers’ Self-perception . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156

9.3.1 The Image of Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
9.3.2 Teacher–Student Relationships . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
9.4 Reasons for Changes in the Image of Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164
9.4.1 Reasons for the Traditional Image of Teachers . . . . . . . 164
9.4.2 Reasons for the New Image of Teachers
in the Reform . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 164
9.4.3 Reasons for Self-perception by Teachers . . . . . . . . . .. 165
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 166
10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching
and Pedagogy Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169
10.1 TR: School-Based Teachers’ Professional Development . . . . . . . 170
10.1.1 The Regime of TR in China . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
10.1.2 School-Based TR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
10.1.3 The Frequency of School-Based TR Activities . . . . . . . 172
10.1.4 Modalities of TR Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
10.1.5 The Role of TR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179
10.2 PR: From Practice and for Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
10.2.1 Problem Solving as the Purpose of PR . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182
10.2.2 Impact Factors of PR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
10.2.3 Safeguard for PR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185
10.2.4 The Value of PR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187
10.3 The Outlook for TR and PR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190
10.3.1 Exploration in Ordinary Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191
10.3.2 Research on Educational Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193

Part IV Chinese Principals

11 A Typical Day of a Chinese Principal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 199
11.1 Busy, Busy, Busy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 199
11.1.1 Observation of a Day of a Primary School
Principal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199
11.1.2 Self-description of a Day by One Principal . . . . . . . . . . 200
11.2 Daily Affairs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201
11.3 A Busy Heart Makes Life Really Busy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
11.3.1 Principals in Primary and Middle Schools . . . . . . . . . . 204
11.3.2 Principals in Boarding Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205
11.3.3 Modern Principals Versus Traditional Principals . . . . . . 205
11.3.4 Integrated Roles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 206
11.4 Busy in an Orderly Way . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 206
11.4.1 Causes of Time Wastage. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 206
11.4.2 How Principals Improve Time Management . . . . . . . . . 207
Contents xv

11.5 Busy yet Content . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 208

11.5.1 Contented Principals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 208
11.5.2 An Ideal Day of Principals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209
Reference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 210
12 Principal Selection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211
12.1 What Are the General Profiles of Principals? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211
12.1.1 Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211
12.1.2 Quality Dimensions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
12.1.3 Opportunities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216
12.2 How Have They Become Principals? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217
12.2.1 Policy Changes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217
12.2.2 Diversified Selection Procedures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220
12.3 Professional Standards for the Principal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 222
12.3.1 Eligibility Criteria as the Initial Form
of Professional Standards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....... 222
12.3.2 Official Professional Standards for Principals
of Schools for Compulsory Education. . . . . . . ....... 223
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....... 225
13 The Innovative Leadership of China’s Excellent Principals. . . . . .. 227
13.1 External Assistance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 227
13.1.1 Innovation in Policy-Guided Strategic
Developments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 227
13.1.2 Brand Building and Social Recognition . . . . . . . . . . .. 228
13.1.3 Parental Engagement and Family–School
Cooperation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230
13.2 Structural Optimization and Incentives Mechanism . . . . . . . . . . 231
13.2.1 Adjusting the Organizational Structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231
13.2.2 Strengthening the School Institution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232
13.2.3 Reform Curriculums and Pedagogy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233
13.2.4 Incentives for School Faculty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 238

Part V School Organization in China

14 High Quality Schools in China: Demonstration Senior
Middle Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 245
14.1 Introduction of the “Demonstration Senior Middle School”
Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 245
14.1.1 Goal of the “Demonstration Senior Middle School”
Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 246
14.1.2 Selection Standards for Demonstration Senior
Middle Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 246
xvi Contents

14.2 Motivations for Becoming a Demonstration Senior

Middle School . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 248
14.2.1 Unprecedented Development Opportunities. . . . . . . . . . 248
14.2.2 Expectation for Recognition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
14.2.3 Expectations for Additional Benefits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
14.3 Selection Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 250
14.3.1 Process of Screening . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 250
14.3.2 Typical Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 251
14.4 Positive Influence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252
14.4.1 Improved Hardware Facilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252
14.4.2 Preferential Policy for Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252
14.4.3 Improved Source of Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 253
14.4.4 Morale Enhancement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 253
14.4.5 Increased Sense of Happiness for Teachers . . . . . . . . . . 253
14.4.6 Support to Other Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 253
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 254
15 Conglomeration as an Organizational Innovation in China’s
School Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 255
15.1 The Background: The Need of the Times . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 255
15.1.1 The Social Need: A Lack of Premium Educational
Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 256
15.1.2 Macro Policy: Balanced Development of China’s
Basic Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 256
15.1.3 Success Stories: Conglomeration in Vocational
and Basic Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 257
15.1.4 Practice and Exploration: Pilot Reform
in the Developed Regions Before National
Promotion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 258
15.2 The Mission of Improving Regional Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . 258
15.2.1 Promoting the Basic Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 258
15.2.2 Modern Governance of Regional Education . . . . . . . . . 259
15.3 Organizational and Administrative Innovation
in Educational Conglomeration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 260
15.3.1 Organizational Innovation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 260
15.3.2 Administrative Innovation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 261
15.4 Three Main Characteristics of the Educational
Conglome—Ration Reform . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 263
15.4.1 The Focus on the Supply of Premium Educational
Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 263
15.4.2 Breakthroughs in the Institutional Modernization
of Regional Governance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 264
15.4.3 The Multi-integration Mode as a Pathway . . . . . . . . .. 264
Contents xvii

15.5 Case Study of Reform on Educational Conglomeration . . . . . . . 265

15.5.1 Case 1: The Trusteeship of Famous Schools . . . . . . . . . 265
15.5.2 Case 2: Branch School by Famous Schools . . . . . . . . . 270
15.5.3 Case 3: Merger by Famous Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 271
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 273
16 Epilogue: Colorful and Dynamic Chinese Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 275
16.1 Discrepancies in Educational Targets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 275
16.1.1 Socialization and Individuality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 275
16.1.2 All-Round Development and Core Qualities . . . . . . . . . 276
16.1.3 Inheritance and Innovation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 276
16.1.4 Mass Education and Elite Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 277
16.1.5 Quality-Oriented Education and Exam-Oriented
Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 277
16.2 Joy and Pain in the Development of Chinese Students . . . . . . . 278
16.2.1 Unbearable Pressures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 278
16.2.2 External Restrictions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 278
16.2.3 Charm of Cooperation and Competition . . . . . . . . . . . . 278
16.2.4 Fun in Colorful Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 279
16.2.5 Happiness of Accomplishment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 279
16.3 Anxieties and Expectations of the Chinese Parents . . . . . . . . . . 279
16.3.1 Anxieties Stemming from High Expectations
for Children . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 279
16.3.2 Exhaustive Support . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 280
16.3.3 Unbridled Criticism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 280
16.3.4 Lost Parents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 281
16.3.5 Expectations for Complete Happiness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 281
16.4 Expectations and the Liberation of Chinese Teachers. . . . . . . . . 281
16.4.1 Morality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 281
16.4.2 The Professional Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 282
16.4.3 Dedication as Head Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 282
16.4.4 The Development of Professionalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 282
16.4.5 Liberty of Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 282
16.5 Dilemma and Breakthrough for Chinese Principals . . . . . . . . . . 283
16.5.1 Boundless Responsibilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 283
16.5.2 Practical Capabilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 283
16.5.3 Dedication . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 284
16.5.4 Stressful Jobs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 284
16.6 Evolution and Variation of Chinese School Organization. . . . . . 284
16.6.1 Modernization of Teaching Facilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 284
16.6.2 Fashionable Space Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 285
16.6.3 Centralization for School Distribution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 285
16.6.4 Pluralism in School Functions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 285
16.6.5 Conglomeration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 286
Translator’s Postscript

It was my great privilege to be approached by Higher Education Press in May 2016

for the translation of Portraits of Chinese Schools, a book which I believe renders a
truthful and comprehensive picture of primary and secondary education in China
today. However, given the magnitude of the task and the tight schedule for pub-
lication, it was clearly a mission impossible for me to do the job alone. Fortunately,
I was backed by a competent team of passionate translators, each contributing to the
timely completion of the job in a constructive way. The division of work among
members of the translation team was roughly as follows:
Chapter 1 by Guan Yu 管宇 from China Youth University of Political Studies;
Chapters 2 and 3 by Guo Xiaoxuan 郭晓旋 from Guangdong Provincial
People’s Government Foreign Affairs Office;
Chapters 4 and 13 by He Yiman 何依蔓 from Beijing Sport University;
Chapters 5 and 6 by Liu Haiyan 刘海燕 from Nanchang University;
Chapters 7 and 8 by Xu Li 徐励, a Beijing-based freelance translator;
Chapters 9 and 10 by Feng Yizhi 冯怿之 from the First Affiliated Hospital of
Sun Yat-Sen University;
Chapter 11 by Feng Jun 冯军 from Hainan University;
Chapter 12 by Jin Ying 金莹 from Hainan University; and
Chapters 14, 15 and 16 by Wang Fen 王芬 from China Classification Society.
It should also be noted that Prof. Jin Ying helped me in reviewing and revising at least
half of the draft translated chapters, to which I am deeply grateful. A team of interna-
tional subeditors—Dorota Niemcewicz, Heather Mowbray, Margaux Schreurs, and
Alice Mercer—also worked on improving and making the translation consistent.

August 2016 Feng Jun

Associate Professor
College of Foreign Languages, Hainan University
Haikou, China

List of Figures

Figure 1.1 Distribution by father’s education background . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

Figure 1.2 Distribution by mother’s education background . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Figure 1.3 Distribution by father’s occupation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Figure 1.4 Distribution by mother’s occupation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Figure 1.5 Distribution by teacher’s employment nature . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Figure 1.6 Distribution by school age . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Figure 1.7 Distribution by subject . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Figure 1.8 Distribution by education stage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Figure 1.9 Distribution by service time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Figure 1.10 Distribution by education background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Figure 1.11 Distribution by degree . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Figure 1.12 Distribution by location . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Figure 1.13 Distribution by nature of school . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Figure 7.1 Factors considered by chinese parents when choosing
a school . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
Figure 8.1 Average number of class session of head teachers . . . . . . . . . 130
Figure 8.2 Major duties and their proportions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Figure 8.3 Working hours on workdays . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Figure 8.4 Average number of classes on workdays . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Figure 8.5 Whether they need to take work home . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
Figure 9.1 Importance of cultivation objectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
Figure 9.2 Whether or not teachers would like their schools . . . . . . . . . 158
Figure 9.3 Whether or not teachers recommend their schools
to others . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158
Figure 9.4 Situation of teachers holding degrees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
Figure 9.5 The most important cultivation objectives as perceived
by schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
Figure 10.1 Teaching/research group at school level. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
Figure 10.2 Positive impact of TR on teaching practices . . . . . . . . . . . . . 180
Figure 10.3 Opinions on setting up mentonship for teachers
to improve their teaching performance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 180

xxii List of Figures

Figure 10.4 The process of teachers’ PR. Source. Wang, X. F., &
Huang, L. E. (2015). 中小学教师如何理解“教师科研”:
话语, 身份与权力 [How do primary and middle school
teachers perceive “teacher research”: Discourse, identity
and power]. 教育学报 [Journal of Educational Studies],
(4), 48 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182
Figure 10.5 Teachers’ purposes of taking PR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
Figure 10.6 Factors hindering teachers’ engagement in PR . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
Figure 10.7 Channels for teachers to improve their PR competence . . . . . 185
Figure 10.8 Teachers’ monthly time allocation on PR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186
Figure 10.9 The promotion effect of assessment on teachers’ TR
and PR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191
Figure 10.10 The source of feedback on teachers’ TR and PR . . . . . . . . . . 191
Figure 12.1 Subjects once taught by principals (multiple choice) . . . . . . . 214
List of Tables

Table 1.1 Introduction of in-depth interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....... 20

Table 2.1 A typical day for Xiaoyang. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....... 26
Table 8.1 Schedule of a head teacher of a middle school
in Shanghai . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
Table 10.1 Research schedule for Chinese teaching at Dongyang
Foreign Language Primary School in Zhejiang . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176
Table 12.1 Previous experiences of principals (multiple choice) . . . . . . . . . 212
Table 12.2 Previous positions of principals (multiple choice) . . . . . . . . . . . 213
Table 12.3 Due role of a principal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216
Table 12.4 Policy documents related to principal selection . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218
Table 12.5 Modes of selecting principals and their percentages
(multiple choice) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221
Table 12.6 Principals’ professional standards and their detailed
interpretations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 224
Table 13.1 Layering, categorized, comprehensive and specially
required courses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 234

Chapter 1
Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery
of Chinese Schools

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age
of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season
of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of
despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to
Heaven, we were all going direct the other way ….
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

This quotation from Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities best describes the current
situation of Chinese schools. Over the past three decades, despite being the world’s
most populous country, China has ensured national access to nine-year compulsory
education and has been amongst the first countries to meet the target of universal
education. These achievements have attracted worldwide attention. School choice, a
matter of education equity, has put mounting pressure on Chinese people.
Education has become the “third mountain” for Chinese people after housing and
medical care. The rapid development of Chinese education in all forms and at all
levels has transformed the country from simply being a populous country to being
one with abundant human resources. However, to take it one step further and turn
China into a country with leading human resources, it is imperative to improve the
overall quality of education. Although students in Shanghai have ranked No. 1 in
Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) twice, a great shock in
Western educational circles, the question raised by Qian Xuesen, a famous scientist,
regarding the failure of Chinese education system in turning out leading thinkers
and innovators remains unanswered. On one hand, at no time have Chinese schools
been so open-minded and reformative, with new concepts including 3D, MOOC,
and big data finding their way into traditional school education. On the other hand,
we have never been so confused and indecisive as today. Education serves as the
foundation of China’s future. But what is the real picture of Chinese schools?
Where will they head next? This is a question that calls for serious reflections by
Chinese teachers, principals, parents and policy-makers in education.

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 1
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_1
2 1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools

1.1 Chinese Schools in an Ever-Changing World

1.1.1 Is China Well Prepared for Globalization?

There is no denying that we live in a globalized era. Since the beginning of the 21st
century, rapid development of the Internet has enabled the free allocation of con-
siderable global commodities, services and means of production, resulting in higher
economic interdependence as well as stronger political, social, cultural, and military
ties among countries. The Pew Research Center once compiled a report, Changing
Patterns of Global Migration and Remittances, based on UN and World Bank data.
According to the report, the population of global migrants climbed to 232 million in
2013, 1.5 times more than that in 1990 (154 million). Among them, the growth rate
of emigrants from India, Mexico, and China was well above the global average, with
the outflowing population growing by 2.3 times, from 16 million in 1990 to 37
million in 2013 (Connor et al. 2013). In addition, during the past decade, global
remittances more than doubled, from less than $200 billion in 2000 to $511 billion in
2013. Interestingly, while migrants mainly move from low-income to high-income
countries, remittances flow in an opposite direction. In 2013, remittances from
middle-income countries accounted for 71% of the global total, up from 60% in
2000. In comparison, the share of remittances from high-income countries declined
from 40% to 23% during the same period (Connor et al. 2013). This indicates that
jobs in high-income countries are partially shifting to middle-income countries, and
emerging economies are becoming a magnet for international job seekers.
As an emerging economy, China has attracted more and more foreigners to settle
down and work in recent years. In 2010, the Sixth National Population Census
published statistics of foreigners living in China for the first time. It revealed that
593,832 foreigners had lived in China for over 3 months, accounting for 0.04% of
national population, and 60% of them had come to China for business, employ-
ment, or study (National Bureau of Statistics of China 2010). This trend was even
more obvious in metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The 2010
Beijing census showed that 91,128 foreigners had lived in Beijing for over
3 months, amounting to 0.46% of its permanent population and 10 times the
national average (Beijing Statistics Bureau 2010). Similarly, 143,200 foreigners
resided in Shanghai in 2010, 0.59% of its permanent population (Shanghai
Statistics Bureau 2010). Estimated conservatively at the annual average rate of
growth in emerging countries over the past decade, the foreign population in China
will exceed 1.5 million in two decades; the share of foreigners in Beijing and
Shanghai will surpass 1%, which will result in extra pressure in competition for
jobs. With the development of such a trend, our next generation will inevitably be
exposed to an internationalized environment. They will be compelled to join the
fierce competition of the international job market. As pointed out by Friedman
(2007) in The World is Flat, the competition between individuals and the rest of the
world is out of the question in an era of Globalization 3.0.
1.1 Chinese Schools in an Ever-Changing World 3

Given that China has suffered much humiliation and cultural shocks in the past
century, are we confident enough to embrace such a globalized era marked by the
mixture of goodness and evil, beauty and ugliness, wisdom and ignorance as well as
opportunity and challenge? In such a diversified and complex global environment,
can we find our proper position, values, and identity? How should we integrate our
traditional culture with globalization? All these problems are worth serious
reflection. Back in the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping pointed out that education should be
geared to the needs of the future. Today, we must think carefully how Chinese
schools can better prepare our nationals for international competition.

1.1.2 Digitization: Are China’s Schools Prepared?

In this digital era, the rapid development of information technology not only makes
the earth a smaller place, but also renders it to be more convenient, colorful and
fragmented. So far, education has evolved from blackboards, printed textbooks and
educational TV shows to multimedia courseware, smart teaching systems, flipped
classrooms, 3D printing, and game-based learning. The digital world is changing
the education models of evaluation and management as well as teaching methods
and content. Tao Xiping, a famous educator in China, predicted that information
technology would first change teaching tools, then teaching models and finally,
learning patterns (Teng and Lü 2015, p. 4). At the center of the changes is the whole
mission and function of education. China’s earlier education system attached more
importance to imparting systematic knowledge, whereas today’s education system
aims to foster “key skills (mainly values and abilities) for the 21st century.”
In March, 2012, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development
(OECD) published a research report entitled, Preparing Teachers and Developing
School Leaders for the 21st Century: Lessons from around the World. According to
the report, students in the 21st century should develop themselves in the following
four areas: (1) independent thinking, including creativity, critical thinking, problem
solving and decision-making and learning ability; (2) communication and cooper-
ation ability; (3) information technology as a tool of work; (4) citizenship, job ethics
and individual and social responsibility. Among them, the most important is to
develop independent thinking, effective communication and cooperation, which are
abilities hardly replaceable by computers in this ever-changing world (OECD
2012). In August, 2013, the World Bank published a research report titled From
Occupations to Embedded Skills: A Cross-Country Comparison, which analyzed
the close relationship between economic development and human skills in 30
countries. The results indicated positive correlations between economic develop-
ment and the level of non-routine cognitive analytic and interpersonal skills as well
as routine cognitive skills. They also indicated strong negative correlations between
economic development and the level of both routine and non-routine manual skills
(Aedo et al. 2013). Our latest research on recruitment standards of international
organizations also shows that international transferable skills, including
4 1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools

communication, cooperation, organization, planning, management, study and

technology, are crucial links to values, thinking, personality and expertise (Teng
et al. 2014).
Although the “key skills for the 21st century” are understood differently in the
international community, we can ascertain that they differ from conventional
knowledge evaluation systems in that they aim to foster more in-depth and complex
ways of thinking and work marked by innovation and cooperation. To foster these
elements, we cannot rely solely on conventional education patterns which focus on
imparting simply knowledge. It requires the development of a new education pat-
tern. Are Chinese schools prepared for this?

1.1.3 New Technological Revolution: Are Chinese

Schools Prepared?

This is an age of ever-changing technologies. At the end of the last century, the US
conducted important scientific research on which disciplines would guide human
development or bring major changes to mankind. The research resulted in a report
by over 70 famous scientists entitled, Converging Technologies for Improving
Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology
and Cognitive Science (NBIC). The report pointed out that NBIC would guide
human development in the 21st century and the converging of any two or three
technologies would create inestimable efficacy (Roco and Bainbridge 2002). Just as
Jeremy Rifkin wrote in his book The Third Industrial Revolution, technological
progress is bound to transform industries. This book draws a blueprint for us:
Hundreds of millions of people produce green power in their homes, offices and
factories, and share it on the “energy Internet,” in the same way as we publish and
share information online. The transformation, distributive production, storage (in
the form of hydrogen), distribution and zero-emission of renewable energy con-
stitute the five pillars of the new economic model (Rifkin 2012, pp. 31–34). In April
2012, The Economist published a feature article by Markillie (2012, April), which
indicated that man had entered the third industrial revolution, marked by 3D
printing, digital manufacturing, and the application of new energy and new mate-
rials. Although there are different definitions of the third industrial revolution, it is
generally agreed that it is represented by major innovation in digital manufacturing,
Internet technology, renewable energy and the integration of them and it will result
in great reforms in industries and society. During the third revolution, emerging
industries will replace existing ones and cause important changes in the mode of
social production, manufacturing, and even productive organization. Finally,
humankind will turn into a green and low-carbon society of ecological harmony and
sustainable development (Rui 2012).
On his visit to Zhongguancun, a technology hub in Beijing, President Xi Jinping
said: “The new round of technological revolution and industrial reform is
1.1 Chinese Schools in an Ever-Changing World 5

converging with China’s transformation of its economic development pattern. This

provides an unprecedented opportunity for us to implement the strategy of
innovation-driven development. However, the opportunity is fleeting; it will
become a challenge if we fail to grasp it. Therefore, we must be mindful of potential
dangers and make full use of the new round of revolution and reform. We must
never wait, stand by or sit idle (Xinhua News Agency 2013).” So, what impact will
the third industrial revolution have on education? First, it requires the training of
innovative talents. In addition, as the third industrial revolution features personal-
ized consumption, talent training will attach more importance to personality
development. This indicates that the ways to train talents have to be diversified.
China’s previous training follows a fixed model or plan. For example, when
learning from the Soviet Union back in the 1950s, China prescribed unified stan-
dard for teaching plans, outlines, and textbooks in the whole country. Today, such a
legacy still lives on to a large extent, reflecting the impact of industrialized mass
production. However, modern society calls for a variety of talents, thus each link of
training, including course design, teaching patterns and evaluation methods, should
embrace diversity.
In conclusion, globalization, digitization, and the new technological revolution
have changed our life and way of working fundamentally. While enjoying the
unprecedented wonders and convenience this era brings us, we face all kinds of
crises, including areas in ecology, finance, security, ethics and value. In such an era
while we are facing both challenges and opportunities, are Chinese schools suffi-
ciently well-prepared?

1.1.4 Policy Guidance: The “Education Dream”

in China’s Leapfrog Development

The “Chinese dream” is an important guiding thought and governing concept

proposed by President Xi Jinping at the 18th National Congress of the Communist
Party of China. It means achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. At
the core of the “Chinese Dream” lies “Two Centenary Goals”: to complete the
building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the time the
Communist Party of China celebrates its centenary in 2021; and to realize national
rejuvenation to turn China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong,
democratic, culturally advanced, and harmonious by the 100th anniversary of the
founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2049.
In fact, China surpassed Japan in GDP and became the world’s second largest
economy in 2011. According to the World Bank, developing countries will con-
tribute to two thirds of the world’s economic growth and half of the global output
by 2030. If China is not included, the above shares would be 40% and 30%
respectively. In addition, developing countries will represent the major driving
force of global trade growth. In a multi-polarized world economy, emerging
6 1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools

markets, particularly China’s, will become a new growth pole. No country will
impact so much on the global economy as China in the next two decades. By 2030,
China will overtake the US as the world’s No. 1 economy even though its economic
growth rate will have started to decline as expected (World Bank 2013, p. 7).
Meanwhile, China’s status in the international arena has also been raised. Without
China’s participation, a series of important international agendas could not be
pressed ahead with, such as recovery from the international economic crisis, global
governance, and the fight against climate change and terrorism.
In 2010, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund passed their
reform plan on voting rights, raising the share of developing countries in the World
Bank to 47%. China’s voting rights were almost doubled, making it the third largest
shareholder of the World Bank after the US and Japan. The share of Argentina,
Brazil, India, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, and Turkey was all increased while the
share of traditional large economies declined. At the same time, China has within its
means vigorously supported the development of developing countries, especially
African countries. From 2010 to 2012, China delivered RMB 89.34 billion in
foreign assistance (Xinhua News Agency 2014) as an emerging contributor to
development in the international community.
In addition, Chinese society is undergoing leapfrog development. This has
brought tremendous changes to the values, social fabric, organization, and lifestyle
of Chinese people, which challenges China’s education in the choice of values and
the distribution of resources, amongst other aspects. Given such a social back-
ground, which mission should China’s schools undertake and which role can they
play? This deserves deep thought when we study Chinese schools.
Chinese people have always upheld the philosophy that education is key to the
future development of a country. To enact this philosophy, China has attached great
importance to the formulation of its education policies. Before the 18th National
Congress of the Communist Party of China, the Chinese government issued the
Outline for the Plan of National Medium and Long-term Education Reform and
Development (2010–2020) (hereinafter referred to as “the Outline”), which drew a
blueprint for China’s education development in the next decade. The Outline set
forth the work principle of “prioritizing development, focusing on education,
stimulating reform and innovation, promoting equality and increasing quality,” and
it put forward the strategic goal that China will basically achieve the modernization
of education, build a learning-oriented society and become one of the leading
countries in human resources by 2020. Meanwhile, to achieve the goal, the Outline
underlined the need for reform and proposed corresponding measures, such as
reforming the exam and enrollment system, improving school operations and
management, building a modern school system, becoming more open to the outside
world, strengthening capacity building among teachers, guaranteeing funding,
speeding up IT application in education, as well as governing education by law. In
2012, the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China report put
forward the development goal of making education satisfactory to all the people,
and the philosophy of morality education was identified as the soul and the focus in
implementing the Outline. On 12 November 2013, the third Plenum of the 18th
1.1 Chinese Schools in an Ever-Changing World 7

National Congress of the Communist Party of China Central Committee adopted

the Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Some
Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening the Reform. Article 42 of
the Decision, Deepening the Comprehensive Reform of Education, addresses the
balanced development of students’ morality, knowledge and health, education
equity, the building of education systems of all levels, the reform of the exam and
enrollment system, the reform of the education management system and many other
important areas. It sets a clear direction for China’s education reform which is in
deep water. With regard to the internal reform of education, China has laid down
concrete equality and systems in conformity with the principle of promoting fair-
ness and increasing quality as stated in the Outline.
Education equity is one of the key issues of education development. The top
priority for more education equity is to ensure equal access to school for every
child. So far, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has issued policies to allow children
living with their migrant parents to take high school and college entrance exami-
nations where they live. In addition, the MOE has tried to remove barriers for the
schooling of these children and better guarantee their right to compulsory education
by raising the capacity of public schools. In 2014, the MOE introduced a series of
policies represented by the Implementation Opinion on Further Allowing Primary
Students to Enter Middle Schools Near their Homes and without Exams. The
Implementation Opinion clarifies how primary students can enter middle schools
near where they live and the processes they have to go through, and says com-
prehensive measures will be taken to ease the craze of selecting schools for com-
pulsory education in big cities, including more balanced distribution of education
resources. On 25 December 2015, the State Council introduced the National
Development Plan for Children in Poverty-Stricken Areas (2014–2020). The Plan
aims to improve education in nutrition, medicine, and healthcare for children in
poverty-stricken areas. It highlights the importance of solving prominent problems
in rural compulsory education, developing scientific early education, ensuring
national access to preschool education and strengthening IT application in rural
schools. In addition, the MOE is pressing ahead with the Coordination Plan for
Supporting the Enrollment by Colleges and Universities in Central and Western
China and the Plan of Enrolling Children from Poverty-Stricken Areas, so as to
give students in poor areas equal access to higher education and a promising future.
For better educational equity, education resources must be allocated properly. In
2013, the Standing Committee of the State Council deliberated on and passed the
Opinion on Comprehensively Improving the Basic Conditions of Schools in
Poverty-Stricken Areas with Weak Compulsory Education. The Opinion pays
special attention to primary and junior high schools in contiguous destitute areas of
central and western China. On 25 November, 2015, the State Council issued the
Notice on Further Improving the Security Mechanism for Urban and Rural
Compulsory Education Fund. The Notice has as its aim the equitable allocation of
education resources by unifying the policy of exempting textbook fees and inci-
dentals and subsidizing the living expenses of boarders, unifying the benchmark
quota of public expenditure per student in primary and junior high schools,
8 1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools

improving the long-term mechanism for guaranteeing the security of buildings in

rural compulsory education schools as well as raising the salaries of urban and rural
compulsory education teachers. Meanwhile, thanks to the development of IT
applications in education by the MOE, all Chinese schools have gained access to
digital education resources, and the share of broadband network use in all levels of
schools keeps rising.
Another issue in Chinese education, also a headache for Chinese parents, stu-
dents, teachers, and schools, is the reform of the college entrance examination
(gaokao). The bottleneck in deepening the comprehensive reform of education is
the reform of the evaluation exam and enrollment system. In September 2014, the
State Council issued the Implementation Opinion on Deepening the Reform of the
Exam and Enrollment System. Based on the principle of focusing on education,
promoting equality, selecting talents scientifically and holistic planning, it laid out
the schedule that China would start the pilot program for reforming the exam and
enrollment system by 2014, scale up the reform across China by 2017 and establish
a modern exam and enrollment system with Chinese characteristics by 2020. It also
set out the overall goal that China would build an enrollment model featuring
differentiated examination, overall assessment and admission from various sources,
improve the mechanism for greater equality, scientific selection of talents and
strong supervision, and establish an education system that bridges all levels and
kinds of education and recognizes various study results. This reform plan has many
highlights. By canceling the separation between arts and science disciplines in
senior high school, enrollment by classified exams, comprehensive quality evalu-
ation and eliminating most of the bonus items, it aims to add criteria other than
academic ones to the evaluation and enrollment system, narrowing the opportunity
gap between urban and rural area and easing the school selection craze.
Capacity building of teachers is an important guarantee for the improvement of
education quality. Since 2014, the MOE has worked with two other ministries to
accelerate the job rotation of principals and teachers in compulsory education
schools. Excellent principals and backbone teachers, in particular, were sent to
administrate or teach in rural schools or schools with weak education resources. The
goal was that the rotation would be institutionalized and regularized within 3–
5 years. On 1 June 2015, the State Council Office issued the Notice on Publishing
the Supporting Plan for Rural Teachers (2015–2020). The Notice introduced
polices concerning the capacity building of teachers in rural areas, such as com-
prehensively improving professionalism, expanding teacher recruitment channels,
raising the compensation package, unifying the registration system for urban and
rural teachers, offering preferential policies in career advancement and encouraging
excellent urban teachers to work in rural schools.
To ensure proper education for all disabled children, the Chinese government
has introduced all-inclusive education on all fronts. On 8 January 2014, the State
Council Office issued the Plan for Improving Special Education (2014–2016).
According to this Plan, China will integrate disabled students into all levels of
education systems ranging from preschool to higher education, increase investment
in special education and improve school hardware, management system, teachers’
1.1 Chinese Schools in an Ever-Changing World 9

professional competence and the special textbook system. The aim is to give special
students equal access to education and improve the quality of education provision
for them.
In a word, reform is inevitable in the development of Chinese education for a
long time to come. However, concrete problems concerning education differ from
area to area due to China’s vast territories and imbalanced economic growth. For
example, in the destitute and peripheral areas of Western China, basic school
conditions can hardly be guaranteed. By comparison, in central China or moder-
ately well-developed cities, although access to education has been guaranteed for
students, educational equity is still in question as quality differs from school to
school. In metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai, parents are involved in
selecting schools. They also have another alternative, i.e., private international
schools. This, however, brings new education issues, i.e., how to integrate tradi-
tional Chinese culture into the curriculum of such international schools? In con-
clusion, Chinese schools face different and complex problems. A promising future
requires the concerted efforts of all.

1.1.5 Under the Veil: Reform on the Way

The development of education relies on reform, innovation and study. In the recent
two decades, a basic trend in global education studies has been the shift in focus
from top to bottom, i.e., from macro education policies to schools, and then to
courses, classrooms, and individual students. However, these interesting changes
have always been limited to the educational circle and have rarely been heard about
by the general public. Many parents still perceive schools the way they did 20 years
ago when they themselves were students. In what follows, we would like to share
the changes we have observed as researchers in recent years.
In 2006, we were invited to Wenzhou, one of the most developed cities in China,
to conduct strategic research on developing the education system of its central
district Lucheng. It was the year before the amendment of the Compulsory
Education Law and the toughest year for curriculum reform. Despite this, education
in Lucheng district was exceptionally successful. First and foremost, each student
had access to education. In addition, initial achievements had been made in
improving the quality of that education. Our research team, which consisted of eight
members, stayed in Lucheng for half a month. After visiting over 10 local schools,
we concluded that Lucheng’s success in education stemmed from its “one goal and
nine strategies” model. “One goal” is the strategic goal of quality and balanced
education. “Nine strategies” comprise of: (1) Chain of schools to achieve quality
and balanced education; (2) Curriculum reform; (3) Distinctive education and
school features; (4) School culture; (5) Teachers’ capacity building; (6) Application
of technology; (7) Social support; (8) Exemplary schools; and (9) Equality for
quality and balanced education. It is noteworthy that in Lucheng district, the
10 1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools

education administration, schools, teachers, and parents all cherish a lofty ideal for
education. Their impressive practice is a result of creativity and wisdom. As pointed
out by Tao Xiping: “With conscience and experience in education, they fostered
education in Lucheng. It is down to them that we see hope in the future of China’s
basic education” (Wu and Ma 2007, preface).
Reform is not limited to developed coastal areas. Less developed regions are also
on the way up. In recent years, Shanxi province in central China has suffered
financial difficulties as it relies heavily on the unsustainable coal industry. However,
in sharp contrast, its reforms of basic education are thriving. In 2014, Shanxi
Provincial Education Department introduced the Implementation Opinion on
Comprehensively Deepening the Reform of Basic Education and Teaching and
Innovating the Education Model. The Opinion sets out clear requirements for
improving curriculum design, deepening classroom teaching reform, innovating the
management and education model, promoting the reform of exams and evaluation
and strengthening IT application in study. It also unveils 14 pilot innovation pro-
grams for comprehensively deepening the reform of basic education and teaching,
IT application in education, and the use of teaching facilities in primary and middle
schools. Among the programs, cross-disciplinary project-based learning plays a
pioneering role in China.
Project-based learning is a systematic teaching method. It is about exploring
complex and real problems, designing tasks, planning and implementing projects as
well as producing results. The essence is to learn through doing or to allow students
to master necessary knowledge and skills via completing a real task, thus meeting
the national curriculum goal. A “campus charity bazaar” is just one of the projects
started in mathematics. Through this project, students learn math as well as the
meaning of charity. To do a better job, students have to plan for the data to be
recorded beforehand and study the data afterwards, thus they acquire knowledge of
rational numbers. In the meantime, students truly feel the importance of learning.
The subject of math, which is seen as conceptual and dull, becomes enjoyable and
accessible. Learning math in this way becomes a lot of fun.
Through three years’ of effort, Shanxi province has developed a series of study
guides and eight pilot schools have introduced project-based study. Such a learning
model also changes the teaching philosophy of teachers and promotes communi-
cation and cooperation among teachers. During the study process, students make
full use of modern media, such as mobile phones and the Internet, to investigate,
measure and collect laboratory data, achieving the desired effect in an Internet+ age.
What is more, the shift to a project-oriented teaching method allows teachers to
foster the comprehensive abilities of students. The new model has proved to be
effective and influential.
In addition, education reform is also in full swing at the school level. Over the
past seven years, our team members have been invited to participate in dozens of
school culture building projects. We filled in questionnaires, brainstormed and
designed plans. Finally, we summarized a set of cultural management theories for
Chinese schools (Zhang 2013), such as the trilateral cooperation model of
“university-government-primary and middle school,” the four-step model of “status
1.1 Chinese Schools in an Ever-Changing World 11

assessment-plan design-plan implementation-result evaluation,” the dynamic

structure of the model driven by school culture as well as many cultural tools.
In addition to the building of school culture, reform is also conducted to improve
curriculum and classroom teaching. Take for example Beijing National Day School,
which won the Grand Prize in the first National Basic Education and Teaching
Result Awards. Five years ago when we visited the school, we were attracted by its
unique culture. There was no fixed class or class schedules for students; every
student followed his or her own schedule. The compulsory courses were divided by
level and the elective courses were open to students’ choice. Some chose auto-
mobile design while others chose drama performance. Their extracurricular activ-
ities were also colorful as they had a variety of associations: some opened small
businesses; some set up banks to serve entrepreneurial endeavors. In general, the
school was lively and the students were confident. Such a result was achieved
because the school tried to create the right environment for each student. The
diversified and multi-level courses provided students with more freedom and room
to think. Through extracurricular activities, the students enjoy the happiness of
learning and develop their ability to innovate, criticize, communicate and cooperate.
They become outgoing, compassionate and enterprising.
Of course, the most fundamental change that has occurred in Beijing National
Day School is its core concept of education. Each student and each teacher is
trusted. The school’s history museum showcases a magnifying glass, which was a
gift from a graduate living in the US. The story behind it is that the graduate
attributes her success to the school for magnifying her merits. The school adopts a
flat management system: The principal keeps an eye on the overall situation and the
vice principals manage different grades directly. Instead of leading or commanding
teachers, the functional departments, such as the Teaching Affairs Office and the
General Affairs Office, are mainly responsible for serving teachers and teaching
activities. There is no performance rating but cooperation at the end of each aca-
demic year. This specific case demonstrates the courage of Chinese schools to
reform and teachers’ understanding of their responsibility for education. We respect
the wisdom of these schools in China.
As education researchers, we are eager to draw a comprehensive and vivid
picture of Chinese schools and explore their future development. In the 1980s,
American professor Goodlad recorded in his book A Place Called School the largest
and most complex research on school education in American education history.
Goodlad pointed out that the failure of American education reform was due to
ignorance of the ways schools function in general and ignorance of the inner
workings of selected schools in particular (Goodlad 1984, p. 16). Based on this
philosophy, Goodlad launched a large-scale research project on school education
ideas, practices, and daily operations as well as the true mentality of the students,
parents and teachers involved (p. 1). The research mirrored the realities of
American school education in the 1980s and revealed the “grammatical rules” of
American schools to Americans for the first time. As the World Comparative
Education Congress will be held at Beijing Normal University in 2016, we felt
inspired to introduce Chinese schools to the world. We understand that Chinese
12 1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools

schools have entered a new stage, whether in terms of the external environment, the
top-down education policies or the bottom-up reform efforts. Therefore, it is
imperative to conduct similar research at this critical moment.

1.2 A Panoramic View of Chinese Schools: Key Factors

If we search China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) by the title key-

words, “school education,” we will generate 6,994 hits, indicating a rich literature
in this area. However, few scholars have carried out empirical studies on Chinese
schools as a whole and pondered on their present and future in a panoramic manner.
What is the core of Chinese schools? I believe it is people. People always remain
the core of education and the major player of school education. According to
Dewey, education is life. What is the real life of different stakeholders in Chinese
schools, especially life with Chinese cultural characteristics?
Undoubtedly, the major player of school education is the student. Perhaps your
impression of students and school life is the exam machine, piles of books on the
desk and dull classrooms, dormitories and dining rooms. It is true, but never the
whole picture of the school life of Chinese students. So first, we will start our
research with “A Long but Colorful day.” Then we will explore deeper into another
two issues. First, in contrast with the social ethos of individualism in the West,
China values collectivism. Then under such a context, how is collective identity
fostered among Chinese students? Second, we are concerned about China’s college
entrance exams, a hallmark of Chinese education, a haunting theme Chinese parents
have to face and a single-plank bridge that college candidates rush to cross. In many
cases, the college entrance exam is considered the ultimate target of school edu-
cation in China. So what is the journey to the exam like? How do children cope
with the exam? Are Chinese students exam machines when they fight for college
admission? Or do they find their true selves and enrich their character during the
What worries Chinese parents most is precisely their children’s education.
Parents remain part of school life and interact with schools in one way or another.
In this book, we will try to show one day of a typical Chinese parent. If you are also
a parent, the untold struggle and confusion peculiar to Chinese parents might
resonate with you. In such a globalized era, how do Chinese parents strike a balance
between traditional oriental education and Western-style family education? Which
kind of family education philosophy do they uphold? In addition, what are the pains
and sorrows for these Chinese parents as they choose schools for their children?
A teacher is one who propagates doctrine, imparts knowledge and resolves
doubts. Chinese teachers play an extremely important role in the education system;
they act as guides and soul engineers for students. So how do Chinese teachers
teach and educate at school? We take head teachers for example since they best
represent Chinese teachers. By describing one day’s work of a head teacher at
school, we hope to reveal the image of teachers in Chinese society. Meanwhile, we
1.2 A Panoramic View of Chinese Schools: Key Factors 13

wonder about issue such as what is expected of teachers given the new curriculum
standards? How do teachers perceive themselves? How has the image of the teacher
evolved? How do Chinese teachers move forward in educational research? What is
the future direction?
To promote the reform and innovation of Chinese education is impossible
without the efforts of competent and courageous education leaders, and principals
of primary and middle schools. Then what is the real work and life of these
principals? What are the pressures and responsibilities for them? You might also
wonder how these principals are selected and how principals should blaze a bright
trail for China’s future education. All this will be discussed in this book.
The school is not a simple combination of such elements as students, parents,
teachers, and principals. Instead, it is a whole system. As Chinese best quality
schools, exemplary senior high schools are the benchmark of education reform.
Then how are they selected? What impact will this honor have on school education
and teaching? We always say unity is power, then what vitality will be released by
these chain schools? How can innovation be promoted? With these questions, we
invite you to view Chinese schools in a panoramic manner and we unveil their
mystery so you can genuinely understand Chinese schools and education.

1.3 Methodologies

Inspired by Goodlad’s study on American schools, we conducted this research by

literature review, questionnaire survey, in-depth interview, and field observation to
outline the panoramic view of Chinese schools from different perspectives.

1.3.1 Literature Review

Research is inseparable from a literature review. We looked into four types of

documents, including education policies, laws and regulations; relevant documents
and materials from the MOE; unpublished materials from schools; academic works
and literature using the keywords principal, teacher, student, parent, and school

1.3.2 Questionnaire Survey

The advent of the Internet age has gradually changed our life and industry practice.
In this study, given all the disadvantages of paper-based questionnaires, we resorted
to Wechat, the most popular social media in China. Using the official Wechat
account of China Education Daily, we launched an information exchange platform,
14 1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools

where respondents could fill in questionnaires online. Thanks to Wechat’s powerful

functions of data collection, screening and analysis, the research findings became
more comprehensive, authoritative and valuable, and the cost and cycle of obtaining
data was cut dramatically.
China Education Daily is the most authoritative and influential national edu-
cation newspaper in China. As one of the Daily’s information dissemination plat-
forms, the official Wechat account of China Education Daily boasts one million
followers. It should be noted that issuing questionnaires via Wechat may incur
risks. For example, the return rate cannot be predicted; respondents are limited to
Wechat users; it is difficult to obtain data from rural residents. However, these risks
are eased due to the nature of China Education Daily, which allows us to easily
reach targeted readers, including education administrators, principals, teachers,
students, and parents.
Although school education involves such stakeholders as principals, teachers,
parents, students, administrators, and researchers, this study only focused on
principals, teachers, and parents. To ensure the validity of the questionnaires, we
consulted 10 education experts, of which three were foreign experts and seven were
Chinese experts. It is noteworthy that this study did not include any questionnaire
survey for students for two reasons. First, students, especially those who prepare for
high school or college entrance examinations, have little time for online investi-
gation. Second, as students are mostly minors, filling in online questionnaires might
involve research ethics. Given these considerations, students’ opinions were mainly
collected through interview.
Altogether, 440 valid questionnaires were collected from principals, 896 from
teachers and 2,930 from parents. Each questionnaire was designed to reflect almost
every aspect of school education. Questionnaire for Parents

(1) Tool development

The questionnaire included 22 questions for Chinese parents, covering basic
information, expectations for children, choice of schools, shadow education,
home-school cooperation, and involvement in education.
(2) Sample Distribution
Among the 2,930 parents involved in the survey, those with a regular university
education account for the highest percentage (26.86% for fathers [Fig. 1.1] and
26.59% for mothers [Fig. 1.2]); in terms of their occupation, those who are private
business owners account for the highest percentage (24.71% for fathers [Fig. 1.3]
and 19.76% for mothers [Fig. 1.4]).
1.3 Methodologies 15

Fig. 1.1 Distribution by father’s education background

Fig. 1.2 Distribution by mother’s education background

Fig. 1.3 Distribution by father’s occupation

16 1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools

Fig. 1.4 Distribution by mother’s occupation Questionnaire for Teachers

(1) Tool Development

The questionnaire included 37 questions for Chinese teachers, covering areas
such as basic information, education philosophy, teaching experience, professional
development, communication and feedback, research as well as daily work of head
(2) Sample Distribution
Regular teachers accounted for 94.8% of the 896 respondents (Fig. 1.5). The
school age of teachers was evenly distributed (Fig. 1.6). Teachers who taught
Chinese, mathematics or English, the three major courses of the curriculum,
comprised 76.3% of the total (Fig. 1.7). In terms of the education stage, 93.2% of
the respondents taught students at the stage of basic education (Fig. 1.8), which is
consistent with our research design of focusing on basic education.

Fig. 1.5 Distribution by

teacher’s employment nature
1.3 Methodologies 17

Fig. 1.6 Distribution by school age

Fig. 1.7 Distribution by subject

Fig. 1.8 Distribution by

education stage
18 1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools Questionnaire for Principals

(1) Tool development

The questionnaire included 30 questions for Chinese principals, covering a wide
range of issues such as the selection and appointment of principals, education phi-
losophy, school improvement, work time and pressure, school resources, and honor.
(2) Sample distribution
A total of 440 principals responded to the questionnaire. The geographical
representation was extensive, as the respondents were from all parts of China,
including four municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing), five
autonomous regions (Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, and Ningxia) and
22 provinces (Anhui, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guizhou, Hainan, Hebei, Henan,
Heilongjiang, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Qinghai, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Sichuan,
Shandong, Jilin, Liaoning, Yunnan, and Zhejiang). Among them, most of the
principals (65%) are aged between 40 and 50 (Fig. 1.9); principals serving in their
current position for less than 5 years account for the highest percentage, which is
41.1% (see Fig. 1.10); In terms of education background, 81.1% of the principals
are bachelor degree holders (Fig. 1.11). In addition, 42.7% of the principals work in
the city (Fig. 1.12) and 96.1% of the principals are from public schools (Fig. 1.13).

1.3.3 In-Depth Interviews

Given the different roles of various stakeholders in school education, we conducted

half-structured in-depth interviews for the representatives of principals, teachers,
parents and students, one hour each, so as to collect more data for our research.
Based on the research questions, we select 14 principals, 38 teachers, 28 stu-
dents, and 27 parents as interviewees, all of whom worked for basic education. The
details are showed in Table 1.1.

Fig. 1.9 Distribution by

service time
1.3 Methodologies 19

Fig. 1.10 Distribution by education background

Fig. 1.11 Distribution by degree

Fig. 1.12 Distribution by

20 1 Introduction: Unveiling the Mystery of Chinese Schools

Fig. 1.13 Distribution by

nature of school

Table 1.1 Introduction of in-depth interviews

Interviewee Number Total Script word Area
duration/hour count/10,000
Principal 14 10.6 11.38 Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang,
Wenzhou, Hebei, Hunan
Teacher 36 26 6 Beijing, Shanghai, Henan, Inner
Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Shandong
Student 28 4 6.4 Beijing, Shanxi, Jilin
Parent 27 10 2.4 Beijing, Chongqing

1.3.4 On-Site Observation

Based on previous research, we visited many schools and carefully observed their
teaching activities. This method was chosen as most suited for collecting infor-
mation about the physical environment, devices, and facilities of schools, teaching
time, performance of students and teachers.
Although all of the above methods have been applied in this research, they are
not independent from each other. Instead, they are interconnected and comple-
mentary with each other. The only difference lies in the research perspective and the
manner of data collection. Since each method has its own advantages and disad-
vantages, only by making full use of them all can we make our conclusions more
comprehensive and convincing. Therefore, every part of this book is based on data
collected through different methods.


Aedo, C., Hentschel, J., Luque, J., & Moreno, M. (2013). From occupations to embedded skills: A
cross-country comparison. Retrieved July 5, 2016, from
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Part I
Chinese Students

Knowledge does not come from amusement, but from hard work;
Virtue is nurtured not by following, but by independent

“Jin Xuejie”
Han Yu,1 Tang dynasty

Since its reform and opening up, China has achieved remarkable progress in terms
of its school education, as evidenced by the rising scale and quality of Chinese
Over the past nearly four decades, the students’ enrollment rate has been rising at
all stages of basic education.2 Since 1986, when the Law of Compulsory Education
was adopted, China has been working to universalize nine-year compulsory edu-
cation. As a result, a decade later in 2000, China realized universal coverage of
compulsory education as well as literacy education among young and middle-aged
adults. In 2014, China’s compulsory education reached full coverage; the gross
enrollment rate in junior high school exceeded 100%,3 and the net enrollment rate
of primary school-age children was registered at 99.8%.4 Senior high school
enrollment has also been rising gradually since the resumption of the college
entrance examination (gaokao) in 1977. The Outline sets out the goal of “univer-
salizing senior high education with a gross enrollment rate reaching 90% by 2020.”
Driven by this education policy, gross enrollment rate in senior high reached 86.5%
in 2014, and only 3.5% points away from the goal set by the outline. According to
the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2014 China had 94.511 million students
enrolled in primary schools, 43.846 million in junior high, and 24.005 million in
senior high, meaning a total of 162 million students receiving basic education
throughout the country (The National Statistics Bureau of China, 2015, p. 153).

Han Yu is one of the most famous litterateurs, thinkers and politicians in the Tang dynasty.
China’s basic education is clearly defined as including nursery, primary, and secondary (junior
and senior high) education.
Primary school gross enrollment rate = (number of students receiving primary education
(excluding that of adults)/number of primary school-age population) 100%.
Net enrollment rate of primary school-age children = (number of primary school-age students
receiving primary education/number of primary school-age population) 100%.
24 Part I: Chinese Students

As shown in the latest world ranking of population in 2015, among over

200 countries and regions, only six countries5 (besides China) have a population of
over 162 million. This means that China’s population receiving basic education is
larger than the entire population of most countries.
Moreover, China’s education began to go global after the reform and opening up
with active exchanges and cooperation with the international community. In par-
ticular, students from Shanghai ranked No. 1 in PISA in 2009 and 2012, which
triggered lively international discussions and significantly improved the way that
China’s basic education was viewed internationally. In PISA 2009, Shanghai
students scored 556 in reading (the OCED average being 493), 600 in math, and
575 in science, outperforming competitors from other participating countries and
regions. In PISA 2012, Shanghai students continued to win the championship
scoring 613 in math (the OCED average being 494), 570 in reading, and 580 in
science, once again placing China at the top of the table in all three subjects
(Shanghai Students Rank No. 1 again in PISA 2012, December 4, 2013).
In recent years, Chinese education, especially the outstanding performance of
Chinese students in PISA, has attracted extensive attention from the international
community. While certain countries reflect upon the “failure” of their domestic
education, they are increasingly curious about the secrets of success for Chinese
students: Is it attributable to the overall improvement of Chinese education, the
excessive examination-oriented training, or rather the supervision of so-called tiger
mothers? Is it worth learning how to train straight A students as is often a focus in
China? To answer these questions, this part will focus on students, the core of
Chinese schools, and describe their long but colorful day, as well as two educa-
tional experiences that are unique to them, i.e., collective identity and the gaokao.


Shanghai Students Rank No. 1 again in PISA 2012. (2013, December 4). 观察者 [The Spectator].
Retrieving January 25, 2016 from
The National Statistics Bureau of China. (2015). 中国统计摘要2015. [China Statistics Highlights
2015]. 北京, 中国: 中国统计出版社. [Beijing, China: China Statistics Press, 2015].

The six countries refer to India, the US, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, and Nigeria.
Chapter 2
A Long but Colorful Day

The timetable (Table 2.1) shows a typical day for Xiaoyang, a student of Grade 2 in
a junior middle school in Haidian District, Beijing. From the moment he wakes up
until the moment he falls asleep, most of Xiaoyang’s day is spent at school.
Xiaoyang is not alone, this is also the typical day for most Chinese students.
Among these activities, what would best reflect their experience with education?
What are special features? What can we learn from these activities? With these
questions, we can learn more about the typical long but colorful day of Chinese

2.1 Intensive Classroom Learning

With the playing of music, the first class begins. It is a Chinese language class.
Xiaoyang has put his textbook neatly on his desk 5 min earlier. The door opens.
The Chinese teacher quickly goes to the podium. “Class begins. Good morning,
everyone.” The teacher’s brief but powerful voice quickly draws the attention of the
students, who immediately stand up, give a bow and respond in unison, “Good
morning, Sir.” “Sit down, please.” With this ends the greeting. Then the teacher
leaves the podium and asks, “Whose turn is it to give the report for today’s ‘cultural
snack’?” “My turn, Sir.” Xiaoyang raises his right hand high while leaving his seat
and heading for the podium. Facing the whole class, he says, “Today, my theme is
‘love’.” A five-minute speech ensues and ends with loud applause of great
recognition from his classmates. The teacher shares his own thoughts on
Xiaoyang’s speech with the class and then begins the formal lesson. After a simple
introduction, the teacher brings out the theme of “hutong1 culture.” Meanwhile, the
digital screen in front of the class presents the theme, the buildings and architecture

Hutong, a type of narrow streets or alleys, commonly associated with northern Chinese cities,
most prominently Beijing.

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 25
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_2
26 2 A Long but Colorful Day

Table 2.1 A typical day for Xiaoyang

Time Schedule
6:00 Getting up
6:10 Getting washed and having breakfast
6:30 Leaving for school
7:00 Arriving at school
7:00–7:20 Preparation
7:20–8:00 Morning self-study
8:00–8:45 1st class
8:55–9:40 2nd class
9:50–10:10 Setting-up exercise and the flag-raising ceremony
10:10–10:55 3rd class
11:05–11:50 4th class
11:50–11:55 Ocular gymnastics
12:00 Lunch
12:30 Midday break
13:30–14:15 5th class (class meeting)
14:15–14:20 Ocular gymnastics
14:25–15:10 6th class
15:20–16:05 7th class
16:15–17:30 8th class (student society activities)
17:30 Dismissal
18:00 Arriving home
18:30 Dinner
19:00 Break
19:30–21:00 Homework
21:20 Getting washed
21:30 Going to bed

of the hutong in old Beijing. The teacher then introduces Wang Zengqi, the author
and his writing style, which is followed by everyone reading aloud while students
are reminded of tones and tempo. Then the whole article is read by several students
with each student finishing one part. The teacher gives an evaluation of each
student’s performance, and asks those who did not use the appropriate tone to
repeat particular expressions and sentences. Then comes the key part: The teacher
asks the class to work in teams and consider how to divide the article structurally.
Upon hearing the instructions, the students begin to discuss this in teams of four.
During the discussion, the teacher listens to different groups every now and then.
Five minutes later, three groups are chosen to make a report. It is found that two of
the groups share the same opinion, while Xiaoyang’s group has a different idea. In
the face of disagreement, the teacher first speaks highly of Xiaoyang’s group for
coming up with new ideas; then he analyzes the points of disagreement further. In
the end, Xiaoyang and other group members agree to accept the opinion of the other
2.1 Intensive Classroom Learning 27

groups. At this moment, the music plays again, the teacher wraps up the whole class
with a sentence and says, “Class is over.” “Goodbye, Sir.” Comes the response
from the students, ending the Chinese language class.
After entering junior middle school, Xiaoyang has developed a keen interest in
Chinese class, because he thinks the class is active and he likes that the teacher
always gives students chances to express their opinions. This teaching method is
not as rigid as his other classes. In particular, he likes the “cultural snack” part of his
day most, because it helps him to improve his presentation skills and learn inter-
esting things from fellow classmates. However, what Xiaoyang liked most in pri-
mary school was not Chinese, but English, for the same reason: The English teacher
taught in an interesting way and always took good care of the students’ feelings. All
in all, for Xiaoyang, the classes he likes are not those where teachers read from the
textbook and spoon-feed the students, but those where students interact and par-
ticipate actively with witty teachers to gain knowledge while having fun.
Attending classes is the most significant part in a typical day of Chinese stu-
dents. Most of their time is spent in classes on all kinds of subjects. Classroom
learning activities keep them busy and share commonalities, but are also different
between primary, junior, and senior high schools. Sorting out these features will
help us to better understand Chinese schools.

2.1.1 35–45 Minutes for Each Class

In primary schools, each class lasts 35–40 min; in high schools, it ranges from 40 to
45 min. Longer classes reflect that lessons are getting harder.

2.1.2 Regular Class and Self-study Class

Each day usually has six regular classes2 at primary schools and seven at middle
schools, which are followed by one or two self-study classes where students can
finish the homework of the day, or ask the teacher for further clarification.

2.1.3 Regular Teacher–Student Interaction

At the beginning and end of the class, there is always a necessary mutual greeting,
which upholds China’s tradition of honoring the teacher and respecting his or her

A “regular class” refers to a class where the teacher teaches in front of the class while students
follow the teaching in their seats.
28 2 A Long but Colorful Day

teaching. Apart from this, interaction between teacher and students (and between
students) during class has nothing to do with which grade the students are in; it
mainly has to do with the teacher’s way of teaching. This will be further discussed.

2.1.4 Flexible and Diverse Ways of Teaching

Ways of teaching are fairly similar in primary and secondary schools, strongly
related to the nature of the course and the teacher’s style. Some prefer lecturing and
having absolute control over the classroom from the beginning to the end; others
would rather have discussions and give students more opportunities to express their
own opinions. In that sense, Xiaoyang’s opinion is typical of most students: When
comparing the lecturing method, students prefer their teachers to use a more active
method that involves their participation, interaction and discussions.

2.1.5 Evaluation Methods

There are certain differences in student evaluation between primary and secondary
schools. In a primary school, a token program, for example giving students small
painted red flowers and red flags, is commonly used to provide incentives. In
Xiaoyang’s memory, all head teachers in his primary schooling years handed out
awards to students in this way. However, this method does not work once students
hit middle school age, in a middle school, and especially at the senior stage, because
the students are getting more mature. In this case, teachers will often choose to offer
verbal or non-verbal praises and recognition instead.

2.1.6 Reflection

As a result of Chinese students from Shanghai winning the PISA championship

twice in 2009 and 2012 (Shanghai Students Rank No. 1 again in PISA 2012.
(2013, December 4)), the international community has gradually turned their
attention to China’s school education. From the above case and analysis, we can see
that though class activities are busy, teaching itself is not dull. Teachers make use of
advanced multimedia technology to present the teaching content, and bring the role
of students into full play through teamwork and discussions. In addition, to better
incentivize students, teachers will design activities that suit the level of physical and
intellectual development of students. In a word, high scores gained by Chinese
students are not completely a result of harsh disciplines; on the contrary, they reflect
Chinese teachers’ wisdom in teaching and China’s teaching tradition throughout
thousands of years.
2.2 Flag-Raising Ceremony as a Means of Education 29

2.2 Flag-Raising Ceremony as a Means of Education

At 9:50, the bell rings for the setting-up exercises. Accompanied by the “Athlete
March,” students run towards the site of their class from the playground to gather.
At this moment, a PE teacher takes a microphone, steps onto the flag podium,
glances at his watch and says, “Every class please march in order.” Upon hearing
this instruction, all classes begin to stand in neat lines. Then the PE teacher says,
“Today Class 2 from Junior 1 will host the ceremony.” Then, a lanky boy gets to
the front stage, taking over the microphone and says, “I’m Li Xiang from Class 2,
Junior 1. The flag-raising ceremony of Week 3 for the semester begins now. The
flag-raising squad comes from Class 2, Junior 1. Please be ready.” Then, the six
students responsible for the ceremony goose-step towards the podium from one side
of the playground, like soldiers. They gather round the flag pole to get the flag tied
and stand in their respective posts. Li Xiang then announces, “The flag-raising
ceremony officially begins now. Raise the national flag and play the national
anthem.” As the music goes up, all teachers and students sing the national anthem
and salute the flag. After the flag is raised to the top of the pole, the squad returns to
the line of their class. The host says, “Now Gao Lu from Class 2, Junior 1 will make
a speech under the flag.” Then a girl goes towards the flagpole, taking out her
prepared speech and reads, “Good morning, everyone. I’m Gao Lu from Grade 2,
Junior 1. My topic today is ‘Honesty is a virtue’…” Her speech ends with loud
applause from the gathering. Then the PE teacher takes over the microphone and
gives order of dismissal, “Everyone. Attention. Teachers leave first. Students leave
by class.” With this the teachers go back to the teaching building in small groups
and are followed by students. This is how the flag-raising ceremony ends.
This is an episode unique to Chinese schools. In Xiaoyang’s school, during the
setting-up exercises every Monday, the flag-raising ceremony is hosted. Xiaoyang
is really familiar with the routine: Since primary school, it has been a habit and it
always takes place at a fixed time on Mondays. Xiaoyang knows every step of this
activity, because he has watched it so many times and he was once in the
flag-raising squad. For him, it is not just a ceremony; it instills a strong sense of
patriotism in him. Every time he watches the five-star red flag rising to the sky, he
feels his patriotic feelings stir up and linger. The flag-raising ceremony, while
sharing similarities with other ceremonies, also has its own features.

2.2.1 Fixed Time and Site

Hosted in both primary and middle schools, the solemn ceremony usually takes
place on school playgrounds on Monday mornings or during setting-up exercises. It
will also be held on important school festivals or anniversaries.
30 2 A Long but Colorful Day

2.2.2 Students in Uniform

A rigorous dress code is followed for the ceremony. In primary school, students
must wear the school uniform and a red scarf. In secondary school, the red scarf is
no longer required, but the school uniform is still compulsory. These requirements
reflect the importance of the ceremony.

2.2.3 Fixed Procedures

The ceremony has to go through a set of fixed steps: escorting the flag, raising the
flag, singing the national anthem, and giving a speech underneath the flag.
Sometimes, when the flag is raised on other days, for example on the occasion of
festivals and anniversaries, the ceremony does not follow the same steps. Therefore,
these occasions are not the same as the flag-raising ceremony.
As spelled out in The Notice on Regulating Flag-Raising and Lowering in
Primary and Secondary Schools in Accordance with the National Flag Law, which
was issued by the National Education Committee, “When the national flag is raised
or lowered without holding the ceremony, faculties and students passing the site
should face the national flag and stand in salutation until the raising or lowering

2.2.4 Class and Personnel Selection

There are rules in choosing those in charge of the flag-raising, including the class,
the raising squad, and the speaker underneath the flag. Generally, classes will carry
out these tasks in turns. In primary schools, students in lower grades are too young
to take on the task, so classes above Grade 4 take charge. After the class is
identified, the head teacher will often choose school or class cadres to form the
flag-raising squad. As for the speaker under the flag, the head teacher will choose a
top-performing student. The theme of the speech also varies, as long as the theme
carries a positive message.

2.2.5 Reflection

The flag-raising ceremony is a most distinctive educational activity in China with

special values. Undeniably, there are pros and cons to this ceremony. As some point
out, “The ceremony is always the same, and inherently disinterests the students”
(Chen 2014, p. 115). Some also say, “Flag guards, flag raisers and the speaker
2.2 Flag-Raising Ceremony as a Means of Education 31

under the flag are mostly class cadres. Other students find it difficult to get
involved” (Zhang et al. 2008, p. 22). Indeed, these problems are real. But for the
activity per se, there are more pros than cons. Just as Xiaoyang says, “It is not just a
ceremony; it instills a strong sense of patriotism in me.” The flag-raising ceremony
is education-oriented. In its solemn atmosphere, the students feel an increased sense
of national pride. In addition, it also brings the school together as a community,
which nurtures a sense of belonging. To be chosen as a member in the flag-raising
squad or the speaker under the flag is honorary, this also provides incentives for
students. Thus, for Chinese schools, the ceremony plays a significant role in

2.3 Multi-functional Class Meeting Activities

At 13:30 sharp, upon the ringing of the bell, the weekly class meeting starts for
Xiaoyang and his classmates. According to the notice given by the head teacher last
week, the major task of this meeting is to select “Triple A” students for this
semester. Potential contestants are ready for the competition. The head teacher goes
to the front and says, “Our meeting today is to select ‘Triple A’ students for the
semester. The procedures are known to all. First, a three-minute speech; then, a
secret ballot. We have five slots for the title and they will go to candidates with the
most votes. Any questions? OK. Candidates who are ready please take turns to go
to the stage and make your speech.” Just as the teacher finishes the last word,
Xiaoyang quickly moves to the stage and speaks enthusiastically, “Good afternoon,
everyone. First, as the study commissary, I’ve always been among the top in
academic performance. I’m also active in assisting the teacher.… That’s my speech.
I hope that you’ll vote for me. Thank you!” About a dozen other students follow
Xiaoyang to speak for themselves. In the end, the teacher asks the class to fill out
their ballots, which are collected by group leaders. Two students who are not
contestants are asked to count the votes on the stage, with one calling out the names
of those who win the votes, “Xiaoyang, Zhang Lei, Wang Xin…” and the other
writing down the number of votes for each candidate. The result shows that
Xiaoyang and four other classmates are the winners of the title. At this point, the
teacher gives a brief summary and says, “The rest of the classmates are expected to
learn from them and become ‘Triple A’ students with all-rounded development in
morality, intelligence and physique.” Then the bell rings and the class meeting
comes to an end.
In Xiaoyang’s junior middle school, the first class of every Monday afternoon is
a class meeting where all classes are required to arrange activities. Some themes are
given by the school; others are decided by every single class. In the eyes of
Xiaoyang, these meetings mainly fall into three categories: theme education,
summary of class performance by the head teacher, and selection for excellence and
awards. Looking back on his class meetings in the primary school, Xiaoyang said,
“They are mostly about ideological and moral education.” Xiaoyang’s cousin also
32 2 A Long but Colorful Day

attends class meeting every week, but by comparison, her head teacher usually
gives a summary and gives out expectations during the meeting and even takes it as
a self-study course, leaving the students to complete their homework or ask
questions if they need any clarification. It is evident that this class meeting
encompasses various functions in Chinese schools.
The class meeting was initiated in 1998, after the release of The Rule on Moral
Education Work in Primary and Secondary School by the National Education
Committee. It is provided that “education authorities at all levels and primary and
secondary schools should ensure the time for school meetings, class meeting, youth
league meetings and social practice” (Xie 2013, p. 16). In most cases, a class
meeting carries a particular theme for moral education (Chen 2013). Its features
include the following.

2.3.1 Fixed Time

Generally speaking, class meeting activities take place at a relatively fixed time,
such as the first class on Monday afternoons or the fourth class on Friday mornings.
In addition, on special days such as Tree-Planting Day and Earth Day, all classes
are required to hold related meetings, so as to deepen the students’ understanding of
particular themes.

2.3.2 Head Teacher as the Designer and Leader

Usually, without being a special requirement from the school, the head teacher is
responsible for the class meetings and decides on its content and format. That is
generally the case, but sometimes the head teacher will entrust the monitor or other
class cadres to hold the meeting. This is especially common in middle schools.

2.3.3 Rich Content

Some meetings are clearly themed while others are less so. Some center around
activities while others focus on talks by the head teacher. Some are related to big
events in the country, and others are on topics close to students. In a word, class
meetings in Chinese schools are diverse and take on many forms. Generally
speaking, the content includes specific theme activities (for example gratitude,
honesty, and friendship), a summary of class affairs or a selection for excellence and
awards. It has also been observed that a few schools turn class meetings into
self-study time.
2.3 Multi-functional Class Meeting Activities 33

2.3.4 Reflection

As an important form of moral education in Chinese schools, class meetings

facilitate students’ mental health and moral growth. In addition, they contribute to
the development of class culture and solidarity. But some typical problems are as
follows. Firstly, regular class affairs meetings are often confused with class meet-
ings. The former is to sum up all aspects of class performance in the week by the
head teacher. However, most head teachers would expand the function of class
meetings to include regular summations and beyond; secondly, the teacher takes
charge without much participation from the students. Everyone is supposed to get
involved, but the teacher often makes decisions on the content and format, leaving
students with a supplementary role. Thirdly, the role of class meetings in moral
education is not brought into full play. To deliver the target effect, activities in class
meetings should be designed in a systematic way based on the age and features of
students, as well as what happens around them but currently, many meetings are
loosely organized without a clear theme, making it impossible for students to gain
genuine value out of them and achieve the goal of a moral education.

2.4 Competition for Titles and Honors

The above example of the class meeting also provides a glimpse into the compe-
tition for titles and honors among Chinese students. Such competition is mostly
conducted through speeches and voting. From the perspectives of the students, this
is relatively fair as it provides a level playing ground for all. Besides, Xiaoyang’s
class offers quite a number of honorary titles each semester, such as “Labor-Loving
Student,” “Model of Good Manners,” and “Star of the Class.” Through competi-
tions, students are encouraged and incentivized to work harder and improve
Such competitive selections have a long tradition in China. In modern school
education, the selection is measured against a set of norms as defined by the school
(Lu 2009, p. 5). Such competitive activities facilitate positive guidance for students
and demonstrate the following three features.

2.4.1 Diversified Types of Honors and Awards

Firstly, in terms of level, selections for honors and awards take place on class,
school, city, province, and nationwide levels. The higher the level, the greater also
the social value and higher the honor received by the student. Secondly, there are
group awards and individual awards. Thirdly, some honors and awards are formal,
while others may just be given in verbal recognition or as praises. Fourthly, there
34 2 A Long but Colorful Day

are awards recognizing overall performance (i.e., “Triple A Student,” “Outstanding

Student,” and “Top 10 Middle School Student”) and awards honoring students with
extraordinary performance in one aspect (i.e., “Model of Study,” “Star of Sports,”
and “Star of the Arts”).

2.4.2 Diversified Standards of Evaluation

Different selection projects have different standards and makers of standards are
also different. For school-level awards, the standard is determined by the school,
while for class level ones, the head teacher decides on what rules to follow.
Standards are high for comprehensive selection projects such as “Triple A Student”
and “Outstanding Student” while standards are usually one-dimensional for awards
like “Star of Labor” and “Star of Sports.” In making standards, schools and teachers
usually evaluate candidates’ presentations and academic performance.

2.4.3 Standardized Procedures

In school-level selection, the Student Affairs Office of the school will first inform
head teachers of the standards and slots for awards, and then selection starts within
the class. The steps that follow are basically the same as class-level selection
projects: First, the head teacher announces the standards to the students, and those
who are eligible and willing to compete for the award will make preparations;
second, open selection is conducted at a time chosen by the head teacher, and
students will make speeches in order; third, secret ballots are cast in the class, which
is followed by open counting and identification of potential award winners. The
result will be handed to the Student Affairs Office, which will publicize the list of
award winners after checking the candidates’ academic records.

2.4.4 Reflection

Offering competitive honors and awards is common in China’s primary and middle
schools. Through these activities, students get the opportunity to find role models
around them, which will provide incentives and contribute to their growth. In
addition, award winners will be inspired to achieve even higher targets. However,
there are negative influences too. Academic performance is overemphasized in
selections, leading to students being labeled as either good or bad. In some cases,
this may even lead to under-the-table deals that destroy equal education. Despite
these disadvantages, offering competitive honors and awards still exist for a reason.
So long as the down side is well controlled, honors and awards are still useful.
2.5 Frequent Exams 35

2.5 Frequent Exams

As the bell rings, students quickly return to their seats and get ready to learn. At this
moment, the door opens. The math teacher, holding a pile of paper walks to the
front of the class and says, “Today we will have a test for the unit. Please clear
away your desk, and leave only a pen and scrap paper.” As the students put away
their books, some murmur, “Test, test, and test.” Despite this, the teacher gets off
the podium right away and hands the exact number of test paper copies to the
students sitting in the first row of each group. “Pass them down.” With this
instruction, the students quickly pass down the test papers, and begin to pen down
answers. “The test will take 40 min. Test papers will be collected at the end of the
class,” the teacher reminds them. Xiaoyang takes a look at the clock and glances the
paper over and starts to write down answers carefully. The whole class goes silent
in a minute, and the drop of a needle could be heard. As time passes, Xiaoyang
writes down answers that he knows most certainly. Then he begins to deal with the
more difficult questions. He scratches his head and quickly scribbles. Xiaoyang
finally finishes answering all questions with less than 3 min left to go. He looks at
the clock again and gives a brief glance over the paper, and makes recalculations for
the questions he is not very confident about. The bell rings, “Hand in the test paper.
Hurry up. No more writing.” says the math teacher. Some students are still writing
quickly, but with the repeated calls to hurry-up they have to give up. When all the
test papers are collected, the teacher says, “We will explain the paper tomorrow.
Today, don’t forget to finish your homework.” With this he leaves the classroom.
Xiaoyang could not be more familiar with the word “test” because test has long
been part of his school life, in both primary and secondary school. Since his first
day at school, he has sat through numerous dictations, weekly and monthly quizzes
for each course, as well as mid-term and end-of-term tests year after year. Deep
down Xiaoyang is resistant to tests, but he also knows well that tests exist for a
reason, at least he is pressed to study hard. Xiaoyang’s cousin is 3 years older than
him and is even more occupied by tests as she is in senior middle school. Such
intensity has left her no time to contemplate meaning of tests. Her only hope is that
her performance can steadily improve after each test so that she can successfully
pass the highly competitive gaokao and have a successful start to her university
studies and career.
Tests have long been one of the most disputed topics in the development and
reform of China’s school education. Discussions seem to be never ending in the
education community and beyond. On the one hand, the outstanding performance
of Chinese students in international tests has attracted our attention to the value of
testing in the Chinese system, but on the other hand, problems inherent in Chinese
tests trigger much criticism. So what are the features of Chinese tests?
36 2 A Long but Colorful Day

2.5.1 Types of Tests

There are various types of tests, including pop quizzes (morning tests3 and noon
tests4), unit tests, monthly tests, mid-term tests, end-of-term tests, graduation
exams, and entrance exams for junior/senior middle school and college. Among
them, pop quizzes, unit tests, monthly tests, and mid-term tests are formative tests
that aim to find out the progress of studies. End-of-term and graduation tests are
summative tests, which are used to examine how students get on with their study
throughout the semester or throughout the whole study period, so as to evaluate the
effectiveness of teaching. By comparison, the third type of tests exerts the greatest
influence on Chinese students, which include entrance exams for junior middle
school,5 senior middle school and college. Such tests are essentially selective: The
purpose is to select the most qualified among all peers for a certain level of edu-
cation (Liao 1988). It needs to be pointed out that the various types of exams are
more frequently seen in middle schools than in primary schools.

2.5.2 Frequency of Tests

Different types of tests are held with different frequency. Pop quizzes are small
quizzes conducted frequently in class after the teacher finishes their teaching. They
can happen at any time. Unit tests are held every week or every other week after the
lecture of a unit finishes. Monthly tests are held at the end of each month, totaling
two to three each semester. Mid-term and end-of-term tests are held once respec-
tively at the middle and end of the semester. Unified graduation tests for junior and
senior middle schools are held once respectively after students finish 3 years of
study. Finally, entrance exams are held once to screen candidates for middle school
and college education.

2.5.3 Forms of Tests

Most tests in Chinese schools are closed book written tests. Some subjects (e.g.,
political science and history) are open-book; some subjects (e.g., physics, chem-
istry, and biology) require both written tests and tests that require experiments to be
conducted. Sport tests mainly focus on students’ fitness, and are gaining increas-
ingly more attention in China’s school education, occasionally even influencing the

Morning tests are carried out during morning study.
Noon tests are carried out during noon self-study in some senior high schools.
Entrance exams for junior middle school have been scrapped in some Chinese cities.
2.5 Frequent Exams 37

recruitment of middle school students. Subjects like music and arts are basically

2.5.4 Publication and Ranking of Scores

Generally speaking, primary schools publishes scores and no ranking. In junior

middle school, scores are open to all. Some schools choose to publish rankings
while others do not. In senior middle school, as there is mounting pressure from
college entrance exams, both scores and rankings are published. In terms of
rankings, only those for major tests such as mid-term, end-of-term and mock exams
are open at both class and school levels, sometimes even at district and city levels.

2.5.5 Reflection

Tests can be a double-edge sword. Its deep root in Chinese history proves its value
to some extent. As pointed out by Zhenglun (1982) in On Teaching: “For students,
tests encourage and urge study; for teachers, they provide information on teaching
effects and help accumulate experience; for schools, they help to reveal problems
and improve leadership; for the country, they are a tool for talent selection”
(pp. 347–348). Thus, tests in Chinese schools have a positive side, but problems are
also evident. They are at times ridden with strange, tricky, and unreasonably dif-
ficult questions that are not closely related to reality, the form of some exams are
stereotyped and old-fashioned, they are carried out too often, and they lay too much
emphasis on selection and too little on result analysis. These problems directly
undermine the positive side of tests and the overall development of school edu-
cation. Thus, in future reform, the problems listed above must be addressed so as to
bring the potential of tests into full play.

2.6 Rich Activities of Student Societies

Today is the day for student society activities. After the third afternoon class,
Xiaoyang and his fellow classmates start to pack up their schoolbag and get ready
to head for the activity rooms. At the beginning of the semester, Xiaoyang signed
himself up for the wood carving society without hesitation because he likes carving.
As usual, with his bag on the back Xiaoyang rushes to the art classroom on the
second floor of the teaching building. He pushes the door open and says hello to the
senior students already in the classroom, and takes a seat. At this moment, the
teacher comes in and after a greeting, says, “Last week many of you did not finish
your work. We will continue this week. Please raise your hand if you have any
38 2 A Long but Colorful Day

questions.” Before the teacher finishes speaking, Xiaoyang takes out his half-carved
stone and starts to carve in all seriousness. The teacher passes by Xiaoyang, takes a
close look at his work and gives comment on the details. Xiaoyang nods his head
several times as a sign of agreement. Time flashes by and by the time the bell rings,
Xiaoyang has basically finished his stamp carving. He holds his work in his hands,
and appreciates it again and again, beaming with a sense of achievement. As the
teacher calls for class to be over, Xiaoyang packs away the tools, puts his backpack
on again, and goes back home.
Having fun in the student society class is Xiaoyang’s favorite activity. Every
week he looks forward to activity days. In primary school, there were not many
societies available, so he had to make do with a basketball society. After he entered
junior middle school, he found a rich variety of societies ranging from arts to sports
and leisure available, including his favorite: carving. Though not many students
register for this society, the teacher is very conscientious. Through weekly activi-
ties, Xiaoyang gains a lot of knowledge and skills related to carving. In senior
middle school, where Xiaoyang’s cousin studies, there are also a wide range of
societies available to students. She chose the movie society in her first year for
some relaxation. Now she has developed a strong interest in astronomy, and is a
member of the astronomy society.
In Chinese schools, a student society refers to a community organization created
for knowledge, practice, resource-sharing, skill improvement and self-growth by
the teacher and students who voluntarily join in through registration based on their
interests, hobbies, and characters (Liang 2008). Unlike societies in colleges, soci-
eties in primary and secondary schools are set up with the support of teachers and
school resources, as students are not yet grown-ups and not yet independent. In
general, student societies in Chinese schools have the following features.

2.6.1 Fixed Activity Time

Society activities are hosted at a fixed time once a week, usually in the last class on
a certain afternoon from Monday to Friday.

2.6.2 Joint Participation

Student societies are participated in not only by students, but also by teachers. As
mentioned above, this is mainly attributable to the fact that students are not yet
grown-ups. Societies are mainly built by schools, managed by teachers and at times
supported by parents. It should be pointed out that the teachers in the society do not
all come from within the school but that some of them are professionals recruited
from outside the school so as to provide the best guidance to students in specific
2.6 Rich Activities of Student Societies 39

2.6.3 Rich Varieties

On the whole, there are fewer student societies in primary than middle schools.
Specifically, there are four major types of societies: (1) culture and arts to develop
students’ potential in writing and art appreciation, such as reading and writing,
calligraphy and painting, chorus, dancing, orchestral music, recitation, English
dubbing, carving and drama; (2) science and technology, such as Mathematical
Olympiad, astronomy, geography, model airplane, and computer graphics;
(3) sports and leisure activities such as track and field sports, football, ping pong,
basketball, gymnastics, martial arts, movie and television evaluation, cooking, clay
sculpture, and the art of the tea ceremony; and (4) public interest, of which are few
that mainly focus on environmental protection.

2.6.4 Varied Activities

For art and sports societies, the activities are mostly rehearsal, training and at times
competition on behalf of the school as organized and overseen by the school. For
other societies, students’ interests mainly motivate activities. Environmental pro-
tection initiatives, for example, and curriculum-related projects are organized with
the help of the teacher.

2.6.5 Reflection

In Chinese schools, the student society is an effective tool for improving student’s
education quality and competence. The student society has become a pioneer in the
building of school culture and has played an irreplaceable role in improving stu-
dents’ knowledge framework, strengthening practical skills, enhancing overall
competence and even moral standards. As students can join societies based on their
own interest, they are often more enthusiastic about society activities than course
learning, which translates into better results. Apart from that, students take their
own initiative in society activities, and participate more in the organization, plan-
ning and coordination, thus improving their leadership and team-working skills.
More importantly, as a support to regular teaching, societies can help reduce the
tension of learning to some extent, because they bring knowledge and fun to an
otherwise more rigid environment. However, societies in Chinese schools are still
in their early stages and have many problems, including the lack of effective
evaluation, incentives, innovation and convincing results. There is still a long way
to go for the development of student societies in China.
40 2 A Long but Colorful Day

2.7 Homework

After dinner, Xiaoyang chats with his parents on the sofa. He tells them excitedly
that he got an award as a “Triple A Student” of the semester, which pleases his
parents. His father even promises to reward him by realizing one of his wishes. At
this time, his mother takes a look at the clock on the wall. It is already 19:30. She
reminds him: “Go and finish your homework. Start early and sleep early.” Though a
bit reluctant, Xiaoyang answers “Alright” and goes to his room. He sinks into his
chair and ponders for a moment. A few minutes later he drags his schoolbag over
and takes out the notebook. He ticks off math homework, as a sign that it is finished.
What is left undone is reciting a text, and an English test paper. He quickly takes
out the paper and begins to work on it. Forty minutes later, he gets it done and puts
it back into the folder. At this moment, his mother comes in and brings him a cup of
hot milk. Xiaoyang drinks it and starts to recite: the last item of today’s homework.
Half an hour later, he calls his mother in, who listens to him reciting while checking
it against the book to ensure that there are no mistakes. Xiaoyang recites three times
to make sure that he remembers everything. Then he packs up his Chinese textbook
feeling confident. It is 21:15 when he finally finishes his homework.
For Xiaoyang, a major difference between primary and middle schools is more
homework which takes longer to finish. Now, he spends almost 1.5–2 h doing
homework every day. Thankfully there are times when he has already finished some
homework during his self-study class, thus having a lighter load after returning
home. Personally, Xiaoyang likes practice-oriented homework, especially the work
that can be done with other classmates, but such assignments are few and far
between. By comparison, he hates most recitation and copying exercises because
they are comparatively boring. Though he finds it tiring to do homework, Xiaoyang
does not resist it, “Firstly, it does help me consolidate what I’ve learned but if the
teacher gives us more interesting and creative homework, I’d be more than willing
to finish it.” Xiaoyang’s cousin is even more occupied by homework. It takes her 2–
3 h to finish her homework after returning home every day, apart from the time she
has spent in self-study. For her, homework is a large part of her life. It is tiring, but
she will not quit to realize her dreams.
Homework is a crucial part in teaching and learning. Cognitive psychologist
Gagne emphasizes the role of homework in learning. In his theory, that outlines
nine instructional events and corresponding cognitive processes, one event is
stimulating recall of prior learning: homework (Zhang 2011). Hence, homework
plays a big role in school education. For Chinese students, it is nothing more than
an ordinary learning activity. Under the influence of traditional education, home-
work in Chinese schools is identified to have the following features.
2.7 Homework 41

2.7.1 Higher Grades, More Homework Hours

Generally speaking, primary school students spend about 0.5–1 h per day on
homework. For junior middle school students, it is about 1.5–2 h per day and for
senior middle school students, it is about 2–3 h per day. As every school arranges
self-study time for students on a daily basis, students can finish part of their work at
school so that they have a reduced load at home.

2.7.2 Various Sources of Homework

Teachers are undoubtedly the major assigners of homework in Chinese schools.

The homework they assign takes up the largest share. Amongst all subjects,
Chinese, mathematics and English are the main courses with the most homework
assignments. Meanwhile, influenced by the tradition of holding high hopes for
children, some parents assign them extra tasks. Children may also have to finish
other work as part of extracurricular learning. Besides, some students with excellent
academic performance will give themselves a heavier load every day by assigning
homework to themselves.

2.7.3 Structure of Homework

Currently, there are four types of homework: written homework, oral homework,
crafts or fieldwork, and others (Luan 2007). Amongst them, written homework
includes copying, article writing, exercises and beyond; oral homework includes
recitation and reading; crafts or fieldwork refers to creating something by hand,
investigating, or conducting surveys; others refers to previews or reviews (tasks
other than writing or memorizing). Written homework takes up the absolute
majority of the homework. In primary school and junior middle school, Chinese
and English homework usually comprises of copying and recitation while mathe-
matics homework is mainly exercise. Other subjects are rarely accompanied by
homework. In senior middle school, basically all subjects tested in the college
entrance exam are supported by homework in the forms of exercises and test

2.7.4 More Objective Checks Than Subjective Comments

When it comes to homework evaluation, the typical process involves handing in

homework, a teacher’s check, handing homework out again, reading the ticks and
42 2 A Long but Colorful Day

crosses and finally correcting errors. As most Chinese classes tend to be relatively
large, teachers mostly choose to only review important homework to ensure
teaching effectiveness and timely feedback. In checking homework, the teacher
usually uses marks such as checks. Only in checking subjective homework such as
compositions and diaries will the teacher write comments.

2.7.5 Reflection

Homework plays an important and valuable role in China’s school education.

Firstly, homework helps students strengthen, deepen and utilize the knowledge
taught in class and facilitates the realization of teaching goals. Secondly, it con-
tributes to enhancing the students’ learning competence. The process of doing
homework is comprehensive training. However, it is undeniable that there are
problems in homework assignment and evaluation, including long homework
hours, boring content, lack of flexibility, too many writing assignments,
tick-or-cross evaluation and lack of tailored comments. In the future, Chinese
schools must further improve the quality of homework, lessen the workload and
break away from the traditional framework so that the homework system can be
more humane and diversified, as well as focus on self-learning.
The above describes a typical day for Chinese students like Xiaoyang. Activities
such as attending classes, joining in the flag-raising ceremony, joining class
meetings, sitting for tests, getting involved in student societies and doing homework
are repeated day after day. To sum up, students spend every day with a busy
learning schedule and activities. Undeniably, these activities still have many
problems, but the positive influences far outweigh the negatives. On the road ahead,
Chinese schools will be committed to building on the fine tradition of the past and
trying to avoid and address some of the problems so as to build the best possible
learning environment and a more colorful life for students.


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Chapter 3
Chinese Students’ Collective Identity

Thousands of years ago, to guard against natural disasters and tribal attacks, the
forefathers of human beings lived together in groups, creating a harmonious balance
between individuals and the group. Later, in China’s feudal society, individuals
were bonded with their clan by blood. Under such a system, family was the core of
the society, and the society was an extended family. In this context, collective
interests took on a paramount importance.
Since its appearance in primitive society, collectivism has evolved throughout
feudalism and has a history of over 2,000 years in China. Though with some
elements of outdated thinking and superstition, the essence of collectivism has
become the mainstay of the Chinese value system, and has been internalized as a
conscious code of conduct. In modern times, Chinese people value the power of
groups, pursue intimate interpersonal relationships and uphold mutual care and
interdependence. “School is society,” that is the value instilled and developed in
In Chinese schools, about 40 students of roughly the same age are put together
into a class, which is managed by a head teacher. In this class, all students learn
together and participate in extra-curriculum activities together. This is conducive to
school management and the seeking of common interest by class members through
interaction. Hence, students develop a collective identity and loyalty to the school
and as a result the country.
Psychology-based social identity theory holds that “individuals realize his/her
affiliation to a particular social group, and the emotional and value significance
brought to him/her as a group member.” That is a social identity (Tajfel 1978,
p. 31). Based on this concept, the development of the collective identity discussed
in this article refers to the development of the students’ realization of their affiliation
to a particular class, the school and the country, as well as the significance of the
emotional value of being a member. Thus, when discussing the process of devel-
oping a collective identity, this article relies on what is raised in Social Psychology
of Intergroup Relations by Tajfel (1982), the founder of social identity theory, the

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 45
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_3
46 3 Chinese Students’ Collective Identity

development of social identity goes through three psychological processes: social

categorization, social comparison, and positive distinctiveness.

3.1 Social Grouping: Building Social Identity

Social grouping is the process of categorizing events and people, a process of

building a collective identity where individuals include themselves into a certain
group, attaching the features of the group to themselves while trying to cut a line
between their group and other groups, so as to finalize self-categorization. After
entering a school, students are categorized into a particular class, or in fact, a certain
group at a certain level. The system put in place and the development of certain
behaviors at school and class are important means of defining the boundaries of a

3.1.1 “Creating a Collective Totem”: Setting Preliminary


Xiaojia’s1 collective identity began to be constructed the moment she became a

student at her school. To make her and her classmates realize their identity as
students at the school, her school conducted a systemic project of cultural
Our school motto is “Broad-mindedness, Self-discipline, Integrity and Innovation.” It
demands us to develop in an all-round manner, in both morality and academic performance.
Our school badge is designed to associate with a middle school as well as the Chinese
nation. The badge is four-colored: red symbolizes moral education and China; blue, which
lies at the bottom, refers to education and its importance as the foundation of the school; the
orange in the middle, which is the color of cross-country equipment, represents colorful
school life as orienteering, which is our strength. The green color at the top indicates the
paramount importance of health. (personal communication, November 30, 2015)

For Chinese schools, the school motto and badge not only serve as a source of
inspirations and guidance for all staff and students, but also reflect the school’s
history, culture, philosophy, and features. “In a sense, the school motto is an
inseparable part of school branding and markedly differentiates schools”
(Commentator 2011, April 27). To internalize the school motto and badge into the
values and codes of conduct for staff and students, Xiaojia’s school “posts the
school motto on the wall left of the school gate in shiny golden characters and also
on the teaching building, and prints the school badge on school uniform.” This “left
an impression on her, and she eventually remembers the motto and badge.”

A 15-year-old girl in Junior 2 in Beijing, China.
3.1 Social Grouping: Building Social Identity 47

Apart from the school motto and badge, every Chinese school has its own school
song, which directly contributes to the formation of the school’s image, brand, and
character. Xiaojia said, “Upon our enrollment into the school, we will be taught the
school song in the first few music classes.” When the school hosts big events or
holds the flag-raising ceremony every Monday, singing the school songs in chorus
is part of the routine.
In addition, the school uniform is another way to reflect school culture in China.
Generally speaking, Chinese students are required to wear uniforms at school for
three purposes (Chen 2009): (1) reminding students of their obligations to study;
(2) strengthening student management, as school managers and teachers can easily
tell whether one is a student from the school or not by looking at the uniform; and
(3) most importantly, strengthening the collective identity. Wearing the school
uniform is particularly required for major events, as it helps to cultivate a sense of
belonging and improve the organization of activities.
Our school uniform is simple with the badge on the front and the English initials of the
school name on the back. We have to wear the uniform every day. I think it looks nice and
neat. It gives me a sense of ownership. (personal communication, November 30, 2015)

All in all, the school motto, badge, and uniform and the likes represent the image
of the school, stand as the textual or image icons that distinguish one school from
another, and serve as a powerful tool for developing the students’ school identity.
But as mentioned above, the student is part of both the school and the class.
Therefore, what needs to be clearly defined is not merely a school identity, but also
a class identity. To this end, classes are encouraged to develop their distinctive
cultures, as represented by the motto, badge, song and uniform of each class.
According to Xiaojia,
The motto of our class is “ambitious and hardworking.” This is like a symbol for our class
and inspires me every day. Our class uniform is orange, which is pretty like the color of
sunlight and carries our class badge on it. I think it fits the image of our class. Many other
classes have black uniforms. We don’t like the color. Our orange color closely resembles
orange peel. When we put our uniforms on, skinny students look like carrots and chubby
students look like cucumbers. If we were to stand next to our neighboring class, we would
look like carrots and they would look more like white radishes. It is funny. (personal
communication, November 30, 2015)

Such a class culture can unconsciously transform students’ behavior and boost
self-discipline. As Xiaojia put it, “It allows us to have different features, because
every class is different. We don’t like to stereotype.”
It needs to be pointed out that for a class the head teacher is the organizer and
manager of class affairs. Usually, in the initial stage, the head teacher will get to
know the class and plan for its development. Different from the top-down school
culture development, class culture is built by the joint discussion and participation
of all class members. That is also the case for Xiaojia,
48 3 Chinese Students’ Collective Identity

At the beginning, we were put into different groups. We worked in our group to design our
class badge and made a presentation in front of the whole class. Then all students cast
votes. The design that won the most votes was selected as our badge. (personal commu-
nication, November 30, 2015)

Having the class culture shape this way means it has a strong foundation and
wins common recognition from all members. In addition, this process is
student-oriented. While providing an opportunity for a more participatory experi-
ence, it motivates the students to take ownership in the class and promote solidarity
(Cheng 2015).
In terms of the formation of social identity, people will first identify the com-
monalities and differences of their group and other groups. Thus, a distinguishing
culture is essential for a class or a school. As Xiaojia said, “A shared culture is like
our totem. We have a common belief and therefore feel that we belong to the same
group. Such a feeling makes our school and class complete.”

3.1.2 “Collective Life” with Clarified Boundaries

While school and class culture serve as an invisible “totem” of the group,
well-regulated school and class behaviors enable students to experience collective
life in a dynamic manner. More specifically, within Chinese schools the flag-raising
ceremony and class meetings help students to shape a clear collective identity.
On August 24, 1990, the State Education Committee issued the Notice on
Implementing the Flag Raising and Lowering System at Primary and Middle
Schools in Accordance with “the National Flag Law of the People’s Republic of
China.” According to the National Flag Law, apart from summer and winter
vacations and weekends, “the national flag shall be raised at full-time schools every
day” and “full-time primary and middle schools shall hold the flag-raising cere-
mony once a week except on vacations.” (Song 2004, p. 9). In order to build a
stricter system of flag-raising and lowering in primary and middle schools
(including secondary vocational and technical schools), detailed provisions are
given on how to raise and lower the national flag, including the time, participants
and procedures of the ceremony (Song 2004). Hence, every Monday morning, a
similar scene can be observed at all Chinese schools: At 7:50, all faculty members
and students gather on the playground of the school and stand solemnly while
facing the national fag. Two students, as the flag guards, escort the national flag
with both hands and pass the flag to the flag-raiser. As the national anthem plays,
the national flag slowly rises on the flagpole. Later, a school leader, teacher or
student will make a 5-min speech under the flag about a certain topic.
When the flag-raising ceremony is held, every student will stand still to pay
tribute to the national flag and the country. In spite of personal differences, the
solemnity of the ceremony will undoubtedly instill a sense of pride for every
Chinese national. As Xiaojia said,
3.1 Social Grouping: Building Social Identity 49

I listen to the national anthem, face the national flag, watch it rising high but slowly, and I
feel very excited and proud. I feel lucky that I can stand here to watch the ceremony. Other
countries might be at war, but China is peaceful. It triggers my patriotism as a Chinese
citizen. (personal communication, November 30, 2015)

As pointed out by Durkheim (1995), the flag-raising ceremony enables, “indi-

viduals are assembled and that feelings in common are expressed through actions in
common,” “Men who feel united—in part by ties of blood but even more by
common interests and traditions—assemble and become conscious of their moral
unity” (pp. 390–391).
As a school-based collective activity, the flag-raising ceremony brings students
together. Xiaojia said, “The whole school does the same thing at the same place.
Over 1,000 students watch the rising flag, sing the national anthem, and are
reminded of our country. I think it is powerful.”
It is an essential task for Chinese schools to cultivate students’ identity with the
national flag and the country as they will be future citizens. In fact, the flag-raising
ceremony has won recognition from Chinese students like Xiaojia, who said, “It is a
form of patriotic and collective education activity. It reminds me at all times that
I’m a Chinese citizen. It is my way to pay tribute to my great country.”
If the flag-raising ceremony is the major way to infiltrate national identity to
students as members of the Chinese nation, and to develop their patriotism, then
class meetings are used to help students build their collective identity associated
with the class. In 1998 the State Education Committee (1988) issued a regulation
which provides, “Education authorities, and primary and middle schools at all
levels must ensure there is time for school meetings, class meetings, youth league
meetings and social practice.” Class meetings serve two functions. Firstly, the head
teacher gives talks on moral issues and holds discussions, such as giving further
explanation on school rules. Secondly, under the guidance of the head teacher, the
students organize and chair discussions to make decisions, conduct meaningful
class activities and sometimes hold theme meetings.
Overall, there are 12 forms of theme class meetings in Chinese schools:
“Role-play, Q&A, special reports, festival celebrations, on-the-spot experiences,
exchanges, reporting, talent shows, debates, truth-telling, entertainment, and sum-
marization” (Zhang 2005, pp. 24–25). Most meetings are prepared by and chaired
by students. This taps into the potential of the students, enhances
information-sharing and builds up stronger ties between the teacher and students. In
addition, class meetings allow students to learn from each other, help each other,
and fully participate in class building and management. This, in turn, will contribute
to a positive class environment and strengthen cohesion.
To sum up, in a particular social context, everyone will define his identity or
membership through categorization. For Chinese students, being born as Chinese
naturally endows them with a national identity. Meanwhile, they identify them-
selves as a member of a school and a class through collective totems and collective
50 3 Chinese Students’ Collective Identity

3.2 Social Comparison

Every individual will intrinsically evaluate his opinions and competence, and if an
objective method is not available, he will be inclined to evaluate through com-
parison with others. Likewise, social comparison refers to the comparison between
one’s own group and other groups so as to gain positive evaluation on members in
one’s own group. To draw a line between school and class does not mean to cut off
the connection. When students categorize the two groups, i.e., school and class, by
creating collective totems and living a collective life, they in fact, begin to develop
our school and class identity. Meanwhile, inter-school and inter-class competitions
organized respectively by education authorities and schools make collective com-
parison possible, which will make students even more aware of their collective

3.2.1 Avoiding Collective Disadvantages

In China, public schools are administered by education authorities at district, city,

provincial and national levels. Apart from regulating school philosophy and
behaviors, these authorities also organize a large number of school contests in terms
of knowledge, artistic performance, sports and technology innovation. For Xiaojia,
the most impressive contest was a district-level sports event.
At the time, our school took us to participate in the event. In fact, district-level sports events
are mainly a game for students majoring in sports. It had little to do with us. We just ate
snacks and chatted with each other. But when students from our school were up for a
contest, the teacher would shout at us: “Stop eating. Our school is up.” Then we stopped
and cheered at the top of our voice. We just wanted to cheer louder than the teams of other
schools. (personal communication, November 30, 2015)

Activities like these inspire the students and enrich their extra-curricular life.
When participating in inter-school contests, students not only display their own
competence, but also the image of the school. Thus, they will stick together in order
to help their school gain the upper hand in the contest and gain positive evaluation
from the outside world. Driven by this motive, the students’ sense of honor and
collective identity are inspired in an invisible manner.
At that time, every one of us had a plate that had a red, blue, green or yellow color on the
other side. On the teacher’s order, we would turn different colors around in order to form a
pattern as a whole. We could not see what it was as we were so close to each other. But
those sitting at the stadium could immediately recognize the pattern: the icon or slogan of
our school. We felt that even though we could not participate in the contest to represent our
school, we could at least try our best to turn the plates around well. It was our way of
contributing to our school at the event. (personal communication, December 9, 2015)

However, the most important factors determining the reputation of a school are
the students’ academic performance and the rate of admission into higher level
3.2 Social Comparison 51

schools. Xiaojia, who studies at a provincial demonstration school, feels proud

when talking about her school:
Even at weekends when I hang out with my primary school classmates who now study in
other schools, I’m very keen to wear my school uniform, because it is the symbol of my
school. My former classmates do not study at a good school like me. I think they envy me.
(personal communication, December 9, 2015)

But Xiaoming,2 who studies at an ordinary middle school, does not envy Xiaojia
at all. He said,
Though my school may not be as good as others in terms of academic performance, it
doesn’t mean anything. To me, it is important that the teachers and students are nice. I am
happy with them. There’s no such thing as the best school, but instead I think it is important
to find the most suitable school. I think my school suits me well. (personal communication,
December 11, 2015)

As suggested by social psychologists, in the course of social comparison, people

tend to maximize inter-group differences. Such an automatically reinforcing effect is
mainly influenced by the motive of positive self-evaluation. As the dimensions of
social comparison are strongly evaluative, stress on inter-group difference is
important, especially when group members perform positively. Such a kind of
difference will enable the group to gain positive distinctiveness. For Xiaoming, the
tag that he is “a student from an ordinary school” never lowers his evaluation of his
school or undermines his school identity. His school also has its advantages.
Our school has many societies. I’m a member of the micro-movie society. Every year in the
district-level art festival, our micro-movies always win awards, including the “Best Movie
Award,” the “Best Photography Award” and the “Best Screenwriting Award.” Two months
ago, we were invited to join the first National Primary and Middle school Micro-movie
Week as judges. We felt very proud. Of course we, as a school, still have room for
improvement in terms of academic performance, but that is not important, because our
school has a real advantage in Micro-movie. (personal communication, December 11,

Though his school has not gained the same reputation as other key schools in
mainstream contests and in the traditional evaluation system, Xiaoming avoids
saying anything unfavorable about his school and works on improving his col-
lective identity by using a different evaluation standard.

3.2.2 Striving to Be the Best Group

As stated above, when making inter-group comparisons, people tend to exaggerate

the difference on certain dimensions so as to look more positively at their own
group. When they cannot create a satisfactory identity, they are likely to leave their

A 15-year-old Junior 2 boy student, the second interviewee in this study.
52 3 Chinese Students’ Collective Identity

group or make the group better. For instance, students may transfer to other classes
or schools in order to reconstruct their own identity. Thus, school leaders and
teachers should take responsibility for leading students to improve the group, and as
a result strengthen their group identity.
To promote inter-class competition, Chinese schools not only organize
class-based contests, but also introduce a unique duty week system. Since its
appearance in the 1990s, the system has been widely applied in China’s primary
and middle schools. Within such a system, classes take turns to be responsible for
the supervision of daily disciplines of the school for a week. To support the system,
a set of evaluation standards are worked out at the school level. For instance, the
following strict rules are formulated by a school to add discipline to activities
between classes:
During the interval between classes, activities should be done in an orderly
• If one runs, plays basketball, football or any other strenuous sport in the corridor
or in the classroom, one score will be deducted per person.
• If one blows a whistle, beats the stair railing to make noise, climbs or slides
down the handrail, one score is deducted per person.
• If one tosses water or anything else from high above, two scores will be
deducted per person.
• If one vandalizes public property (including flowers and plants on the campus
and electric appliances in the classroom) or writes graffiti on the walls, one score
will be deducted per person (Zhang 2010).
Xiaoming said,
Our head teacher always tells us, our class is made up of each and every student and the
class will not survive as a unit if we lose any one student. We are all responsible for our
class and have the obligation to make our class better. We must follow the rules of the
school and not have our scores deducted. We’re from Class 1 and should be the best
performing class. Class 1 should be No. 1. We have the duty to lead by example. (personal
communication, December 11, 2015)

At the end of duty week, students on duty will take stock of the total score of
every class. Well-behaved classes will be awarded while those with bad perfor-
mance will be criticized. As such performance serves as an important indicator in
the selection of “Outstanding Class” every semester, the head teacher attaches great
importance to it. Xiaoming and his classmates try their best to behave well. He said,
Inches of snow can always be found under the tree in our school. Some students can’t help
playing around in it. The P.E. teacher scolded them several times but it did not work. Later
the teacher threatened to deduct the scores of their class. Then they finally stopped. (per-
sonal communication, December 11, 2015)

The duty week system allows every class to be the manager of the school for a
week. In trying their best to consider how to govern the school, the students not
3.2 Social Comparison 53

only ensure good teaching order, but also develop fine behaviors. In addition,
deterred by score-deduction, students always pay attention to their behavior so that
their class will not lag behind as a result of their actions. In this way they show their
resolution to improve their class and make it lead in comparison to other classes.
To sum up, after one acquires a group identity or membership to a group, one
will try to keep a distance from other groups. For Chinese students, outstanding
academic performance and the rate of admission into higher level schools are the
two most recognized labels that will give them a strong sense of identity in com-
parison with other classes and schools. But unimpressive academic performance
will not necessarily undermine their sense of identity. When their group has an
overwhelming advantage in other aspects, the group in question will take this as the
new standard and work harder to make their group better so that their group can
also gain positive recognition.

3.3 Positive Distinctiveness: Self-motivation of Group


An important presumption of social identity theory is that all acts are driven by the
basic need of self-motivation. Thus, to realize self-motivation and win self-esteem
in a group, one will strive to outperform other group members in certain aspects
(Zhang and Zuo 2006). Positive distinctiveness can reinforce group members’
identity and self-esteem for individual members in the group. As a social organi-
zation in Chinese schools, a class has its goal, structure and function. When a class
is created, it is necessary to develop a formal structure and a set of norms. An
indispensable part is the training of class cadres. Without the work of class cadres,
the teacher’s role will be undermined. As for students, becoming a school or class
cadre and thus having a say in class or school management can both make them
stand out and strengthen their self-esteem, which will eventually reinforce group

3.3.1 “I’m Half of the Head Teacher”: Standing Out

in the Group

The class cadre refers to a student taking a post and being responsible for certain
aspects of management in a class (Shen 2012). The class cadre system has been in
place since the founding the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Every class has
similar posts, including the post of class monitor, and commissaries respectively in
charge of study, organization, publicity, sports, entertainment, discipline, and
54 3 Chinese Students’ Collective Identity

In fact, every member of the class has an equal right to expression on the daily
matters of the class, especially on matters closely related to his or her interest. But
in the opinion of Xiaoming, the reason why many students vie to be class cadres is
that they want to be the head teacher’s right-hand person. Class cadres can dis-
tribute class resources and have legitimate power, as vested by the head teacher:
I’m an ordinary student and do not stand out in any aspects. Now what I want is to improve
my academic performance. But most other students don’t think in my way. They want to be
cadres. I think they want to stand out distinctively. (personal communication, December 11,

Such a presumption is echoed by Xiaojia, who took on the role of class monitor
partly because “I want to stand out.”
Traditionally, class cadres are directly appointed by the head teacher based on
two standards: academic performance and practical competence. But in recent
years, as more and more people call for fair education, election has become the way
to select class cadres. This, in fact, is done to delegate the power of organizing
leadership to the whole class rather than just the head teacher. Students use secret
ballots to elect members of the class committee according to their knowledge of the
candidates’ daily performance and trustworthiness. Such an election not only
nurtures the students’ awareness of democracy and their interest in class manage-
ment, but also produces class cadres with authority among the students, thus
generating strong class cohesion. Being the class monitor has made Xiaojia stand
out. In China’s context, these two different roles will gradually evolve into dif-
ferences in identity. Xiaojia defines herself differently, “I think a monitor should set
an example. A monitor is the close assistant of the head teacher and should help
manage the class. I’m half of the head teacher when he is absent.” In addition, she
feels her individual authority and her classmates’ obedience.
There are 40 students in my class and I got 36 votes. I feel trusted by my
classmates. They follow me. I can feel it because they listen to me when I keep the
class disciplined or organize activities in class. (personal communication,
November 30, 2015)
Undeniably, being a cadre allows a student to fulfill more duties in the group. As
explained by Xiaoming,
They say Junior 2 is the defining moment. If you want to score high in the senior middle
school entrance exam, you need to work harder from then on. Because of that, my grandpa
wants me to withdraw from the band because it will affect my study. But since I voluntarily
joined this band and have become the president of this society, I have the duty to continue
with it. (personal communication, December 11, 2015)

In taking up responsibilities, cadres have a better understanding of group

development and tend to prioritize the collective interest before personal interest.
This is also consistent with the school’s collective identity training.
3.3 Positive Distinctiveness: Self-motivation of Group Members 55

3.3.2 “I Think I’m Getting Better”: Reinforcing Individual


While serving other students and the group, student cadres gain a precious
opportunity for self-development. That’s also part of the reason why students like
Xiaojia compete for such positions.
Traditionally, people think the key task in middle school is to study, that improving score
performance is the only thing that students should do. But the world is changing. Our
country advocates quality-oriented education now. That means we should not only have
high scores, but also have good performance in every aspect, like being sociable and good
at organizing and management. I ran for class cadre because I want to improve myself in an
all-round way. Besides, my cousin told me, the experience of being a cadre helps
job-seeking in the future. (personal communication, December 9, 2015)

To be a cadre, a student must have certain qualities and competences, which can
be reinforced through the performance of duties. As immature young girl, Xiaojia is
by no means free from frustrations in her position, but as pointed out by Dewey
A being whose activities are associated with others has a social environment. What he does
and what he can do depend upon the expectations, demands, approvals, and condemnations
of others. A being connected with other beings cannot perform his own activities without
taking the activities of others into account. For they are the indispensable conditions of the
realization of his tendencies. (p. 16)

Compared with adult leaders, student cadres have much greater plasticity in skill
and psychological development through their interaction with fellow students (Sun
2013). For instance, Xiaojia gradually finds out her management strategy as time
goes on, learning not to participate in whistle-blowing and roll-calling. It enables
her to fulfill her duty and avoids her offending other classmates.
I think being a class monitor is an art. This identity means that you’re a student and a
manager of other students. I have to switch constantly between the two roles. Take
discipline-keeping as an example. I am nicer to my classmates now. I will not confront
anyone in a tough manner. We talk and it is more effective. If there is a row or conflict, I
won’t report to the teacher. I will address the problem with my classmates. Sometimes
teachers do not understand what we think. (personal communication, December 9, 2015)

As a “small helper” for the teacher and a “small leader” for her classmates,
Xiaojia has always hoped to gain the trust of the teacher and maintain her personal
authority amongst the students, which is quite challenging. Though class cadres are
not necessarily the best performers, they should at least be in the upper middle
section; otherwise, no one will follow their lead. In addition, they must always mind
their words and behaviors so as to set an example.
I think class monitors should lead the class in study, so I work hard. In most cases I rank
among the top in the class. I never mess up in class and do not talk over the teacher. When
other classmates have difficulties, whether in study or outside of school life, I always try my
best to help them. I think I live up to the job as the class monitor. (personal communication,
December 9, 2015)
56 3 Chinese Students’ Collective Identity

In order to manage class affairs well, student cadres improve themselves in terms
of both interpersonal skills and self-discipline, as well as their capacity to rise up to
challenges. In the words of Xiaojia, “I think I’m getting better.” Such improvement
allows the class cadres to give positive self-evaluation, which further motivates
them to participate in class affairs more actively, an upward spiral that makes them
love their group with a sense of satisfaction and achievement.
To sum up, in a community, everyone will project his or her strength to satisfy
the need for self-esteem. For Chinese students, being a cadre is the most common
way to stand out. In doing this job, students are motivated to take up more
responsibilities and deepen their attachment to the group. Moreover, as their
competence improves, students can participate in collective activities more actively,
make greater contribution and strengthen their collective identity.
As pointed out by Durkheim (1961) in Moral Education, what is taught to
students is not as important as “how to make them acquire a liking for the collective
life.” He explains that, as a result of such experience, “The child feels himself
stronger, more confident, when he feels that he is not alone. There is something in
all common activities that warms the heart and fortifies the will…. There is a
pleasure in saying ‘we’ rather than ‘I,’ because anyone in a position to say ‘we’
feels behind him a support, a force on which he can count, a force that is much more
intense than that upon which isolated individuals can rely” (p. 240).
Influenced by the millennia-old tradition of collectivism, Chinese schools value
collective identity through education and activities, which not only allows the
students to fulfill their potential and grow, but also underpins the stability and
development of the school and even the country.


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Chapter 4
The Gaokao Experience of Chinese

The gaokao,1 as the buzzword of today’s China, has received both praise and
criticism. Over the past decades, the gaokao has been depicted in three statements:
(1) “A person’s destiny being determined by one exam”; (2) “Thousands of people
struggling to cross a narrow bridge for success”; and (3) “The survivors of the
gaokao tend to have high scores but low competence.” All these statements have at
least conveyed a message, i.e., that the gaokao has distorted the targets of China’s
elementary education. However, in recent years, through nearly 40 years of edu-
cational reform (Zhang 2005, p. 128) and continuous improvement, the gaokao is
gradually being recognized as a fair and just examination in China. Some people
even claim that “the gaokao is the last chance for people to have fair competition
regardless of their family backgrounds.”
Given the heated debate on the justification for the gaokao in society, these
social opinions are simply a “summative evaluation” made by outsiders on this
national examination system. Then what does the gaokao actually mean to insiders,
the Chinese students who know more than anyone about this examination system?
What have they experienced in their gaokao journey? What is their “formative
evaluation” of the gaokao?
Given these questions, this chapter will explore insights from the perspective of
Chinese students. In our survey on Chinese students’ experiences and feelings
within the gaokao system, three of the respondents’ profiles are as follows. Their
names are fictional for confidentiality.

Gaokao is the Chinese name of National Higher Education Entrance Examination. It is the most
important entrance examination of universities in People’s Republic of China (excluding Hong
Kong, Macao and Taiwan), and is organized by Ministry of Education or provincial examination
authorities with the autonomy in composing papers. The gaokao takes place on the 7th and 8th of
June every year, and in some provinces, it can last as long as three days.

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 59
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_4
60 4 The Gaokao Experience of Chinese Students

Xiaohao, male, is from Beijing and was born in 1997. He is now 19 years old,
and was a science student in middle school. He was admitted into the geology
major of a “211 project”2 university in 2015. His parents are both teachers.
Xiaomeng, female, is from Taiyuan, Shanxi province and was born in 1997. She
is now 19 years old. She was in an experimental class for the arts in a key middle
school of Shanxi province, and has now been admitted into the education major at a
“985 project”3 university in Beijing.
Xiaolu, female, was born in 1997 in a small town in Baicheng, Jilin province, and
is now 19 years old. She studied science in middle school, and is now an English
major at a “211 project” university. She also acts as her class and grade monitor.

4.1 A Chinese Student’s Gaokao Journey to University

Xiaomeng, who was born in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, started middle school in
September 2011 in H Middle School, which has the longest history of schools in
Taiyuan and is one of the first key middle schools4 in Shanxi province. As early as
three months after the start of school, H Middle School began to separate students
into two study directions: liberal arts and sciences.5 This teaching practice was
carried out much earlier than in the majority of middle schools in China, where this
separation will traditionally be carried out in the second year of middle school.
Xiaomeng, however, welcomed this step taken by her school, “I desperately
wanted this kind of study separation because I couldn’t stand math, physics and
chemistry any more. I think physics is extremely difficult. It’s simply torture for me
if I have to learn all this science stuff!” Without hesitation, she chose to study liberal
arts and was assigned to the experimental class for arts.6 “I think that the students in
the top classes are different from those in regular classes who probably don’t enjoy

The “211 project” is a group of about 100 key higher education institutions and key majors and
subjects established to meet the challenges of the new technological revolution in the 21st century.
The “985 project” is a project run by the Chinese government to build a number of world class
universities and internationally-known high level research universities. There are 39 “985 project”
universities in China.
There is a series of complicated evaluation standards for provincial demonstrative regular middle
schools or key middle schools. The national and local government will channel more resources to
these middle schools.
The separation of arts and science: this is an education system in the Chinese Mainland which
means to allow students to choose whether to study the arts or science before providing different
courses. It usually takes place in the first or second year in middle school. The arts mainly include
Chinese, math, English and a comprehensive arts test (politics, history and geography), while
science includes Chinese, math, English and a comprehensive science test (physics, chemistry and
Experimental class: Many Chinese middle schools assign students to different classes, mainly
experimental classes or regular classes. These two types of classes are different in terms of the
students’ grades and teacher quality.
4.1 A Chinese Student’s Gaokao Journey to University 61

studying very much.” They differ not only in their attitudes to learning but also in
their effort. The head teacher of Xiaomeng’s class required them to start evening
self-learning7 right from the first year of middle school, while the students in the
regular classes only had to do that in their third year of schooling. In their third
year, Xiaomeng’s head teacher extended the evening hours of self-learning by an
extra half an hour. At this learning stage, Xiaomeng usually finished her evening
self-learning between 10:00 and 10:30 pm.
Overall, the first and second year in H Middle School had been colorful. Besides
regular classroom learning, the students would have access to diverse selective
courses, societies and after-class social activities.
We have plenty of societies like a model-making society and an astronomy society,
competitions like Top 10 Singers and psychodrama, as well as selective courses like
tourism and film and television. We love these activities. In Year 1, I joined the
American TV series society, and in Year 2, I chose a selective course on international
political relations. But since Year 3, all of these activities, together with minor subjects like
music, fine art and life skills, are none of our business any more. However, PE has always
been considered to be important. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

In a word, for Xiaomeng, life was comparatively easy in the first two years but
such a life was never to be experienced again upon the completion of the unified
examination8 in June of the second semester of Year 2.
Between the completion of this unified examination and the start of the summer
holiday, H Middle School held a mobilization meeting exclusively for these stu-
dents who would graduate in the following year. During this meeting, both the
school leaders and teachers analyzed the situation for next year’s gaokao, explained
the school’s strategies and schedule for gaokao preparation, and invited some
graduates from last year to share their experience of success in the gaokao.
“Although ‘gaokao’ has been a buzzword for us ever since we entered middle
school, it was only then that I truly felt that it was around the corner. The trumpet
was blowing.”
From the start of Year 3, the teachers of all subjects began to respectively inform
the students of a three-round review plan. All the students were required to closely
follow their teachers and study hard to complete each learning task and not to put
all their hopes on independent preparation.

In this three-round review, we had to go through monthly exams, mid-term exams, final
exams and three mock tests for the gaokao, let alone countless weekly tests and quizzes.
Anyway, in the end, everyone became numb to any type of exam. After every test, the

Evening study: Apart from regular classes, teachers also arrange some “self-study” time for
students to study by themselves or do homework. There are three types of self-study time: morning
study, noon study and evening study.
Unified examination: Also known as the Academic Proficiency Test, which aims to check
whether students have mastered all the knowledge learned in middle school. It symbolizes the end
of middle school courses, and students can only get their middle school diploma and attend the
gaokao if they pass the unified examination.
62 4 The Gaokao Experience of Chinese Students

scores and ranks were put on the walls outside our classrooms. It’s somewhat like a public
announcement to the whole school. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

But Xiaomeng also mentioned that the much greater pressure in Year 3 did not
make her change the daily routine that she had in Years 1 and 2 that much. She still
got up at 6 am and slept at around 12 pm.
I was afraid that if I stayed up too late, it would make me feel sleepy during classes the next
day. Things could become worse in a vicious cycle. I did once think that I should’ve stayed
up later for more study because I was in the critical Year 3. I tried, but found that I ruined
my daily routine and lowered my score. So I gave up and continued with my regular daily
routine. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

However, a small change did occur in her daily routine. In the first two years,
Xiaomeng could rest on Saturdays and Sundays. In her final year however, she
could rest only on Sundays. Being a very strict student, Xiaomeng chose to go to
the school for self-study on Sunday morning and go back home in the afternoon for
relaxation such as watching TV or reading.
Such was Xiaomeng’s Year 3 life in her senior middle school. On the 100th day
before the day of the gaokao, H Middle School held a grand oath-taking rally for
Year 3 students. The main purpose was to motivate them to fight for success in the
gaokao and remind them to take the last stage of their gaokao journey at a sprint.
Xiaomeng, however, did not think much about that rally.
The speeches of the teachers and school leaders did give me a momentary sense of urgency,
“wow, only 100 days left, we need to speed up,” but this sense of urgency was gone
quickly. We were not that highly motivated and everyone felt that those speeches were so
empty and boring. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

Following the rally, a “count-down to the gaokao” appeared on the blackboard

in Xiaomeng’s classroom. At first, the students updated it on a daily basis. This
practice was meant to remind the class that the gaokao was approaching and urge
the students to work harder. But the students
Soon became sluggish with this practice, because it took persistence. Later on we lost
patience and became fed up with taking turns to update the time. More often we forgot to
do it. In the end, we updated the countdown every two or three days if someone happened
to remember. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

Time flew by and in a blink of an eye the last mock gaokao had been finished.
As it was the last mock test, the questions were simple and the teachers were not
strict regarding assessment. Everyone in Xiaomeng’s class got high scores and felt
very happy.
I found the rule behind those mock tests for the entrance examinations either to middle
school or to university. Usually, the first mock test is designed to be difficult to scare the
students, but the last mock test is always simple so that the students can have enough
confidence for the real entrance examinations. (personal communication, December 15,

After the teachers summarized the problems found according to the students’
performance during the last mock test, the school held a final lecture on the gaokao
4.1 A Chinese Student’s Gaokao Journey to University 63

for all Year 3 students, again reminding them of all the details they should care to
remember when sitting the gaokao, even including small details such as remem-
bering to take their ID cards and 2B pencils.
This lecture officially marked the end of Xiaomeng’s three-year middle school
education. Her parents came to the school to help her carry some books and luggage
back home. From 4th to 6th June, Xiaomeng stayed at home.
I did not review any more, because I did not know what to review. My major task was to
adjust my attitude and keep calm under the pressure. It was time to check the result of my
three years of hard work. Let that day come soon. (personal communication, December 15,

The day of the gaokao finally arrived on 7th June 2015. On that day, Xiaomeng
got up early, packed up her things and arrived at the examination venue with her
mother. Upon arriving, she found that lots of students and their parents had already
arrived there and that a flock of security guards were keeping everything in order.
When she met up with her classmates, she said goodbye to her mother and walked
into the school with her classmates.
After passing security checks and document verification, the first gaokao exam
on the subject of Chinese began.
I really didn’t feel that nervous when it came to this first gaokao exam. I simply finished the
Chinese exam. When I finished the first three exams, I wasn’t really keen on checking my
answers against those of my classmates. But after I finished the final exam, I started to
heatedly discuss the exam questions with them. (personal communication, December 15,

So went the two days of the gaokao. When Xiaomeng returned home, her
parents treated her to a table of dishes that they had cooked for her. During the
meal, they did not ask much about her exams so as to not make her feel uneasy.
“I thought that my gaokao journey would have ended after that two-day
examination, but I was too young, too naïve.” After the exams, Xiaomeng fully
enjoyed herself with her friends for two weeks. When the gaokao scores came out,
Xiaomeng and her parents were busy again. Due to the distorted performance of
some of her best placed classmates, Xiaomeng turned out to rank first in her class.
“My performance showed my true competence. I didn’t exceed my actual com-
petence. It’s a pity that my classmates slipped.”
The next move was to make university applications. It was during this stage that
Xiaomeng’s parents stopped being quiet helpers and took charge. They strongly
wished for Xiaomeng to choose a teaching university and become a teacher in the
future. Xiaomeng, however, preferred to study economics. Finally, Xiaomeng
submitted to her parents’ demands and applied to take the education major at
University A. By the end of July, she received an admission notice.
I still felt very happy to receive the admission notice despite it not being for my favorite
university. Then, with my parents, I started travelling for the first time since finishing my
three years of study. Then I went to various classmate gatherings and graduation dinners.
I felt that my gaokao journey wasn’t officially over until the day my parents accompanied
me to register at my university. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)
64 4 The Gaokao Experience of Chinese Students

From Xiaomeng’s personal experience, we can see that while the gaokao was
the theme throughout her three-year high school education, it was Year 3 that was
the most important study stage of the journey. Between the start of Year 3 and the
day of registration at university, the three main stages were as follows: Year 3
preparation (from the first day of Year 3 to the day of the gaokao), the day of the
gaokao, and the gaokao follow-up stage (from the day of the gaokao to the day of
registration at university). In the next session, following this timeline, the author
will report the experiences and feelings of Chinese students at each stage.

4.2 Year 3 Preparation Stage

In China, the gaokao is not about students alone. Taking the form of a “gaokao
tripod”9 schools, parents and society engage themselves in the gaokao journey.
During the Year 3 preparation stage, in order to provide support for the students,
this gaokao tripod plays the roles of organizing systematic review schemes and
offering psychological counseling. Based on their actual situation, most families
make an effort to cooperate with their children’s school, taking care of their chil-
dren’s life so that their children can concentrate on studying for the gaokao. In this
context, Chinese students generally have two shared feelings regarding these
external supports.

4.2.1 Well-Organized Review Schemes

Reviewing the knowledge learned is an important task during the Year 3 prepa-
ration stage. Usually, it is organized so that Year 3 students will review all the
major knowledge they have learned in Years 1 and 2, as well as all the potential
material required of the gaokao. Consistent with Xiaomeng’s account, most
Chinese students have expressed that their Year 3 review schemes were very
systematic and well organized in two aspects.
First, Chinese students strictly follow the review schemes designed by their own
school and teachers. The review and consolidation of the potential knowledge for
gaokao have been carried out systematically. As Xiaomeng described, throughout
Year 3 study, the teachers of individual subjects respectively guided their students
within the 3-round review framework.
The first round of reviewing started in the first semester of Year 3 and was
time-consuming. It focused on a systematic overview of all the knowledge learned in
Years 1 and 2. The purpose was to diagnose specific study problems and remedy them.

Gaokao tripod refers to the three major forces that made the gaokao become an important totem
of current education. The tripod consists of the social system, schools and parents.
4.2 Year 3 Preparation Stage 65

The second round of reviewing was between the start of the second semester of
Year 3 and May of that year. The main purpose was to strengthen the students’
examination skills. Closely following their teachers’ guidance, the students spent
most of their time drilling classic questions that might be tested in the gaokao.
The third round of reviewing started one month before the gaokao. The main
purpose was to conduct mock tests and to adjust the students’ psychological state to
deal with the gaokao pressure.
This is similar to Xiaolu’s case. She said that,
We used the first two years to complete the study of all the knowledge needed for our
middle school education, and then used the third year exclusively for review. The
three-round review was so long that it was carried out throughout Year 3. The first round
was a detailed review of all the things we had learned; the second round was to system-
atically look back according to the knowledge structure; and the third round was mainly
exam after exam. The whole process was arranged based on the previous coaching expe-
rience for the gaokao. We were ready for this challenging preparation stage and closely
followed our teacher’s guidance for systematic reviewing. (personal communication,
December 11, 2015)

During his Year 3 preparation stage, without following his teachers, Xiaohao
once attempted to review his work independently. He quickly discovered that his
efforts were inefficient and a waste of time. By contrast, the teachers with coaching
experience for the gaokao knew how to arrange the gaokao preparation in a more
scientific, rational and systematic way. Therefore,
In the end, I tuned my study completely to my teachers’ review schemes. Every day I
listened to my teachers carefully in class. After class, I focused on completing all the
assignments or test papers given by my teachers. I didn’t find other exercises by myself as
before. I also didn’t stay up late at night. (personal communication, December 11, 2015)

Second, relaxation was reasonably arranged between intervals of study. Xiaolu

said that compared to Years 1 and 2, her class became more motivated to study in
Year 3. Everyone disciplined themselves regarding listening carefully in class.
After class, the students generally avoided being noisy, which was good for those
who wanted a quiet environment to study and for those who wanted to have a
nap. Sometimes some students had a chat or nap or went for a walk with their
classmates as a change of scene.
Xiaohao also said that his daily routine became very regular since starting Year
3. Every day, he got up at 6 am and had breakfast at 6:15 am. At 7 am, he arrived in
class for morning reading in Chinese or English. Around 10 pm, he finished his
evening self-study. When he came back home, he had some snacks and continued
to study until 12 pm. He gave himself half a day to rest on Sundays. “At first I
actually didn’t like getting up so early. But I got used to it later. Finally I told
myself that I must get up early to complete all my tasks for the day without delay.”
Xiaohao also pointed out that a regular and well organized scheme for review
and rest proved to be positive.
I felt fulfilled every day without feeling exhausted, and my study efficiency was high. It
took me only one hour to finish my studying which should have taken one and a half hours.
66 4 The Gaokao Experience of Chinese Students

In Year 3, along with my awareness of the importance of study, I found that my com-
prehension ability was greatly improved as if I was suddenly enlightened. I made a leap in
my studies. (personal communication, December 11, 2015)

4.2.2 Mental Turmoil

Any experienced examinee clearly knows that state of mind is an important factor
that may affect one’s examination performance. Well organized review and mental
turmoil are intertwined throughout the Year 3 preparation stage.
Sometimes the students felt highly motivated; sometimes they were in low
spirits, suffering from the high pressure. This unstable state of mind appeared
especially when they had to face monthly exam rankings.
In the sprint to the final review, everything was fine at the beginning. I performed perfectly
in the exams. After that, my scores fell dramatically, which made me feel as though I didn’t
know anything that I had known before. I couldn’t even answer very simple questions. That
period might be what we called the low spirits period. With great pressure, my mind
became a mess, especially when I saw others busy with their studies or continually writing.
(personal communication, December 11, 2015)

I felt like I didn’t want to do anything. This feeling lasted for two or three months.
I couldn’t understand how I could make six or seven mistakes on an English test of 20
items. I was very upset and had no any confidence. I often made a lot of mistakes. It was
strange that I knew that I should’ve studied harder at this critical moment, but I simply
couldn’t. Whenever I grabbed a magazine or a novel, it was hard to put down. I was so
sentimental that when reading a novel or watching a movie, it was really easy for me to
burst out laughing or crying like a baby. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

To our knowledge, this kind of pressure may have come from school, parents
and even society. However, many students also express that the external pressure is
not as high as the internal pressure, i.e., the pressure coming from the students
themselves for a better exam performance and, underpinning this, a more pros-
perous future.
Xiaolu explained that,
The teachers know our characters, competences and abilities so well. They didn’t give us
too much pressure. My father felt consoled when he saw my hard study. He thus didn’t
want to give me more pressure. However, the care and interest from our teachers and
parents were types of invisible pressure since I desperately wanted to live up to their
expectations. (personal communication, December 11, 2015)

Xiaomeng and Xiaolu fully understood that fluctuating moods and low spirits
could seriously affect their gaokao performance. When this happened, they would
make an effort to adjust their mood. Xiaolu would first turn to her teachers.
My teacher told me that it was a natural phenomenon and it was better to have it earlier.
Some students remain stable in their performance for most of the preparation stage, but they
4.2 Year 3 Preparation Stage 67

start to feel in low spirits only two days before the day of the gaokao. Their performance
thus dramatically deteriorates. (personal communication, December 11, 2015)

With the teacher’s guidance and her own self-adjustment, Xiaolu was able to
overcome her period of low spirits and perform well on the day of the gaokao.
Xiaomeng said that she had her own ways to reduce pressure. After each
monthly exam, she would allow herself to relax, even allowing herself to read a
novel overnight. On Sunday afternoons she would watch TV or movie. During the
intervals between classes, she would choose to have a walk outside the classroom or
have a chat with her friends.
In conclusion, although individual students may differ in their experiences of the
gaokao, they have all encountered the complexity and conflicts incurred by the
“well-organized review” and “mental turmoil.” The former is like a stable straight
line, while the latter act as a fluctuating curve. They have interacted with each other
to form complex feelings throughout the entire preparation stage.

4.3 The Day of the Gaokao

The gaokao, as a competitive game, has its own rules to follow. It is regulated that
the gaokao should be spread across two days: On June 7, the exams began with
Chinese from 9 to 11:30 am. The math exam was from 3 to 5 pm. On June 8, the
comprehensive exam on arts or sciences was from 9 to 11:30 am. The exam on
English was from 2:30 to 5 pm.
Schools serve as the exam venues, with 30 students from different schools and
two invigilators in each classroom. Students from the same school are seated
separately. The main invigilator and the assistant invigilator are responsible for
maintaining order in the exam venue.
Customarily, nearby industries voluntarily cooperate to facilitate students’ par-
ticipation in the ongoing gaokao exams. For example, at the time of the gaokao,
construction sites near the exam venue usually stop working for three days. Some
cities launch volunteer campaigns to provide “free taxis for gaokao students to and
from the exam venue.” At the entrance to the exam venue, parents of gaokao
students and the police safeguard the environment for the ongoing gaokao exams.
With the whole of society treating the day of the gaokao so seriously, how did the
students feel when they were sitting the gaokao?

4.3.1 “I Wasn’t Nervous at All”: The Feeling

at the Beginning of the First Exam

Most Chinese students pointed out that on the day of the gaokao, which appears so
serious to everyone, they actually did not feel as nervous as they had long expected,
68 4 The Gaokao Experience of Chinese Students

even if they were sitting the first exam in which they had not got used to the gaokao
exam atmosphere. Xiaomeng said that when she walked into the school for the
exam, she felt that “the sunshine was shimmering over the path”; while Xiaolu said
she “just wanted to get it over with quickly.”
Students did not feel nervous on the day of the gaokao for different reasons. For
Xiaomeng, she was not very nervous because she had adjusted her mood well. In
her case, she did not do anything during the break from 4th to 6th June. Unlike the
other students who seized the opportunity for further review, she prepared herself
mentally for the exam.
I felt that we were actually ready in terms of knowledge, so it all depended on personal
attitude. I adjusted my attitude well, so I performed well in the gaokao. During the two day
break at home, I did nothing but adjust myself, telling myself that the next two days were
just to check the result of my study in middle school. So there was no need to worry,
because you had worked hard for three years, and there’s got to be a change to test how
well you learned. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

This is what we call the “Volendam attitude”10 in psychology, which means you
concentrate on the thing itself without caring too much about success and failure,
and that is the only way to perform well.
For Xiaolu, she did not feel too nervous because first of all, she had consolidated
the learned knowledge in her reviews and was confident in herself.
I’d mastered all the knowledge I needed, and if someone told me that the gaokao was
canceled on that day, I would break apart because I did not know what else I could learn or
review, so I just wanted to end it as soon as possible. (personal communication, December
11, 2015)

The second reason is that during the preparation stage, the countless exams had
reduced her nervousness towards any exam. She said that sometimes their home-
work was assessed as though it were an exam. In the end she did not feel that an
exam was an exam. In addition, propaganda in her school stated that students
should “see homework as exams, see monthly tests as the gaokao and see the
gaokao as an ordinary test,” which meant that “a high frequency of exams will
reduce your nervousness about taking exams, while a low frequency of exams, say
once every half a year, will make you feel extremely nervous on the day of the
gaokao.” Therefore, she did not feel any big difference between the mood on the
day of the gaokao and that for regular exams at school. It was only after the end of
the day of the gaokao that she fully understood the great efforts of her school.

Volendam was a famous ropewalking performer in America. He failed during an important
performance and died. His wife later said that “I knew there would be something wrong,” because
he kept talking about how important that was for him and that he couldn’t lose, but in previous
successful performances, he just thought about the rope itself without thinking about the conse-
quences. Later, people called the attitude of focusing on one thing without thinking about the
importance and consequences thereof the “Volendam attitude.”.
4.3 The Day of the Gaokao 69

Xiaohao, as a calm boy who never gave himself too much pressure, also pointed
out that he did not feel as if he was sitting an exam at all when he sat the first
Chinese exam.
From going through the security check to entering the classroom, I wasn’t nervous at all.
I don’t think I was the only one having this feeling, and I think that everyone in the same
classroom had this feeling. We were generally relaxed. (personal communication,
December 11, 2015)

From his perspective, apart from his good attitude and the solid foundation he
laid down during the review, the reasons include being surrounded by teachers and
students he knew and being familiar with the environment in that classroom.
We only had two exam sites in our town, and I visited the site three times before the
gaokao. When the time really came, I found out that the supervisor was also from our town,
and a lot of students were from our school or were acquaintances to me. Therefore, we had
a warm and relaxed environment in the classroom. Besides, our teachers would be waiting
outside during every exam, and taking pictures or giving us hugs after the exam. All those
things made me feel relatively relaxed. (personal communication, December 11, 2015)

So, from the perspective of the exam site, the familiar and warm environment
largely reduced Xiaohao’s anxiety before the exam.

4.3.2 “Has the Gaokao Ended as Such?” Feelings After

the Last Exam

Xiaomeng recalled that after the exam on English on 8th of June, which was the last
exam of the gaokao, she stayed in the classroom for a while, watching the other
students leaving and thinking “wow, so that’s it!” She could not accept the fact that
the gaokao, for which she had prepared for 12 years, had ended so “quietly.”
She stayed for a while in the classroom and wrote something on scrap paper to
commemorate the occasion. “When I walked out of that classroom, I did not feel
extremely happy or relieved, nor did I feel any impulse to tear up my textbooks.”
This was Xiaomeng’s feeling after the last exam.
She returned home expecting her parents to prepare something to celebrate, but
only to find that they just cooked ordinary dishes, and did not ask anything about
the exam or discuss anything about the gaokao.
You know what, my parents were strange. They wanted to ask about the exam, but they did
not, pretending that they weren’t that anxious to know how I performed in the gaokao.
I wonder if they did so to protect my feelings.” (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

Therefore, in the afternoon and on the night of that same day, Xiaomeng always
felt that “something was missing.”
Xiaolu had a similar situation. She walked into the classroom in a happy and
relaxed manner and told herself that she should adjust her attitude and not to be
nervous, but when she finished the last exam and put down her pen, she burst into
70 4 The Gaokao Experience of Chinese Students

tears. “All my years of hard work ended with that period on the paper. I felt so hurt.
After all those years of hard work, this is it?” Xiaohao shared the same feeling.
When he finished the English exam, he did not feel thrilling happiness as he
imagined. Instead, he was calm, and did not have the impulse to tear up all his
books. “I just felt that I did not have to work that hard anymore, and finally I could
do something I like.”
From their accounts, we can see that Chinese students tend to have a feeling of
being “lost” and that the experience was “not to their expectations,” as well as
“calmness,” or even “hurt.” Perhaps it was because they had highly expected a
carnival such as “tearing up the books” which had been reported in the media.
Instead, they found that the school campus was quiet and everyone just left quietly.
This triggered a feeling of being “lost.” They also realized during the last exam that
it only took two days to end their 12 years of hard work, and all their memories of
those years flashed back and emotions intertwined, resulting in them feeling hurt. In
the case of Xiaomeng, just like most Chinese parents, her parents did not rush to ask
her about the exam. They were invisible or even sacrificing themselves during their
children’s preparation stage, and they did not dare to express their anxiety even
after the gaokao for fear that they would ruin the happiness of their children.
In conclusion, against the fluctuating mood and the well-organized review before
the gaokao, most Chinese students experienced the interwoven feelings of the
“not-nervous-at-all” mood at the beginning and a feeling of being lost at the end of
the gaokao. These complex feelings have highlighted the journey to the gaokao.

4.4 The Follow-up Stage

The end of the day of the gaokao does not mean the end of the gaokao journey.
Actually, it is not over until the students register at their universities. Social media
would report on the “best examinee in the gaokao” or the “best graduating glass.”
Some schools with students who had performed well in the gaokao exams would hang
banners outside their school gates for propaganda purposes, including phrases such as
“Congratulations on the admissions rate of x%, enrollment rate in key universities of x
% and rate of students going to Tsinghua and Peking universities of x%.”
At the same time, parents and students also had a lot to do: A typical student
would experience a series of “gaokao rites”11 including estimating their scores,
checking the exam results, filling in application forms for universities, receiving
their admission notices, travelling, attending class reunions and graduation dinners
and going to universities in the company of their parents. So what are the students’
feelings about this period of time?

Gaokao rites refer to some typical activities during the period of the gaokao.
4.4 The Follow-up Stage 71

4.4.1 “I Should Have Gained Higher Scores”: A Reflection

on the Exam Result

Three of the respondents to our study expressed that they were not satisfied with
their performance despite the fact that their gaokao scores had reflected their actual
proficiency. They thought that their scores should have been higher.
Xiaolu: I don’t think anyone is satisfied with their scores. But the truth is that regardless of
some disturbing factors in the exam, my score matches my actual ability. (personal com-
munication, December 11, 2015)

Xiaohao had a similar feeling about it.

Although my gaokao score is similar to my usual scores, when I estimated scores,12 I
thought I could do better. So when I found that my actual score was 50 points lower than
my estimation, I was a bit disappointed. (personal communication, December 11, 2015)

Two weeks after the gaokao, Xiaomeng learned that she got 577 points.
It was close to my estimation, which was 571 points. On the day of the gaokao, I performed
as usual. I should say that my mother was satisfied with the result, but I was a bit disap-
pointed. I kept thinking that it would be so nice if my score was a little higher. (personal
communication, December 15, 2015)

That was Xiaomeng’s feeling after she learned of her result.

When her classmates came to know their scores, she found out that some of the
top students in her class performed really badly in the gaokao. Before the gaokao,
she often ranked the fifth but never ranked first in terms of academic performance.
However, it turned out that she ranked the first in her class in the gaokao. Since she
was in the key class for arts at H Middle School, her having the highest gaokao
score in her class also means that she was the number one among all the arts
students in her school.
It was unfortunate that some of the top students in my class failed, especially our top
student. Usually, she would be more than 20 points higher than the next best one, but she
did not do well in the arts comprehensive test, and only got 190 points. (personal com-
munication, December 15, 2015)

As to the failures of her classmates, Xiaomeng felt deep pity for them. “I was
just performing as usual, and wasn’t performing too well. Actually, my score would
only rank sixth or seventh in the best class in other schools in Taiyuan.”
It is understandable that those who did not perform well in the gaokao of course
were unhappy with their scores. But for those students who performed well like
Xiaomeng, Xiaolu and Xiaohao, they were also unsatisfied. There could be two

Students would choose which universities to apply for according to the results of the gaokao.
After the gaokao, they should estimate the scores closest to their real scores, and be mentally
prepared for the university application according to the estimated score. In this way, when they
discover their real score, they can make the decision on which university to apply for within the
time limited and avoid the regret caused by haste.
72 4 The Gaokao Experience of Chinese Students

reasons for this. First, their scores were lower than their estimation. Second, their
scores were not enough to get into their dream universities. This was most evident
for Xiaomeng, who was especially unsatisfied with her score when she was
deciding on university applications.

4.4.2 “It’s Really a Science”: Feelings Towards University


Just as mentioned above, the gaokao, as an entrance examination, has its rules
regarding not only the exam schedule and venue, but also for university applica-
tions. Currently, online admission is mostly practiced based on the students’ gao-
kao scores and their applications. In China, enrolment is carried out at different
times according to the competence of the higher educational institutions from the
high to low levels: advance enrollment,13 first level enrolment, second level
enrolment, third level enrolment and fourth level enrolment.
Xiaomeng’s university application is a typical example. Before the gaokao, her
goal was a key university in Shanghai with the threshold admission score14 of 590
points. Xiaomeng was 13 points short, which was also an important reason why she
was unsatisfied with her score. Without the hope of getting into that target uni-
versity, Xiaomeng considered all the relevant factors, including her score of 577
points, her rank of No. 240 in her province and the threshold for various univer-
sities, and set her target at a finance and economics university in Shanghai, hoping
that she may get into financial business. However, in the end, she did not choose
that university, and was admitted into a normal university for the following reasons.
The first reason was her parents’ expectations. “After she learned of my score,
my mom really wanted me to apply for a normal university, hoping that I could
become a teacher in the future.” Xiaomeng said,
My mom thought that it would be really good to be a teacher, especially for a girl, as you can
enjoy vacations. She told me that I would come to understand later that having vacations is
such a happy thing for a woman. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

Out of respect for her parents’ wish, Xiaomeng chose that university to be one of
the four parallel applications as a back-up.

The level that enrolls in advance: According to corresponding regulations of the MOE, some
schools require basically similar types, qualities and majors for students, as well as those granted
by the National Board of Education, to enroll in advance and were put together to enroll students
before the unified enrollment of other universities. This is known as the batch that enrolls in
advance. If a student chooses schools belonging to this level and is not admitted, he will not be
affected in the later enrollment. But if the student was admitted into one of such schools, then he
will not be included in the later enrollment.
The threshold admission score is also called the “level line,” which means that students have to
pass this line to get into a university in that level.
4.4 The Follow-up Stage 73

The second reason was the requirements of employers. The finance and eco-
nomics university she wanted to go to was just a 211 university, not a 985 uni-
versity. Xiaomeng worried that after graduation it would be difficult for her to find a
job, since employers may demand a higher educational background.
The third reason was personal interest.
I wasn’t specifically interested in any major so far. I wanted to study finance and economics
just because I thought it would be easier for me to get a job when I graduate. But in fact, I
did not know much about finance and economics, and I worried that I might not be
interested in it at all once I entered university, and I would be miserable. (personal com-
munication, December 15, 2015)

The fourth reason was the prospect of the major. “Although finance and eco-
nomics is currently a popular major, who knows what will happen in four years’
time. I was also worried that I couldn’t find a good job if I majored in finance and
In the end, when Xiaomeng learned that a Normal University only enrolled
students from Shanxi province through the advance batch, she worried that if she
missed this chance, she would never be able to that university even if she wanted to
in the end. Therefore, considering all those factors mentioned above, she took her
parents’ advice and was admitted successfully.
Through the case of Xiaomeng, we can see that applying for a university is really
a science. In this intellectual game of challenges, you need to balance all the
competing factors. In Xiaomeng’s weighing of the involved factors, her parents’
wish became dominant. It could be seen that during the journey of the gaokao, her
parents’ role dramatically shifted from quiet helpers to controllers in their daugh-
ter’s choice of university. Xiaomeng’s case is not unusual in the Chinese context.

4.5 Reflection on the Gaokao Journey

After entering universities, the gaokao insiders gradually turned into outsiders. The
three respondents reflected on their gaokao journeys after experiencing one
semester of higher education, and pointed out the following things.

4.5.1 “I’ve Learned not just Knowledge”

Looking back at her three year gaokao journey and speaking of her thoughts on the
gaokao, Xiaomeng said that she really benefited a lot from the gaokao. First, the
accumulation of knowledge, i.e., “the knowledge from books and the knowledge
from the three-year middle school study,” “had enriched my life.”
74 4 The Gaokao Experience of Chinese Students

Second, her strengthened abilities regarding tackling pressure and making

self-adjustments. She expressed that these abilities would have a great influence on
her future life.
Third, being calm was the biggest gain of the gaokao journey. Just like most of
the Year 3 classes in other middle schools, every Year 3 class at Xiaomeng’s school
put up some slogans during the preparation stage. Two of the slogans hung on the
wall by her head teacher made a deep impression on Xiaomeng. One was “Stay
calm, be clear, respect each other and be competitive”; the other was “Calmness
leads to wisdom.”
These two slogans really impressed me a lot. They were written by my classmates who had
excellent calligraphy skills. The handwriting was so good that it made us all think. At that
time, we were preparing for the gaokao, and we needed calmness and inner peace. I’d been
trying to live up to these slogans, and to calm myself down when I felt restless so that I could
feel the beauty of calmness and solitude. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

We can see that these two sentences helped Xiaomeng a great deal with the
adjustment of her attitude, and her good attitude also helped her perform well in the
For Xiaolu, what mattered was not the knowledge, because as she said, “I kind
of forgot all the things in the books after the exam,” but rather the family harmony
and the friendships made amongst the teachers and students at school. Xiaolu’s
father was often away from home because of work. Only her mother accompanied
her during her middle school study. Whenever her parents got together, they often
had conflicts over various matters. “Both of my parents are hot-tempered. They also
have different ideas about parenting. One believes in being strict; the other being
tolerant. Overall their relations are OK, but mental barriers are always there.”
However, when it came to helping their daughter face such an important exam in
her life, Xiaolu’s father temporarily put aside his work and started to support her
with her mother to get through the tough preparation stage. “During that period I
could feel the support of my parents and the family became more harmonious than
before.” As for her relationship with the teachers, Xiaolu said that “in the last year,
maybe because our teachers spent too much time with us, they tended to make up
for their regret at not being able to take care of their own families by giving more
care to us. Since the majority of the class were female students, our teachers often
shared delicious snacks with us at lunch time.” The bond between the teachers and
students grew stronger in this way.
Unlike the other two girls, Xiaohao felt that he not only improved all kinds of
abilities through the gaokao (e.g., his time management ability and improvements
in his efficiency), but that he also gained a lot in terms of his mind. “The gaokao
was a value-building process for me. After the gaokao, I saw things differently
because of my horizons or some other things. I think the influence is mainly in this
area.” Besides this, he also learned a lot from the lectures held by the school during
the preparation stage. “The lectures and class meetings were encouraging, and
everyone was trying hard for the things they wanted. I would call it a ‘gain for my
mind,’ and we all benefited a lot even after entering universities.”
4.5 Reflection on the Gaokao Journey 75

4.5.2 “We Were All the Same”

There may be praise and criticism about the gaokao, but after the students expe-
rienced the battle of the gaokao, they cried out their understanding that “we were all
the same in front of the gaokao.”
When talking about her understanding of the gaokao, Xiaomeng said that,

No matter how reforms to the gaokao are carried out, the threshold of universities
is still as high as before. The gaokao score is still used as the assessment indicator
and I think there is an equal playing field for the gaokao. Anyway, I can’t think of
any better substitute for the gaokao. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)
Xiaohao felt the same about it.
Many people envy the education and exam system abroad, and believe that we should learn
from the other countries. But after all, we have different conditions. We have too many
students in China, so the gaokao is the fairest way to get into university because it is related
to your efforts. As long as you made a great effort in the 12 years before university, you can
get the same amount of return. (personal communication, December 11, 2015)

In addition, Xiaomeng and Xiaolu also pointed out that “I don’t think it’s like
‘trying to cross a one-way bridge with thousands of people,’ it’s just a challenge that
Chinese students have to face in their lives. It’s just a test!” Xiaolu also added that,
Chinese teachers and parents tell students that if you manage to get into a university, you
can relax and rest, which is the reason why so many students stop learning and start to
waste time in universities. For me, the gaokao is not the end; it’s just a temporary stop, a
challenge I have to face. It’s also another starting point in my life, and there are bound to be
more challenges ahead. Therefore, after the gaokao, I started to plan for my university life.
(personal communication, December 11, 2015)

In conclusion, the gaokao is often criticized for contradicting targets for quality
education. It is blamed for affecting the cultivation of innovation and critical
thinking abilities, and thus undermining elementary education in China. However,
from the perspective of Chinese students, the gaokao, as an inevitable challenge in
their life, has indeed benefited them a lot by giving them many positive influences
on their future life and work. In addition to that, given the actual national situation,
the gaokao seems to be the fairest and most just pathway to enable millions of
Chinese students to go on to tertiary education.


Zhang, D. J. (2005). 最后的图腾: 中国高中教育价值取向与学校特色发展研究 [The last totem:

Research on the value orientation of high school education and development of school features in
China]. 北京, 中国: 教育科学出版社 [Beijing, China: Educational Science Publishing House].
Part II
Chinese Parents

Mencius’ father died early. As a child, Mencius lived with his

mother Zhang near a graveyard. He often amused himself by
imitating others’ digging tombs and wailing. His mother said,
“It is not a good place for a child to grow up.” They moved to a
place near a market. Mencius started to imitate the peddler’s
hawking. His mother said, “It is not a good place for my son to
grow up.” They left the market for a slaughterhouse. Mencius
then imitated how to slaughter livestock. His mother said, “Not
the right place.” They moved to a place near a Confucian
academy. At mid-month, officials came to the Confucius Temple
to salute and worship. Mencius imitated the rituals. His mother
said, “This is the right place.” Then they settled there.

Lienü Zhuan
Liu Xiang (Han dynasty)

Families are the cells that make up a society. Families are social organizations
based on the ties of marriage, blood, or adoption. They are the most important
environments for the upbringing of children. Family, school, and society jointly
create the environment for children’s education. Of the three, family education is
the basis of school and social education, playing an irreplaceable role in fostering
children’s physical and mental development.
Over more than three decades, the family structure in China has undergone
substantial changes. In 1979, China started to implement its one-child policy to
control the population and accelerate social development. As a result, an
unprecedentedly large cohort of only children were born. When the first generation
of only children grew into adulthood, a large number of “4-2-1” structured families
came into being. In such a structure, “2” represents the husband and wife who are
both only children; “1” represents the only child of the couple; “4” represents the
couple’s parents on both sides (Feng 2015).
According to the Sixth National Population Census in 2010, there were 3.1
members in an average Chinese family, which was down by 0.34 from the Fifth
National Population Census in 2000. The number of one-child families stood at
150 million, and the proportion of the elderly who lived alone increased. Overall,
78 Part II: Chinese Parents

nuclear families1 still account for the largest share and are the basic family type in
China. The proportion of stem families is still quite large, while that of composite
families is decreasing. The proportions of childless nuclear families, three-
generation stem families, and single-person families are on the rise, while that of
single-parent families is decreasing (Tong and Huang 2015). In particular, the
following changes have created a strong impact on family education in China.
First, the size of a typical Chinese family has become significantly smaller. With
the rise of such a trend, the traditional four-generational family is now extremely
rare. Second, an increasing number of children are living with their grandparents.
Third, the divorce rate keeps rising, but the proportion of single-parent families is
falling. Divorce, widowing, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy are all factors resulting
in single-parent families, but the high divorce rate is the major driver.
With the implementation of the family planning policy and the changes to the
family structure come many social problems that need to be urgently addressed.
First, while a lower birth rate and smaller family size are helpful for a more
balanced husband–wife relationship and the education of their child/children, China
has the largest number of old people and is the fastest aging society in the world.
Compared with the statistics of the fifth national census in 2000, the proportion of
people under 14 years of age dropped by 6.29 percentage points, that of people
between 15 and 59 increased by 3.36 percentage points, that of people at 60 or
above increased by 2.93 percentage points, and that of people at 65 or above
increased by 1.91 percentage points (National Bureau of Statistics of China 2012).
If this trend continues, Chinese families’ traditional function of providing for the
elderly will be further weakened, and China’s social security system will find it hard
to provide for such a huge number of old people. Particularly, in “4-2-1” structured
families, the sandwiched generation will face the enormous dual pressure of pro-
viding for the elderly and raising children. Second, due to the fact that a massive
rural labor force are making a living in cities, an increasing number of left-behind

There are six types of basic family structures, i.e., the nuclear family, stem family, composite
family, single-person family, incomplete family, and none-of-the-above type. A nuclear family is
composed of a couple and their child (children); a stem family is composed of a couple (the two of
them or just one of them), one married child, and their grandchild (grandchildren); a composite
family is composed of a couple (the two of them or just one of them) and two or more married
children; a single-person family is composed of the head of the family who lives alone; an
incomplete family refers to one formed by unmarried siblings. Stem families can be divided into
two-generational, three-generational, four-generational, and skipped generation stem families.
First, a two-generational stem family is composed of a couple (the head of the family and the
spouse), their married son, and daughter-in-law. Second, a third-generational family refers to one
formed by a couple, their married children, and grandchildren. Third, four-generational families
can take different forms, as evidenced by the census data. The head of the family and his wife, his
parents, his children and daughter-in-law, and his grandchildren constitute a four-generational
stem family; the head of the family and his spouse, his parents, grandparents, and great grand-
parents can also constitute a four-generational stem family. Fourth, skipped generation stem
families are stem families spanning three or more generations without the generation in between.
The two examples given here are about families of three generations. In reality, four-generational
families may also have lost the in-between generation.
Part II: Chinese Parents 79

children can only be attended to by their grandparents. However, the elderly tend to
only care about their living necessities but ignore their education. In addition, the
elderly are usually not competent in helping their grandchildren with studying.
Worse still, Chinese grandparents tend to spoil their grandchildren. Under such
circumstances, these unsupervised children may easily develop bad habits or even
violate laws and regulations. Third, a rising divorce rate and a decreasing propor-
tion of single-parent families seem to suggest that more people value equality and
independence in marriages and are increasingly open about remarriage. However,
families formed by remarriage face more serious problems concerning children’s
education, such as children’s difficulties in psychologically adjusting themselves to
the new family.
To cope with these issues, China has been gradually adjusting childbearing
policies in recent years. It was stated in the Decision on Major Issues Concerning
Comprehensively Deepening Reforms adopted at the third plenary session of the
18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China that China would start to
implement the policy of allowing a couple to have two children if either the hus-
band or wife was a single child. The communique of the fifth plenary session of the
18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued in 2015 proposed
that all couples were allowed to have two children. This means China has entered
the “two-child” age. Overall, implementing the “two-child” policy will help China
maintain the working population at an appropriate scale, slow down population
aging, enhance families’ resilience against risks, and promote the balanced devel-
opment of the population in the long run. To families, this policy can optimize their
structure, make them stronger, and help pass down family culture (Sun 2015).
In his book The Tact of Teaching, Canadian educator, Max van Manen
(2016) said:
Life will be carried into the twenty-first century by new realities. We must recognize that
spheres of human intimacy increasingly come under strain from consumer, economic,
bureaucratic, corporate and political technologies and ideologies. The notion of education,
conceived as a living process of personal engagement between an adult teacher or parent
and a young child or student, may well disappear in an increasingly managerial, corporate
and technicized environment. (p. 6)

In the current age, many children and adolescents are seldom supported by their
parents. In the opinion of Max van Manen, a deeper connection between education
and parenting exists. A successful family life tends to result in happy and
well-adjusted children. Success in family life has two preconditions: first, enabling
children to be fully prepared for the many challenges and dangers of the outside
world; second, parents’ intimacy with children and a very strong sense of morality
and obligation. These two preconditions raised by this Canadian scholar happen to
be the essence of parent–children relationships, in addition to a family upbringing.
The way Chinese people bring up and educate their children carries a unique
oriental wisdom.
First, parents should deal with the young by nourishing and uncovering their
original nature and seizing the opportune timing for early-stage education. Chinese
80 Part II: Chinese Parents

people have always valued the early education of children, as evidenced by the
many old sayings that advocate for it. Chinese people believe that it is only when
parents take early education seriously and get off to a good start in enlightening and
developing children’s intelligence and mentality that children can become suc-
cessful when they grow up. In The Family Instructions of Master Yan, Yan Zhitui
said: “Children can easily focus on things. After they grow up, however, they are
easily distracted. Therefore, the opportune moment of early education must be
seized.” Confucius also said: “What is acquired in childhood becomes instinct;
what becomes habit is second nature.” The wisdom of the ancient Chinese is also
demonstrated by their adoption of different education and upbringing methods in
light of different development stages of children. In the xiaoxue (elementary
learning) stage, the emphasis should be placed on daily matters; in the daxue (great
learning) stage, the emphasis should be placed on the cultivation of moral integrity.
In What Children Must Know, Zhu Xi specified exactly what “daily matters” meant:
first, housework such as sprinkling with water and sweeping floors, as well as
proprieties and courtesies; second, loving your parents, respecting your seniors and
teachers, and getting along with friends; third, music, archery and chariot-riding,
calligraphy, and mathematics. Parents believe that it is important to cultivate
children’s habits and conduct manners when they are young. Many ancient Chinese
classics such as Dizi gui (Disciplines for Students and Children) and Dizi zhi (Rules
for Students and Children) mentioned that it is hugely significant to children’s
development and success to cultivate good habits in showing filial piety to their
parents, personal conduct, and daily life.
Second, Chinese parents prioritize the stimulation of aspirations and moral
maturity in the upbringing of their children. Chinese parents, whether they are
high-ranking officials or ordinary folks, all want their children to aim high. Most
Chinese parents accept the traditional values of prioritizing morality and developing
good habits, which reflect the teachings of Confucianism. However, times are
changing, and morality education has remained the cornerstone of family education
and early education in China. As an old Chinese saying puts it, “One should see
righteous things, hear righteous things, do righteous things and be surrounded by
righteous people.” By teaching their children via verbal instructions and personal
examples, parents can maintain their authority and bring traditional wisdom into life.
Third, Chinese people attach importance to shaping and passing on family tra-
ditions, including instructions, words, deeds, and rules from ancestors. The
sophisticated wisdom contained in family traditions can be used to educate parents
today, make them more adept in terms of education, and make them able to deliver
better education outcomes. Modern parents should strive to create a familial
atmosphere of warmth and solidarity. They should cherish and respect history and
pass on their family traditions, so that they have family rules and instructions to
abide by and family learning to draw upon. Their children should inherit these
family instructions and traditions, and carry on the family learning.
Chinese parents are an indispensable part of the studies on Chinese schools. This
part is divided into three chapters: a tiring but happy day for Chinese parents;
Chinese parents’ upbringing methods and educational philosophies; Chinese
Part II: Chinese Parents 81

parents’ choices of schools. In the first part, a typical day for Duoduo’s mother,
the representative of tens of millions of Chinese parents, is depicted to show the
overall situation of Chinese parents; in the second part, the features of Chinese
families, as well as the multiple facets and educational philosophies of Chinese
parents, are elaborated on to show how Chinese parents educate their children and
what influences Chinese parents and families have on school education; in the third
part, the motives, criteria, conditions, approaches, and dilemmas of Chinese par-
ents’ choices of schools are analyzed from the perspective of Chinese parents. We
will describe and analyze Chinese parents from the above three perspectives, pre-
senting their image and features in a vivid and thorough manner.


Feng, X. T. (2015). “四二一”: 概念内涵, 问题实质与社会影响 [“4-2-1”: Conceptual meaning,

nature of the problem and social impact]. 社会科学 [Journal of Social Sciences], (11), 71–81.
Manen, van. M. (2016). The tact of teaching: The meaning of pedagogical thoughtfulness.
Abingdon, England: Routledge.
Sun, S. L. (2015). 浅析“二孩政策”对家庭的影响 [A brief analysis of the impact of “two-child
policy” on families]. 现代交际 [Modern Communication], (2), 12.
Tong, H. J., & Huang, C. Y. (2015). 当代中国家庭结构的变迁及其社会影响 [Changes of
family structure and their social influence on contemporary China]. 西北人口 [Northwest
Population Journal], (6), 81–84, 88.
Chapter 5
A Tiring but Happy Day for Chinese

Chinese people believe that their home is a soothing place that their body and soul
long to go back to. This shows that parents are the source of spiritual support for
their children. Children can rest assured that they can always count on their parents,
who are always there for them. Parenthood and blood ties are the axis around which
China’s family relations revolve, unlike in the West where the emphasis is placed
on the relationship between a couple. This contrast highlights that the idea of home
is a part of Chinese people’s DNA.
Ever since the value of family education was recognized, Chinese parents’
child-rearing approaches have been criticized by experts, scholars, children,
schools, and people from all walks of life. Criticisms Against Chinese Parents:
Interview Records of Hot Issues with Family Education, a book published by China
Business Press in 2001, points out the top ten “original sins” of Chinese parents,
which are: an authoritarian parenting style; propensity for violence and simplistic
methods of rewards and penalties; valuing scholastic performance over morality;
imposing their personal desires upon their children; pampering their children and
trying to do everything for them; eagerness for instant success and utilitarianism;
discouragement of innovation and preference for mediocrity; fawning upon the rich
and powerful and lacking independent judgment; playing it safe and being hyp-
ocrites; and spiritual emptiness and absence of faith (Feng 2001). However, there is
also praise for Chinese parenting in the international community. On January 11,
2015, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, delivered a speech in Islington in
the north of London, and called on the educational community to learn from the
ethos of the Chinese “tiger mom.” He encouraged parents to toughen up their
children and discouraged the “everyone wins” joyful and relaxing type of educa-
tion. He even said that every teacher should adopt the “battle hymn” of “working,
trying hard, believing you can succeed, and getting up and trying again” and spread
it through the education system (Xu 2016).
What is a “Chinese parent” really like? A typical day for Chinese parents is
made up of many small tasks, from taking their children to school, participating in
parents activities, signing them up for tutorial classes to picking them up from their
© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 83
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_5
84 5 A Tiring but Happy Day for Chinese Parents

activities. From these small tasks we can see that Chinese parents devote a lot of
time and energy to their children’s education. Therefore, focusing on a typical day
of one Chinese family can reveal how all Chinese parents are involved in their
children’s education.
To present Chinese parents as a whole in a more direct and accurate way, this
chapter, based on literature research, interviews with parents, surveys, question-
naires and observations, creates a virtual Chinese parent, “Duoduo’s mother.” Up
until now, in our survey Studies on Chinese Schools, we collected 2,930 ques-
tionnaires from parents and had in-depth interviews with 27 parents. As is com-
monly seen in a “4-2-1” family, Duoduo’s parents are both income earners. The
family members, specifically speaking, are Duoduo’s grandpa and grandma on
Duoduo’s father’s side, Duoduo’s grandpa and grandma on her mother’s side,
Duoduo’s father, Duoduo’s mother and Duoduo. Duoduo’s mother is an ordinary
employee in a company and Duoduo’s father a civil servant at the grassroots level.

5.1 Excessive Love

5.1.1 Taking Duoduo to School

As an ordinary company employee, Duoduo’s mother gets an average income. She

is quite exhausted by her daily role as a mother, a wife, a daughter, and an
employee. Neither she nor her husband has siblings. Thus, as they develop their
careers, they also need to take care of their parents on both sides and their only child
Duoduo. Sometimes, they do feel very exhausted. However, Duoduo’s mother
loves her family and is passionate about her career. Life is busy, but it is the life that
she wants. As she puts it, “It seems to be very difficult, but I enjoy it.”
Every day, Duoduo’s mother gets up at 5:50 am. Since Duoduo went to primary
school, Duoduo’s mother has developed a very regular schedule. Guided by her
biological clock, she gets up on time every day. She opens her sleepy eyes, shakes
off her sleepiness, and starts to make a list in her head of the things she needs to do
today: submitting a proposal, being on duty at the school, performing her duties
after school, buying cooking ingredients, paying the electricity bill, picking up
Duoduo from school, etc. Having gone through all these things, she pats Duoduo’s
father who is still sleeping, gets up, and her busy day starts to unfold. She usually
finishes brushing her teeth, washing her face and getting dressed within 20 min.
Then, she goes to Duoduo’s bedroom, opens the door lightly, checks on Duoduo,
and sees if her alarm clock is properly set. When everything is ready, Duoduo’s
mother starts to prepare a wonderful breakfast.
You have to admit that Duoduo’s mother really cooks well. She is good at cooking
both Chinese and Western cuisine. The breakfast she makes is different every day. If it
is bread, eggs and soybean milk one day, then the next day it will be fried dough stick,
steamed buns and tofu pudding. As for today, she is going to make wonton noodles,
5.1 Excessive Love 85

which is Duoduo and Duoduo’s father’s favorite. Last night, she had prepared all the
ingredients needed. Today, she just needs to cook them. Duoduo is still a little child.
She does not eat much breakfast or no breakfast at all sometimes. Therefore,
Duoduo’s mother tries everything possible to whet her appetite. Considering that a
Western-style breakfast contains a lot of calories and tends to make children over-
weight, Duoduo’s mother finally decided to make wonton noodles. Having the hot
noodle soup before going to school can warm and refresh Duoduo.
Of course, the delicious food is not just breakfast, but is also Duoduo’s mother’s
powerful tool to wake up Duoduo and Duoduo’s father. “Wake up, wake up…,” the
alarm clock rings relentlessly. Frowning, Duoduo opens her sleepy eyes and reaches
out to press the bottom, stops the annoying clock and tries to fall asleep again.
However, she smells breakfast and the smell is getting stronger and stronger, so she
has to drag herself out of her sleep and unwillingly open her eyes. Her mother shouts:
“Duoduo, get up. I made your favorite wonton noodles! It is already 6:20. You will
be late.” “OK, OK, I know,” Duoduo answers. Thinking of her mother’s wonton
noodles that are always so smooth and chewy with a lingering taste, the “little
foodie” struggles to open her eyes. Amid the second round of alarm clock rings and
the sound of cooking, she dresses herself and then goes straight to the washroom to
brush her teeth and wash her face. Duoduo’s father also gets up just then.
Duoduo’s mother reminds her to eat slowly and makes juice for her at the same
time. In autumn and winter, apple, orange and pear are the top choices for Duoduo’s
mother. Thinking of the severe haze these past days, she uses some fresh carrots as
the major ingredient. Having thoroughly washed the fruits and vegetables with the
sterilizer, Duoduo’s mother starts to make a compound carrot and pear juice for
Duoduo to take to school. When Duoduo has finished breakfast, the juice is also
ready. Duoduo’s mother reminds Duoduo to take her homework and stationery,
says goodbye to Duoduo’s father who is washing dishes, and then gets her own
briefcase and goes out with Duoduo.

5.1.2 Some Thoughts on the Image of Chinese Parents

Chinese parents generally put their children at the center of their life. Their love for
their children leaves no aspect unattended to. To Chinese parents, loving their
children is the most natural thing to do. In China, most couples, after having
children, devote all their time and energy to them. They love their children more
than themselves, and are even willing to give up their own lives for their children.
Chinese parents’ love of their children, as described above, is, on the one hand,
out of their instinct as parents, and on the other hand, out of their high expectation
for their children’s academic performance. To help their children concentrate on
their studies, Chinese parents take care of everything other than learning for their
children: arranging for their clothing, food, accommodation, etc. For example,
many Chinese parents will do thorough research on cooking in order to prepare
three nutritious meals for their children; they will wash and clean their children’s
86 5 A Tiring but Happy Day for Chinese Parents

clothes and shoes before the school day and put them in order at their children’s
bedside; they will also stop their children from doing things unrelated to study. The
result of the survey confirms the above impressions we have of Chinese parents.
A total of 93.24% of the parents surveyed say that they would, almost every day,
ensure that enough time is allocated for their children to complete their homework;
80.48% of the parents surveyed say that they would, almost every day, check if
their children have completed their homework. It can be seen that paying enormous
attention to their children’s study has become the norm in China.
Generally speaking, Chinese parents take too much care of their children’s basic
living necessities. They pay too much attention to children’s intellectual develop-
ment, but overlook the importance of their emotional and social development,
values and practical skills. The more they do, the less freedom children will have.
Such over-intervention deprives children of many chances to experience things by
themselves. Children that grow up under such family circumstances tend to be high
in marks but low in abilities. After they enter society, they can hardly establish
themselves as they lack the ability to survive independently. Due to
over-intervention, Chinese parents deny their children independence and also lose
themselves. Chinese parents usually think it is a “virtue” to “give up everything for
their children,” including their career development. This is especially true for
women, who tend to view their children as the center of life. After the birth of their
children, they are known as the “mother of their child.” This exerts huge pressure
on their children, and is thus not beneficial for the children’s all-round develop-
ment. Over-intervention makes life particularly difficult for Chinese parents, and
can harm their children’s growth.

5.2 Parent-School Cooperation

5.2.1 Being on Duty at School

Besides the role described above, Duoduo’s mother has another important role to play
as a member of the Parents Committee. On the first day of the semester, the school
selected, from voluntary parents, the members of the Parents Committee. Why did
she want to join the committee? First, she wanted to learn about Duoduo’s living and
learning environment. Second, she wanted to communicate more with the school and
deepen their mutual understanding. Many other parents think the same. They build
ties with the school through multiple channels, for example, regular Parent
Committee meetings, class observations, parents’ classes, parent-children sports
meetings and being on duty in the school. These things seem trivial, but it takes
commitment from both sides to carry out such activities after the school has com-
pleted the teaching tasks of the day and after parents have worked for the whole day.
Upon finishing her work in the morning, Duoduo’s mother hurries to Duoduo’s
school, not to pick her up, but to be on duty. It is Duoduo’s mother’s turn to be on duty
5.2 Parent-School Cooperation 87

from 12:00 to 13:30 every Monday. She tours the school and observes the school
children’s life, collects feedbacks from teachers and parents, and then communicates
this feedback to the school and helps address the issues. On this particular day, upon
her arrival at the campus, Duoduo’s mother hears something from another parent:
“The lunches at school are quite varied and nutritious. I am satisfied with that. But it is
getting cold, and the meals are not as warm as before. I’m afraid the children will get
stomachaches if they have cold meals.” Duoduo’s mother promises to report this to the
school as soon as possible. After her on-duty period ends, Duoduo’s mother reports
this issue to the head of Duoduo’s grade, who then immediately tells this to the head of
logistics. The next week, when Duoduo’s mother is on duty again, she goes to stu-
dents’ canteen to learn about the latest development. She goes to the dining table and
kindly asks children if the meal is warm enough, and they all answer: “Yes, it is warm
enough.” She later learns that the logistics department, upon receiving her feedback,
have adopted measures in response. For example, the school has prepared enough
facilities to keep the food warm so that even the last child to the canteen can have a
warm meal. Then, the school praises Duoduo’s mother and other parents for reporting
this issue and the parents also thank the school for adopting prompt responses. Both
sides realize the importance of each other. In Duoduo’s mother’s opinion, it is only
when the school welcomes issues raised by parents and when parents are willing to
make their contribution that they can really promote the development of the school as
well as the children.
Have you heard about the Parent Guards? They are quite a team at the school
entrance. Every time the bell rings at the end of a school day, children flood out of
the campus. Such a huge crowd can easily cause traffic jams, safety hazards or even
stampedes. Moreover, food stands selling all kinds of snacks around the school gate
poses another challenge to children’s health. In addition, the school receives many
reports that students are beaten or robbed. All these problems worry parents very
much. After negotiation between parents and the school, they agree to designate
people from both sides to wear red ribbons prepared by the school and stand at the
sides of the entrance to watch out for the children. As a representative of the Parents
Committee, Duoduo’s mother proposed to set up a Guard Team with six to 10
parents based on a weekly class rotation. A parent can voluntarily choose to be on
duty for any day or for several days as they wish. Duoduo’s mother and father took
the lead and signed up for it. Gradually more parents followed suit. They realized
the value of this “guardian” task and became actively involved.
Duoduo’s mother says that making use of parents to protect children works very
well. The crowd at the school entrance disperses within 15 to 20 min and in a much
more orderly way than before. In this manner, school security personnel, teachers
on duty and parent volunteers work in tandem to promote school safety. In addition,
through the voluntary duty system, parents start to recognize the difficulties on the
school’s side. In Duoduo’s mother’s opinion, the school personnel and parents get
in touch and appreciate each other as they work together. Seeing the efforts made by
parents, school leaders and teachers will experience a boost of morale and know
that their work is valuable and important; and when parents realize how hard the
88 5 A Tiring but Happy Day for Chinese Parents

teachers work for their children, they will be more supportive and tolerant of the

5.2.2 Thoughts on Parent-School Cooperation

Currently, schools are expected to deliver highly ambitious results, such as equal
access to education opportunities, quality education, individualized education and
better vocational education. Such unrealistic expectations create a huge amount of
pressure for schools. At the Education Reform Seminar co-hosted by the China
Education 30 Forum and Caijing magazine, Professor Xiang Xianming from
Renmin University of China pointed out that educational issues were often mixed
up with social, management or political issues. Therefore, sole reliance on schools
is not sufficient to address issues that require the joint efforts of schools, families
and society at large.
Then who should extend a helping hand to schools? Now that schools are already
excessively burdened, Chinese parents no longer remain silent as they realize the
importance of getting involved in school education. In interviews with them, we
found that most parents are quite confident in schools and are willing to work with
schools. Through engagement in cooperation work, parents and schools tolerate and
sympathize with each other on the basis of enhanced mutual understanding.
However, the cooperation between schools and parents is still beset by such
problems as inadequate publicity, asymmetric information and emphasis on for-
malities over substance. Many parents even choose to say nothing about problems
affecting the school education, school-parent cooperation and children’s develop-
ment; they even pretend these problems do not exist. This is so because Chinese
people have traditionally respected the dignity of the teaching profession and the
teachers’ dominant role in education, and they tend to view schools as the
authoritative party and would readily support schools. However, parents do not
have a strong sense of being stakeholders themselves. For them, school–parent
cooperation means tacitly approving whatever the school says rather than active
In addition, parents view each other as competitors. They all have a personal
agenda and only focus on their own children’s education, in the hope that their
children will not lag behind at the starting line. As for the overall development of
the school, parents do not care that much. According to our survey, 74.85% of the
parents surveyed actively discuss the behaviors and performance of their own
children with teachers; 94.78% of parents join Wechat groups or QQ (another kind
of social media) groups of their children’s classes. However, they are not so
committed when it comes to joining school organizations, voluntary services or
other kinds of school-parent activities. Although we strongly call for school-parent
cooperation and parents are devoted to it, this cooperation is still quite “passive” on
the parents’ side. The estrangement between parents and the school tends to result
in nominal, rather than substantial, cooperation.
5.3 Pervasive “Shadow Education” 89

5.3 Pervasive “Shadow Education”

5.3.1 Sending Duoduo to Supplementary Tutoring Classes

Duoduo is now in the 6th Grade and is about to take the middle school entrance
examination. Although the country now advocates proximity-based admission to
schools, Duoduo still needs to get good grades to be admitted into the best school in
her district. Duoduo’s academic performance is better than average in her class, but
math has always been her weakness. After discussion with Duoduo’s father and
other parents, Duoduo’s mother decided to send Duoduo to a supplementary
tutoring class to help her get higher math grades.
“Small dining table” (xiao fan zhuo), a unique phenomenon in China, refers to a
commercial tutoring institution for students in primary and middle schools. Such
institutions offer many services such as free pick up, dinner and homework tutoring.
The development of urbanization gives rise to more and more dual-earner families,
and as a result, many parents do not have time to take care of their children after
school. This is why the student tutoring market represented by the “small dining
tables” has started to thrive. In school, the number of students in one class usually
reaches 30 to 40, or even 80 in some areas. Thus, it is impossible for teachers to
attend to the needs of every student; students’ problems with homework after
school cannot be promptly addressed. Parents who are busy with work sometimes
find it difficult to help their children with homework. “Small dining tables” help
parents look after their children and help children with their study, satisfying the
needs of both parents and children. Through extensive comparison, Duoduo’s
mother finally finds a “small dining table” that she can trust. Therefore, Duoduo and
her friends go to this tutoring institution to do homework after class every day.
Duoduo’s mother says that this institution does relieve the burden on parents to
some degree and helps improve Duoduo’s math grade by systematically teaching
her examination techniques.
Duoduo’s mother actually is not very sure whether she should send her child to
tutoring classes. On one hand, she thinks that if parents really love their children,
then they should make children happy instead of imposing a heavy burden of
learning on them. On the other hand, there is a kind of social pressure that compels
her to send Duoduo to tutoring classes. She fears that if Duoduo lags behind in
terms of her academic performance and eventually fails to get a quality education,
she will jeopardize Duoduo’s future development. To compensate Duoduo,
Duoduo’s mother often takes her out to play on weekends, for example, going to
painting exhibitions, making pottery and sand painting, enjoying the beauty of the
nature in the suburbs and having fun with friends in amusement parks.
Of course, having signed Duoduo up for tutoring classes does not mean that
Duoduo’s father and mother no longer help her with her studies. Duoduo’s mother
majored in humanities, so she is in charge of helping Duoduo with her Chinese
language and English; Duoduo’s father majored in science, so Duoduo’s math is
supervised by him. However, as Duoduo is in a higher grade now, her parents
90 5 A Tiring but Happy Day for Chinese Parents

sometimes find that they are not up to the task. Once, Duoduo asked her mother
about one particular English question, and her mother thought hard but could not
answer it. To give Duoduo better instructions, Duoduo’s mother made a “surpris-
ing” decision: studying English grammar from scratch once again. After that,
Duoduo’s mother made use of all her spare time to read grammar books and do
exercises. Finally, she did manage to go through all the English grammar books.
Then she realized that the knowledge structure in adults’ brains was different from
that of children. If parents do not know what their children have previously learned
at school, home tutoring would not be of much help. Should parents sign their
children up for tutoring classes? How can parents play a better role in their chil-
dren’s study? These are issues that Chinese parents are generally puzzled about.

5.3.2 Thoughts on Shadow Education

Chinese parents usually attach great importance to their children’s education, career
and marriage. Many of them even consider the three to be indicators of happiness. It
is only when their children have their career and family that parents can claim to
have fulfilled their parental responsibilities. A quality education is the very first
step. Therefore, Chinese parents expect their children to gain more capital,
opportunities and resources through education. They generally expect their children
to excel and guide them to set more ambitious goals. They believe that “education
can change one’s fate.”
Tao Yanbo, one of the Touching-China1 figures in 2014, is known as the mother
who is al so the desk mate of her deaf son. After her son became sick and then deaf,
Tao Yanbo immediately decided to quit her job. She was by her son’s side all day
long. She studied with her son as his teacher and study companion. Thanks to her
persistent efforts over 16 years, her son was finally admitted into a university. Both
Mencius’s mother and Tao Yanbo are typical Chinese mothers who are willing to
devote everything to their children. In China, there are countless such parents.
However, moderation is needed in everything. When Chinese parents intervene
in school education, they sometimes go too far. Some parents do not believe that
schools are capable of providing their children with a good education. Some other
parents, driven by fierce competition, sign their children up for many kinds of
tutoring classes without asking their children’s opinion. Of the 2,930 parents sur-
veyed, 44.23% had signed their children up for tutoring classes after school. They
want to equip their children with more techniques to cope with examinations and

Touching China is a popular program held by CCTV annually, in which the most touching
Chinese figures in the past year are chosen at the end of each year. This program gives the
audiences an ideological and spiritual feast and every broadcast always causes a society intense
echo, so Touching China is known as the “Chinese annual spiritual epic” in China.
5.3 Pervasive “Shadow Education” 91

make them study materials for the next semester in advance. That is why shadow
education2 enjoys such an enormous market in China.
In China, the quality of school education is uneven. Coupled with the influence of
other factors, such as the family planning policy and the improvement of people’s
livelihood, shadow education is expanding in China at an astonishing rate. After all,
in such a populous country as China, the competition is particularly fierce. Faced
with this dilemma, many Chinese parents argue that they have no other choice.

5.4 Lack of Proper Family Education

Providing children with living necessities only satisfies their physical needs.
However, parents’ true education of their children should be regarding their civility
and upbringing. Unfortunately, Chinese parents pay little attention to guiding their
children on how to treat people and deal with things with courtesy and politeness.
Systematic family education was established as early as the Western Zhou period
(1046–771 BCE). The Chapter of the Patterns of Family (“Nei Ze,” Book of Rites)
recorded parents’ education of their children at that time:
When the child was able to take its own food, it was taught to use the right hand. When it
was able to speak, a boy was taught to respond boldly and clearly; a girl, submissively and
in a low tone of voice. The former was fitted with a girdle of leather; the latter, with one of
silk. At the age of six, they were taught numbers and the names of cardinal points; at the
age of seven, boys and girls did not occupy the same mat nor eat together; at eight, when
going out or coming in at a gate or door and going to their mats to eat or drink, they were
required to follow their elders: the teaching of yielding to others has now begun; at nine,
they were taught how to count the days; at ten, the boy went to a master outside and stayed
with him even overnight…

From this record, we can see that Chinese parents at that time, besides satisfying
their children’s basic physical needs, taught their children basic principles and
views based on their age, such as basic living skills and habits, courtesy and rules,
numbers, cardinal points and the time. During the Spring Festival in 2014, CCTV
launched a series of reports titled “What is Your Family Tradition.” The program
randomly interviewed passers-by, entrepreneurs and writers and so on, and asked
them to explain their family traditions. This program was widely talked about
nationwide. Family traditions are codes of ethics and conduct that were passed
down from one generation to another. They represent the fine virtues of the splendid

Private supplementary tutoring is widely known as shadow education, since it mimics the
mainstream. It is concerned with tutoring in academic subjects that is provided for a fee and that
takes place outside standard school hours. The study is not concerned with tutoring in sports or
music except insofar as they are assessed subjects for advancement in education systems. Also, the
study is not concerned with tutoring provided free of charge by teachers, family members,
community groups, or other bodies. Bray, M. (2007). The Shadow Education System: Private
Tutoring and Its Implications for Planners UNESCO: International Institute for Educational
92 5 A Tiring but Happy Day for Chinese Parents

5,000-year civilization of the Chinese nation. Chinese people always pay a lot of
attention to the cultivation of family traditions, and use family rules and family
instructions to regulate their children’s daily behaviors and give instructions on how
to behave themselves, run their families and develop their careers. Classics on
family traditions include The Family Instructions of Master Yan written by Yan
Zhitui, Maxims of Regulating One’s Family written by Zhu Xi and Family Letters
of Zeng Guofan written by Zeng Guofan.
However, now that the family size is getting smaller and smaller, family tradi-
tions are losing their appeal and are considered to be “outdated.” From the ques-
tionnaires filled out by Chinese parents, we found out that more than 80% of them
would make sure that their children have enough time to finish homework and
would check it every day. However, as for the item of “spending time communi-
cating with their children alone,” the proportion drops significantly to 53.14%; and
only 29.28% of the respondents discuss “how to apply what they learn to daily life”
with their children. Many Chinese parents adopt a laissez-faire attitude and try to
satisfy their children’s demands, whatever they are, but ignore the cultivation of
civility. Due to parents’ negligence in cultivating family traditions and setting
family rules and instructions, many bad practices are spreading, hurting children’s
growth and resulting in a negative influence on society. There are many reasons
responsible for Chinese parents’ absence in cultivating their children’s civility. One
is the one-child policy. Another is the increase in dual-earner families, which makes
it difficult for parents to spare more time to teach their children manners. Other
reasons include parents’ emphasis on academic performance over everything else
and the increasingly utilitarian competition in society.
A good family upbringing is very important to the civility of Chinese people.
A person’s values and manners of behavior are to a large degree influenced by their
family environment. Although the family planning policy and the development of
the market economy changed China’s family structure which had remained intact
for a long time, the fundamental nature of the family as a unit of society remains
essentially the same: Family still plays the role of educating and socializing their
children and passing on family traditions. That is why family’s cultivation of
children’s civility becomes all the more important in today’s society where morality
is eroded and values are diversified.
In today’s society, the demands for people’s competences are higher and the
competition among talents is getting more and more intense. China has a huge
population, and accordingly, the employment pressure is huge. Furthermore,
modernization fuels the demand for educated workers. In fact, high-quality edu-
cation has always been a scarce resource for Chinese people; even compulsory
education is not a public benefit in the real sense. The channels for social upward
mobility are limited. Without good grades, one cannot go to a good university;
without such an education background, one can hardly find a good job; without a
good job, one cannot get a handsome salary or enough social security benefits;
without adequate social security, one will have problems with basic necessities. In
5.4 Lack of Proper Family Education 93

addition, China has been implementing the family planning policy, which has led to
the emergence of many only children. In single-child families, the expectations of
the whole family are placed on one child. This makes it certain that Chinese parents
would grab at education as the life-saving straw to help their children compete for
their schools, grades, jobs and livelihood.
Chinese parents place high expectations on their children. They demonstrate the
necessity of delaying gratification; they teach their children by verbal instruction
and by personal examples; they can be demanding and also loving. They convince
their children that “whether your family is rich or poor, hard work at school will
always lead you to success.” When it comes to children’s education, Chinese
parents have a stronger sense of responsibility and a stronger mission. However,
many Chinese parents fail to properly position themselves. On one hand, they spoil
their children and meddle too much in school education. On the other hand, they do
not pay enough attention to the cultivation of civility or communicate enough with
schools. Parents alone are not responsible for these problems. The changes in
family structure, loopholes in the country’s education evaluation systems and
unreasonable social mobility, among other factors, also play a role.
In conclusion, the way that Chinese parents educate their children has disad-
vantages that need to be removed completely, but also many merits worth recog-
nizing. Fortunately, with the fast development of China’s education, Chinese
parents are more adept at educating their children: more and more parents not only
recognize the importance of parental education for children’s development, but also
become actively involved in their children’s study and learn how to cooperate with
schools and children. Considering the size of China’s population, it is an illusion
that Chinese parents as a group can develop scientific education methods within a
short period of time. After all, as a part of the social system, education is closely
related to the country’s politics, economy and culture. In summary, Chinese parents
have always been working whole-heartedly for their children. However, main-
taining a proper sense of boundary is what they should work on in the future.


Feng, L. (2001). 中国家长批判: 家庭教育焦点问题访谈录 [Criticisms against Chinese parents:

Interview record of hot issues with family education]. 北京, 中国: 中国商业出版社 [Beijing,
China: China Business Press].
National Bureau of Statistics of China. (2012). 2010年第六次全国人口普查主要数据公报
[Major data of the Sixth National Census in 2010]. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from http://www.
Xu, S. T. (2016). 英国首相卡梅伦: 每个老师都该成为“虎妈” [David Cameron: Wants every
teacher to be a tiger mum]. 观察者网 [Observer Network]. Retrieved January 17, 2016, from
Chapter 6
Upbringing Methods and Educational
Philosophy for Chinese Parents

A survey of 640,000 primary school and middle school students in the US in the
1960s reached a classic conclusion: The family background of students has a much
stronger influence on their academic performance than any other factor related to
education (Coleman 1966). Even today, various kinds of educational statistics and
research findings corroborate and support this conclusion. However, examples
abound in China of situations in which students with disadvantaged family back-
grounds excel academically. Educational researchers call them “resilient students”.1
According to the data of the international student survey PISA 2009, three quarters
of disadvantaged students in Shanghai can be termed resilient students. These
students are able to rise above their family and socioeconomic restrictions and
achieve extraordinary academic performance. Among all the surveyed countries or
regions, the proportion of such students is highest in Shanghai.
The curse of family restrictions mentioned in the Coleman report (1966) seems
to have been broken in China’s education system. Why are humble families in
China able to turn out academically outstanding students? In China, a country

Resilient students refer to students from families with a low social and economic status. Most
international studies on education adopt the Index of Economic Social and Cultural Status (ESCS)
as the indicator measuring a family’s social and economic status. For example, the Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA) index of economic, social and cultural status was created
on the basis of the following variables: the highest level of education and the highest occupational
status of parents as well as family wealth. The lower the ESCS index is, the worse it is for students.
A student is classified as resilient if he or she is in the bottom quarter of the PISA index of
economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) in the country of assessment and performs interna-
tionally in the top quarter of students.

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 95
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_6
96 6 Upbringing Methods and Educational Philosophy …

typical of the “chopstick culture sphere,”2 what are the features of families and
parents as well as their influence on education?

6.1 Features of the Chinese Family

In any culture and era, family is always the most basic unit in a society. “Home” is
an educational environment that exerts influence quietly; the mutual influence that
family members have on each other represents the most direct and closest educa-
tional ties based on kinship. Chinese families have their distinctive cultural tradi-
tions and structural functions, which lead to parent–child relationships and parents’
roles that are different from those in the West.

6.1.1 Chinese People’s View on Family and Country

When speaking of cultural differences between China and the West, many
researchers agree with the view that “China is collectivism-centered while the West
is individualism-centered.” Collectivists consider a collective as the basic unit of
survival, from which individuals derive a sense of security. In the Chinese culture,
the smallest socially meaningful unit is not “individual,” but “family.” The self of a
Chinese is not an independent or self-sufficient entity, but a family-oriented one.
“Self” is not just about a person himself, but also his awareness of his relative
position in his family (Chen 2004, p. 27). Of all the arguments made on comparing
inter-personal culture between China and the West, Fei Xiaotong’s differential
mode of association expressed as follows is the most classic:
Western society is individual-centered. The relationship between individuals is like a
bundle of straw. Rice straw is bound into small bundles; several bundles are bound into
larger bundles; these bundles then are stacked together. Individuals form organizations and
the boundaries between organizations are clear. Chinese rural society is based on patriarchal
clans. Relationship between people is a web with kinship as the axis. It is the differential
mode of association. Under such a mode, every one forms a web with himself at the center.
This is like throwing a stone in the lake and it causes circles of ripples centering on the
stone, namely the individual, with the distance between the circle and the center suggesting
the level of intimacy. (Fei 1985, p. 22)

The concept of “chopstick culture sphere” was first proposed by American historian Lynn White
Jr. when he delivered the speech Fingers, Chopsticks and Forks: Reflections on the Technology of
Eating at the American Philosophical Society meeting in 1983. Later this concept has often been
used in discussions on the East Asian culture sphere. In its analysis of the performance of PISA
countries or regions in recent years, OECD uses this concept to cover countries such as South
Korea, Japan, China (including the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan) and
Singapore, etc.
6.1 Features of the Chinese Family 97

Fei used the metaphors of straw bundle and water ripple to vividly get across the
differences in the relationships of individuals and the collective between China and
the West. He also clearly pointed out the features of relationships between Chinese
people and their families as well as between Chinese people and society. Chinese
people often approach the meaning of an individual’s life from the family per-
spective. In the context of a family, an individual’s life is the extension of that of his
ancestors; likewise, his descendants’ life is the extension of his life. The meaning of
an individual’s life is based on the network of relationships in his family com-
munity bound by blood ties. In line with this logic, the country is an amplified
family. Since ancient times, China has emphasized the idea of “family nation” (jia
tian xia), which means that the country is just like a family and that the country’s
ruler is like the parent of all the people in the country. Hegel described such a
family-country relationship as follows: China is purely built on morality, and the
rule of the country is based on family filial piety in its objective form (Hegel 1956).
Chinese people have always been valuing the role of family upbringing, as evi-
denced by the following ancient instructions: if families are harmonious, then the
world is peaceful; harmonious families lead to a stable country; only virtuous
individuals in harmonious families can lead to well-governed countries and a
peaceful world.

6.1.2 Chinese Family Structures

Western family studies divide family structures into three types: nuclear family,
formed by a couple and their unmarried children; stem family, composed of parents,
their married son and his spouse and children; joint family, composed of parents,
their married sons and their spouses and children (Lang 1946).
The collective-centered culture mentioned earlier is reflected by Chinese peo-
ple’s family structure. Chinese families usually keep the tradition of maintaining
big families where several generations live together. Even today when people tend
to have fewer children and when urbanization grows fast, the feature of the Chinese
family structure is still the fairly balanced coexistence of nuclear families and stem
families (grandparents, their children and their grandchildren live together). This is
hugely different from the West where nuclear families account for the absolute
majority (Zeng et al. 1992). The one-child policy3 that China implemented in the
1980s gave rise to a typical phenomenon in China, i.e., the “4-2-1” family structure,
which means that four grandparents and two parents center around one only child

With the emergence of some population problems, the one-child policy has been gradually
relaxed until it is replaced by the two-child policy. In October 2015, it was announced in the
communique of the fifth plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee that China would
henceforth have a new basic state policy for family planning, actively cope with the aging pop-
ulation by allowing all couples to have two children.
98 6 Upbringing Methods and Educational Philosophy …

(Zeng et al. 1992).4 Under such circumstances, Chinese children are often cared for
and taught by their grandparents, which is quite rare in Western families. Historian
Carl Degler also argued in his book Out of Our Past that big three-generational
families had never been the characteristic of American or European families; the
most typical family structure in the West is the nuclear family composed of parents
and their children without other relatives. Three generations seldom live under the
same roof (Luther 1989).
Buildings and their spatial structures are also different between China and the
West. Houses in the West usually have an open outlook and private space inside,
contrary to Chinese houses that are separated from the outside with open space
inside. Western houses and villas usually have no walls; even if they build a fence,
it is usually not taller than an average person. Passers-by can get a complete view of
a house at one glance. In contrast, traditional Chinese houses are usually charac-
terized by deep courtyards and high walls. Nowadays, modern neighborhoods in
cities also tend to design easily visible gates and walls to separate buildings from
their surroundings. Inside Chinese homes, doors and windows are usually not
closed. Family members can go into a room freely without asking for approval of
the owner of that room. It is very common that children and their parents sleep in
the same bedroom. There is not a strong awareness of demarcating private areas for
each family member.

6.1.3 Relationships Between Family Members in China

In his studies, Fei Xiaotong, a renowned anthropologist and sociologist, viewed the
triangular relationship between father, mother and children as the most fundamental
component of family relationships. This relationship triangle contains the most
important and most fundamental two relationships: the relationship between the
couple and the relationship between parents and children. Fei argued that the West
values the horizontal relationship between the husband and the wife while China
values the vertical relationship between parents and children and stresses the
patriarchal authority and filial piety.
In a Western family, the couple is the primary axis that plays the major role and the two
jointly manage child rearing, with their children in supplementary roles. And the couple is
tied together by their affection towards each other. However, in a Chinese family, it is the
father-child relationship that serves as the primary axis while the couple’s relationship
serves as a supplementary axis. (Fei 1998, p. 41)

The family survey of five cities in 1982, the one of seven cities in 1993, the research of urban and
rural families in modern China carried out in 1998, and the urban and rural family survey in 2007
clearly showed that nuclear families and stem families are the two major types in cities with the
former accounting for the majority.
6.1 Features of the Chinese Family 99

Chinese families attach greater importance to the parent–children relationship

and the continuance of blood ties, which is clearly different from Western families.
Many scholars studying Chinese families agree with Fei Xiaotong on this point.
Some scholars name this family relationship “Chinese-style vertical family rela-
tions,” and believe that this mode reflects the patriarchy in traditional Chinese
family relations (Pan and Lin 1992).
In Chinese families where the parent–children relationship is at the center,
growth, achievement and social status of children are directly related to those of the
whole family and even the clan. In the West, however, the relationship of the couple
is at the center and the emphasis is placed on its harmony (Fei 1998). In the Chinese
culture, people value the interests and development of the family as a whole, and
thus stress the importance of mutual help and devotion between family members as
well as the necessity of producing offspring and keeping the continuity of blood
ties. In such parent–children relationships, parents often view their children as the
extension of their own life and consider themselves duty-bound to help their
children with education and life planning. They hope that their children will, in the
future, become what they want to be and achieve what they want to achieve. They
even believe that their children’s education has a bearing on the fate of themselves
and the family. These features are reflected by sayings such as “children are brought
up to provide for their parents in their old age” and “children should bring honor to
their family.” As a result, Chinese parents often do not see their children as inde-
pendent entities and overlook their due rights. Many parents believe their sacrifices
are justified and worthwhile as long as their children have outstanding academic
performance. However, children tend to think that their parents stand in the way of
their independence.
From the above paragraphs, we can conclude that Chinese families have the
following features. First, Chinese people believe in family-country isomorphism; to
them, families and the country are equivalents. That is why Chinese families par-
ticularly value two aspects of their children’s education: stimulating aspirations and
cultivating morality. Chinese people emphasize spiritual cultivation as being more
important than material wealth, which is especially relevant for students from poor
Second, the Chinese family mode is a vertical one centering on the parent–
children relationship and it is not unusual for stem families to have multiple gen-
erations living together. Under such circumstances, bringing up children to become
useful people is the key task of the parents or grandparents. John Locke, a British
educator, once said: “Whatever the circumstances of parents are, their personal
upbringing is the best gift to their children.” (Locke 2006). This is probably the best
interpretation of the wholehearted and utmost dedication of Chinese parents to their
Third, Chinese families put integrity before interests and strive to properly
educate their children from childhood. Throughout history China has been a society
advocating traditional ethics; a large part of family education is about inoculating
family members’ moral concepts and persuading children to resist desires for
material wealth.
100 6 Upbringing Methods and Educational Philosophy …

6.2 The Multiple Facets of Chinese Parents and Their

Educational Philosophies

In 2010, the article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” published on Wall Street
Journal triggered heated discussion worldwide on educational philosophies and the
practices of Chinese and Western parents. Some commentators said that the
Chinese “Tiger Mom”5 triggered as much discussion and panic in the US as the
Soviet Union’s launch of the first manmade satellite Sputnik ahead of the US. In
debate, the iron-handed education style of Tiger Mom is thought to be represen-
tative of China’s strict and authoritarian education system, opposed to and chal-
lenging the children-centered and relaxed educational style in the West. However,
the Tiger Mom’s approach to education is not representative of the educational
philosophies and approaches of contemporary Chinese parents. Parents known as
“Cat Father” (Shen 2016), “Hawk Father,” “Sheep Mother” challenge the educa-
tional advocacies of Tiger Mom. This reveals the diverse roles parents play. To
truly understand the educational culture of today’s China and Chinese parents’
educational philosophies, we need to learn about the choices Chinese parents make
and the dilemmas they confront in the face of colliding traditional, modern, Chinese
and Western educational philosophies.

6.2.1 The Multiple Facets of Chinese Parents

Titles such as “Tiger Mother,” “Cat Father,” “Sheep Mother,” and “Hawk Father”
vividly show the multiple images of Chinese parents, and demonstrate the inter-
action and conflicts of the various educational philosophies in China. “Tiger
Mother” represents a big group of parents who are believers of authoritative par-
enting, which, as defined by the U.S. psychologist D. Baumrind, is a highly
demanding and responsive mode that she believes to be the best for children’s
development.6 Tiger Mom-style parents have a strong sense of obligation and
responsibility for their children’s education and are deeply involved in setting their
study goals as well as in the learning process. According to an educational survey

Tiger Mother is the name that Amy Lynn Chua, an American Chinese who is professor of law at
Yale Law School, used to call herself in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In this book,
she said that her strict and even iron-handed educational approach to her two daughters is the
educational approach of Chinese mothers.
Baumrind categorized parenting styles into three types: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive
based on parents’ demands of children and children’s response towards parents’ styles, specifically
speaking, the following dimensions of the freedom parents give to children (letting children make
their own decisions), the independence (letting children handle their problems independently)
allowed, control (of all aspects of children’s life such as living, study and behaviors), encour-
agement (of merits and penalties of demerits and timeliness of them), expectation (for children’s
future), management (of children’s words and deeds, codes of conduct and guidance), etc.
6.2 The Multiple Facets of Chinese Parents … 101

for parents of junior middle school students, 66.7% of the respondents agree that
“love and care should be a part of the strict Tiger Mom-style parenting and that
resilience and persistence are needed to push such parenting through”; 46.5% of the
respondents agree that “the Tiger Mom-style education is consistent with a tradi-
tional Chinese view, i.e., if you spare the rod you will spoil the child. So this
approach may be a little rough for children, but will lead them to a more successful
future.” However, 15.2% of the respondents are critical of the Tiger Mom-style
parenting, because “tiger mothers impose too harsh restrictions on children and
meddle too much in children’s affairs, which may undermine children’s indepen-
dence.” (Li 2012, p.79).
Compared with the authoritative and demanding image of Tiger Mother, “Cat
Father” and “Sheep Mother” can be considered as democratic and laissez-faire
parents respectively who have greater faith in American educational philosophies.
A “Cat Father” from Shanghai claimed that his parenting was quite democratic and
he believed that “education can be very gentle, just like a dance to a piece of Waltz
with children in a relaxed manner, just like a cat.” Similar parenting stories of
“Sheep Father” and “Sheep Mother” appeared in Chinese media one after another.
Their parenting style featuring tender love, equality and open-mindedness is also
recognized and followed by many Chinese parents. These parents believe that
happy childhood and “hard work and demanding parents” are not compatible.
The multiples facets of Chinese parents are also shown in the following aspects.
When it comes to academic requirements for children, most Chinese parents are
“tigers.” Chinese parents, regardless of their level of education as well as economic
and social status, always have high expectations for their children’s academic
performance. According to a survey of parents of primary students in Shanghai and
Urumqi, 60.9% of the parents who are only graduates of junior middle schools or
vocational schools expect their children to receive “a bachelor’s degree,” “a mas-
ter’s degree” or even above and they believe that “the higher the degree is, the
better” (Hu 2008). So they tend to set “high standards and strict requirements” for
their children’s knowledge acquisition and intellectual development. However,
when it comes to their children’s living necessities and social activities, Chinese
parents put on a tender and even pampering face of “cat” or “sheep.” On such
occasions, Chinese parents treat their children as “little emperors” or free grazing
sheep. Before an exam, the whole family would try everything possible to create a
quiet environment for their children to study in, make the least possible noise,
meticulously prepare foods that are nutritious and good for brains, and spare
children from all the housework. All these different facets show that Chinese par-
ents’ approach to their children’s education is unbalanced: paying too much
attention to core disciplines (Chinese, math, science, etc.) and degrees at the cost of
children’s development of independence, social abilities and emotional maturity.
102 6 Upbringing Methods and Educational Philosophy …

6.2.2 Chinese Parents’ Educational Philosophy

In spite of the above differences, Chinese parents have commonalities as well,

which are mainly due to the influence of Confucian educational philosophies and
cultural traditions. High Expectation

Chinese parents all have high expectations for their children’s education. This is
particularly so for poor families, as education is viewed as the only way for their
children to succeed, change their fate and move up the social ladder. This collective
view is partially attributable to China’s mechanism of selecting officials and talents
based on examinations that lasted several thousand years. As an ancient Chinese
saying goes, a good scholar will make an official. Learning and education has
always been the major channel in China that provides opportunities for people at the
bottom of society to move upward. Another factor to account for parents’ high
expectations of their children’s academic performance is the respect for intellectuals
in the Confucian culture and the collective faith in learning, which is well explained
by the millennia-old maxim, i.e., the worth of other pursuits is small, the study of
books excels themall. Such a faith is not shaken even though competence, rather
than degrees and diplomas, is more valued in today’s globalized job market. Most
students from working-class families are fully aware that family background and
other chance factors are not within their control. Their only hope lies in excellent
academic performance and outstanding grades. Against the general context of
valuing education and respecting knowledge and culture in China, outstanding
academic accomplishments can translate into cultural and social capital for disad-
vantaged students, which then leads to more opportunities and resources for their
upward mobility.
There is a Chinese idiom that literally means “parents hoping their son will
become a dragon,” which is often used to express parents’ high expectation for their
children. The dragon is the most revered animal in the Chinese culture, and rep-
resents kings and top talents. In Chinese families where parents enjoy a close
relationship with their children, parents’ high expectations can be a powerful cat-
alyst that motivates children to study and reinforces their sense of mission. For poor
families, parents are able to provide their children with strong spiritual support by
incentivizing them via high expectations, close companionship and extensive
engagement in their education. Coleman’s research on the social capital of
American students’ families also revealed that in terms of education, more frequent
interactions between parents and children create a stronger bond which is useful for
improving children’s academic accomplishments. In their studies of learning and
teaching in primary schools, American psychologists Robert Rosenthal and
6.2 The Multiple Facets of Chinese Parents … 103

LenoreJacobson came up with the renowned Pygmalion Effect,7 highlighting the

influence of teachers and parents’ expectation and trust on children’s study. The
parent–children relationship marked by intimacy and solidarity in China makes
children deeply aware of their family’s support, which then drives them to do their
utmost to meet their parents’ expectations. A Dialectical View of Happiness and Hardship

Parents want their children to be happy. This is the case all over the world.
However, in the early stage of children’s development, Chinese parents do not
always think that being happy is the most important thing to their children. They
stress the need for children to “endure hardships,” which is beneficial in the long
run. Through hardships, they want to cultivate qualities such as grit, diligence and
persistence in their children. Such a view is consistent with the teachings of
Confucianism. Mencius, “Gao Zi Xia,” puts it this way:
When Heaven is about to confer a great office on a man, it first exercises his mind with
suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil; it exposes his body to hunger, and subjects
him to great poverty; it compounds his undertakings. By all these methods, it stimulates his
mind, toughens his nature and bridges his competence gap.

It is this conviction that shapes the national spirit of Chinese people to defy
hardships, suffering and temporary adversities, remain tolerant and move forward
against great odds. It advocates the Chinese conventional wisdom that “One thrives
under suffering and hardship, but withers if left over-protected and contented with
the current situation,” and “If you wish to be the best man, you must be prepared to
suffer the bitterest of the bitter.” It is these traditions that consolidate the view that
hard work is more important than natural gift. Views such as “diligence is the
means by which one makes up for one’s dullness” and “the slow bird flies first” are
widely accepted in China, but seldom so in the West (Tucker 2013).
The strict and even iron-handed educational approach adopted by Tiger Mom
Amy Chua is attributable to the perception of hardships by Asian immigrants. In her
view, only by being strict with children from childhood and helping them cultivate
fine qualities like self-discipline, concentration, persistence and responsibility, can
they enjoy the “sweetness” that comes after all the “bitterness” and obtain happi-
ness and a sense of fulfillment at a higher level. In her book, Amy Chua said to her
daughter: “Everything valuable and worthwhile is difficult!” She also said: “If
something seems unfair at school, just prove yourself by working twice as hard and

Robert Rosenthal, an American psychologist, visited a school and randomly picked three students
from every class, altogether 18 people. He wrote these students’ names on a list and gave it to the
principal, very earnestly saying: “Scientific measurement reveals that these 18 students are all
intelligent students.” Half a year later, Rosenthal visited the school again and found that these 18
students indeed performed more than average and scored huge progresses. Later, all of them
achieved outstanding accomplishments in their profession. This is a phenomenon proving that
higher expectations lead to improved performance.
104 6 Upbringing Methods and Educational Philosophy …

being twice as good.” Sophia, the older daughter of Amy Chua, wrote an article to
support her mother’s parenting, in which she said:
Thanks to my mother’s strict requirements since I was young, I developed very good study
habits and qualities. Concentration, persistence, tolerance and other good habits that I
developed as a child keep playing a positive role in my studies. In the third year of senior
middle school, my American classmates were stressed and anxious, but I felt very relaxed
and had plenty of time to do what I wanted to do. As a matter of fact, at that time, my
mother stopped disciplining me, and I did not need her to do so. (Chua 2011)

Chinese people’s dialectical view of happiness and hardships is the source of

motivation for disadvantaged families and children to move forward. Teaching by Instruction and Example

According to Max van Manen, a Canadian scholar, “the essence of education is the
interaction between adult teachers or parents and young children or students.” The
educational wisdom of Chinese parents is that they value “teaching by instruction
and example.” (2011, p. 68).
Chinese parents attach great importance to the exemplary role that they can play,
and emphasize behavior training and scientific methods. Confucius said: “When a
ruler’s personal conduct is correct, he will be obeyed without the issuing of orders.
If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be
followed.” (“Zilu,” Confucius) Sun Qifeng (1584–1675), a renowned master of
neo-Confucianism, put forward in his book Family Rules of Xiaoyou Hall (Xiao
You Tang Jia Gui) the view that “one should set examples of the family rules one
proposes.” Yan Zhitui (529–595), an ancient Chinese educator, opposed to “loving
children without subjecting them to discipline” and emphasized the development of
good habits. Zhu Xi (1130–1200) specified what tasks students of primary schools
should learn: floor sweeping, proprieties and courtesies, music, archery and
chariot-riding, calligraphy and mathematics. The fine family traditions that Chinese
people think highly of have two common features: First, running the family by
virtue; second, making the family thrive through education.
Since ancient times, China has attached great importance to the development of
family traditions. In the 1,400 years from the Northern Qi dynasty to the founding
of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, a total of 122 books on family traditions
and instructions have been published in China, including The Family Instructions of
Master Yan written by Yan Zhitui from the Northern Qi dynasty; Moral Instruction
ofSima Guang written by Sima Guang from the Northern Song dynasty; Family
Lessons and Important Words (Jiajie Yaoyan) by Wu Linzheng from the Ming
dynasty; Maxims of Regulating One’s Family by Zhu Bailu from the Qing dynasty.
These family traditions honor the traditional virtues of the Chinese nation, and set
ethical standards and codes of conduct for family members. The key messages
include patriotism and loyalty to the country, conscientious fulfillment of duties,
refinement of character and virtues, pursuit of scholarship, wholehearted devotion
6.2 The Multiple Facets of Chinese Parents … 105

to public duties, integrity and honesty, diligence and thriftiness, modesty and
precaution, bravery and resilience, independence and self-improvement, integrity
and honesty, solidarity and friendship, family harmony, amongst others. Noble and
established families in the history of China are mostly literary families. It is
believed that reading has the effect of removing folly and vulgarity. Combination of Sternness and Gentleness

Chinese people attach great importance to mutual support between family members.
In the upbringing of children, the husband and the wife usually have a division of
labor and cooperation. It was followed in ancient China that “the father should be
stern and the mother gentle.” Now in many cases the mother is stern and the father
gentle. However, the key lies in a balance in family education. This is the Chinese
parents’ “oriental wisdom” in dealing with “the conflicts between control and
freedom in education.”
Traditional Chinese philosophies on family education often advocate a combi-
nation of both, that is, a proper degree of both sternness and gentleness, which is in
conformity with the Daoist wisdom of harmony and accommodation as well as the
Confucianism concept of the Golden Mean. It is believed that “if parents remain
authoritative, strict and gentle, their children will be reverent and prudent, and will
yield filial obedience.” Overseas scholars have come up with different theories on
the various parenting styles. First, D. Baumrind proposed three parenting styles:
authoritative, authoritarian and permissive; second, Steinberg and others proposed
four styles: authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent andneglectful. Third, Maccoby
and Martin came up with four styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and
uninvolved (Steinberg et al. 1994). In China, scholars came up with four parenting
styles: indulgent, authoritarian, permissive and democratic (Huang 1998).
Measured by the categorization in the West, Chinese parents are generally inclined
to the authoritative style.
Here some defense for parents’ authority is in order, as the idea of authority is
easily associated with the notion of authoritarianism. In fact, what people oppose is
just authoritarianism, which is the abusive and unreasonable use authority, rather
than authority itself. Actually, the sense of authority underpins parents or teachers’
sense of mission and responsibility. Contemporary Canadian scholar Max van
Manen pointed out:
This means that to the outside world the pedagogue (parent or teacher) can act with or on
behalf of the child by referring to the moral responsibility he or she bears for the welfare or
the development of the child .… In fact, pedagogical authority is really a designation of
moral service. (2014, p. 68)

Seen from this perspective, traditional Chinese philosophies on education do not

incline towards any of the extremes between freedoms versus control or between
indulgences versus authoritarianism. They are grounded on the authority model that
stresses parents’ sense of mission and responsibility.
106 6 Upbringing Methods and Educational Philosophy …

Some parents may feel reluctant to tell their children about their expectations
while other parents may readily impose their views on children.
Children who are not guided by adults (because they are brought up in a per-
missive, open or maybe negligent environment) may experience the lack of
direction, as they are abandoned to the sole influence of their peers and the general
environment (Manen 2014). The point is that all children expect from their teachers
and parents a sense of direction, even in the form of confirming the choices they
have made. Parents should guide their children to the direction of right values and

6.3 Understanding and Reflections from a Cross-Cultural


The way Chinese parents see family, their relationships with children and parenting
has distinctive features. Compared with Western culture, these typical features
perfectly match the three conditions that Western scholars deem necessary for
sound pedagogy, namely, love and care, hope and trust and responsibility (Manen
2014). Seen from this perspective, the oriental and occidental parenting wisdom
have some fundamental commonalities,
In both the East and the West, parents cherish the most profound and unselfish
love for their children. However, the ways of expressing love are different. Parents
in oriental culture seldom verbally express their love. They hold their children to
high standards and seldom give praise. What they appreciate is positive qualities
such as modesty, diligence, perseverance, discipline and constant self- improve-
ment. The love of parents is hidden in details that escape their children’s attention,
such as the food cooked and the clothes sewed for them. Chinese people often talk
about “stern fathers and gentle mothers.” Actually, both sternness and gentleness
are two sides of the coin, showing the Chinese wisdom in child rearing.
The second important element is giving children hope. This is where the magic
of education lies. It makes children believe that they can build their own life. The
studies of Coleman show that social capital in a family, which refers to the
resources available to children, mainly comes from the parent-child relationship,
parents’ expectation for their children’s education and their input in it. When the
parent-child relationship is intimate, all kinds of capital owned by parents can be
effectively passed down to their children. As a result, many researchers pay a lot of
attention to how much time parents spend with their children at home as they
consider this an important indicator of this intimacy. When parents have high
expectations for their children’s study, they check on their studies and are involved.
For example, parents check children’s homework, provide resources for learning,
discuss plans of studies with them and even take an active part in school affairs.
Parents’ focus on, input in as well as expectation for and faith in children’s study
are strongly correlated with their children’s academic achievement. For
6.3 Understanding and Reflections from a Cross-Cultural Perspective 107

disadvantaged children who can only get limited financial resources from their
family, their parents’ encouragement, time, emotional support and spiritual incen-
tives become all the more important as factors that can significantly boost children’s
Responsibility for children is an undeniable factor of education in both the East
and the West. However, when examining the way the responsibility is fulfilled, the
West inclines towards an equality-based, friend-like and relaxed parent-child
relationship. It places more weight on children’s rights and freedom. Parents in the
West often feel they cannot make choices for their children and they need to comply
with their children’s interests and needs. This, to a large degree, has the merit of
respecting and liberating children. However, it also runs the risk of becoming too
relaxed and tempting parents to give up many of their responsibilities. In fact,
children need instructions and disciplines. They need to empower their parents to
respond to their behaviors from a moral perspective, as pedagogical authority is
essentially a designation of moral service. Compared with Western parents, Chinese
parents have a strong sense of responsibility for their children’s education and they
are often able to concentrate their energy and financial resources on children’s
education at the cost of themselves or other aspects of the family. It is no exag-
geration that behind every Chinese student stands a fully devoted family and
ambitious parents. Psychological and pedagogical studies at home and abroad have
consistently shown that the parent–children relationship and children’s academic
performance are significantly correlated, mainly through indirect influence on the
mood and behaviors of children. For academically disadvantaged children, their
family resources (including the family environment, relationships between father
and mother and the strategies deployed by parents in offering academic instructions)
have a causal link to their study motive and level of cognition. During the surveys,
all the parents said: “I will always take time to keep an eye on my child’s education,
no matter how busy and tired I am.”
Finally, if we reflect on the Chinese parenting style, maybe the thing that we
should be most concerned about is the cultivation of a democratic and equal
parent-child relationship, which is exactly what Chinese parents should learn from
their Western counterparts. As American scholars put it, the agricultural culture is a
prefigurative culture in which parents are children’s teachers; the industrial culture
is a configurative culture where parents and children can learn from each other; the
modern society is a post-figurative culture where teenagers master new things ahead
of adults and parents and children interact with each other on an equal basis.
Judging from the overall trend, our society will move increasingly closer to
democracy, equality and sound interaction. Family education built upon such
parent-child relationships will be increasingly democratic.
108 6 Upbringing Methods and Educational Philosophy …


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Chapter 7
School Choice: A Harsh Journey
for Chinese Parents

School choice is the process by which parents use various methods to get their
children enrolled into primary or middle schools with quality educational resources
(Fan 1997). It is a bottom-up process which will exist for a long time. It is widely
seen in urban and rural areas, at home and abroad, and across all education phases
from kindergarten to high education. As long as there are different schools, there
will be school choice.
In China, there is an old story about the mother of Mencius moving three times
in an effort to find the best place to raise her child. It is the same for today’s parents.
It is natural for parents to care about their children’s growth and development.
Choosing an appropriate school is a rational decision of parents to exercise their
custodianship (Wu and Shen 2006) and reflects their love for their children.
Since the 1980 and 1990s, more and more parents in China opt to choose schools
for their children. The government began to interfere. The Education Commission
has implemented various policies including enrollment in nearby school, admission
to middle school without exams, upgrading of low-performing schools and opti-
mization of educational resources (Wan 2010). These efforts, however, have not
stopped the wave of school choice. According to a 2009 survey by China Youth
Daily, 98.5% of 14,081 respondents from 31 provinces (and autonomous region/
municipalities) think that school choice is everywhere, covering kindergarten,
primary school as well as junior and senior middle school (China Youth Daily
2009). At the beginning of 2009, the Education School of Beijing Normal
University did a survey on school choice during the compulsory education phase.
Parents of children in grade one of primary and middle schools in ten cities
responded. The survey covered 90 junior schools and 60 primary schools, com-
prising of 300 classes in total. Valid samples numbered 12,183, of which 4,973
students belonged to the “school choice” category, accounting for 40.5% of the
total. From north to south, coast to inland, city to village, more and more parents in
China are choosing schools for their children.
As individuals, parents follow the Bounded Rationality Model proposed by
Herbert Simon when they select schools for their children. Simon proposed that the
decision-making process was bounded by many factors, among which the three

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 109
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_7
110 7 School Choice: A Harsh Journey …

most important were: unavailability of perfect information, lack of time and money,
and complexity of the problem (Buhler 2004, p. 47). Parents cannot obtain all the
information about target schools and their enrollment policies and quotas. Most
parents have to work fulltime and lack sufficient time, money and connections to
collect information (or, if they must, they have to bear the opportunity costs).
School choice is a dynamic process and a form of gaming between parents and
schools. It is far too complex for parents. Theoretically, Simon thinks that,
The decision makers cannot seek all the options, neither can they predict the consequences
of the options. Decision makers do not have a clear and consistent preference system
through which they can find the best option in various situations. (as cited in Li 2007)

This section will discuss the drivers, criteria, capabilities, instruments, and
dilemma of parents’ school choice based on the bounded rationality assumption.

7.1 Motivations

Caring parents always plan for their children’s future. Some start to think about
school choices even before their children are born. Parental care and love is only
one of many factors that motivate school choices.

7.1.1 “Everyone Loves Key Schools”

“Key schools” are the favorites of students and parents, as they enjoy advantages in
funding, teaching staff, equipment and performance. In January 1997, the Education
Commission introduced the Principles and Opinions on Regulating Compulsory
Education Schooling (Education Commission 1997, pp. 96–100). It pointed out
that, as compulsory education is a government policy, public schools are not
allowed to enroll “school choice students” or establish “key schools” or “key
classes” during the compulsory education period. However, after years of devel-
opment, key schools have become far better than ordinary schools. Even though
they are not classified officially, to students and parents, there are huge differences.
At the time of this study, Xiaoze’s mother1 was one of the parents of 178,860,000
children in compulsory and pre-school education.2 While interviewing, she was at

An interviewee of this study.
Data calculated with statistics published in 2014 on the official website of the MOE. Student
numbers include compulsory and pre-school education, excluding high school and adult education.
MOE. (2014). 各级各类学历教育学生情况 [Number of students of formal education by type and
level]. Retrieved January 1, 2016, from
7.1 Motivations 111

the point of considering which junior middle school to choose for her son, a
city-level key school, or a district-level one?
This selection system could be traced back to the time when the People’s
Republic of China was newly founded. With a huge population and weak economic
foundations, China was in an urgent need of talents for heavy industry. In order to
enlarge the talent pool as soon as possible, the government selected certain schools
and decided to give them additional funds and the best teaching staff, so that they
could select a few of the most talented children and give them the best education
(Zeng 2011, p. 12). The 10 years of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960 and 1970s
inflicted huge damage on all aspects of China’s society and the country’s education
system was almost destroyed. Every industry was in dire need for talent revival, and
the “key school wave” spread throughout the nation. From the beginning of the
1980s to the end of the 1990s, the central government and local governments at all
levels introduced policies to develop key schools.3 In contrast, ordinary schools
started to lag far behind in terms of equipment, teaching staff and funding.
Following years of development, key schools have established good reputations and
high quality educational resources. To parents, it seems evident that if their children
are admitted to key schools, they are more likely to enter better schools upon
graduation, thus trying every means possible to push their children into them (PPC
Daily 2009).

7.1.2 “Go to the Good School Near Home”

“Go to the school near home” is a vivid expression of the “enrollment near resi-
dence” principle. It is not necessarily the nearest school. Based on hukou and home
address (certificate of housing property), local education authorities would dis-
tribute students to schools near their neighborhood.4 Usually, authorities would
divide the area into different school districts. Xiaoze’s hukou was in District A, and
his family lived there. But since the junior middle school in District B is better, the
family sold their apartment and bought a new one in District B for Xiaoze to be
enrolled into the better school.
Article 9 of Compulsory Education Law issued in 1986 states: “Local people’s
governments at various levels shall ensure that school-age children and adolescents
enroll in schools near the places of their residences.” The principle was reiterated in
the 1992 Implementing Rules and the 2006 revised version of Compulsory

On January 21, 1982, the MOE published a Notice on Several Problems of Primary and Middle
School Education. In 1983, the MOE published Opinions on Further Improving Quality of
Ordinary Middle School Education.
Many local governments have introduced policies for the schooling of migrant workers’ children.
If migrant worker parents can provide an employment certificate, tenancy certificate or other
required certificates, their children can go to a nearby school under the “enrollment to a nearby
school principle.”
112 7 School Choice: A Harsh Journey …

Education Law. It is a nice wish of the country to have all children enrolled into a
nearby school. The intention was to relieve the burden on students. However, hukou
and a family’s economic status become determining factors of whether a child can
be admitted into a key school (Wu and Shen 2006) and some high-performing kids
are deprived of the chance to get into a key school. The “enrollment in a nearby
school” principle should be based on a balanced education system. The govern-
ment’s idea of equity in education in fact runs counter to families’ pursuit of a good
education (Zeng 2011, p. 12).

7.1.3 “He Is My Only Child, My Precious Son”

Xiaoze, like many children, belongs to the one-child generation. China began
implementing the One-Child Policy during a special period. Any violation would
cost parents a lot, and they had no choice but to observe. Now, most Chinese
families have only one child. In a family of seven with two parents and four
grandparents, an only child is the hope and future of the whole family. Because of
that, parents care so much about every phase of the child’s growth. They do not
want the child to fall behind at the beginning.
The One-Child Policy is unique to China. Planned as early as 1949, the policy
was implemented in test cities and counties in 1962. In 1970, it was imposed
nationwide; and in 1985, it entered stable enforcement.5 In a family with only one
child, the child is at the core of the whole family, bearing the hope of several
generations. The child’s development and future becomes the focus of family life,
and the family wants the best education for the child. For several thousand years,
Chinese society has paid special respect to knowledge and education. In this
context, parents spare no effort to get their children enrolled in good schools (Zeng
2011, p. 8). That is the education complex of Chinese parents; that is their wish for
a bright future of their child.

7.1.4 “Like an Army on a Single Foot Log”

“Like an army on a single foot log” is often used to describe the extremely selective
and competitive Chinese college entrance exam, the gaokao. Students are under
great pressure, but they have to go through this, just as the army have to cross the
log. In China, not only gaokao, but also the selection of public servants is com-
petitive. The pressure passes down to middle and primary schools, and even to
kindergartens. Most parents believe a good school leads to good academic

The “Two-Child Policy” has been implemented in China since January 1, 2016.
7.1 Motivations 113

performance, and further leads to enrollment in better schools and finally, helps a
child secure high mark in the gaokao.
From 2005 to 2024, China’s working age population (aged between 15 and 59)
will peak, at around 900 million. Job seeking will become even more competitive,
and employment requirements will be raised. Education is an important method to
translate human resources into productive forces. It plays an important part in job
seeking and serves as a criteria for employers. Of course parents try their best to
pave the road for their kids so that they may stand out and land a good job. In fact,
education is an accumulative process where primary and middle schooling serves as
the foundation. Failure at these phases means losing out at the very beginning.

7.2 Criteria

Criteria vary among parents in school choice, with priorities placed on teaching
quality, the number of local students, responsible teachers, school culture or student
quality. Our survey shows that 61.98% of responding parents value good reputation
schools; 50.37% cherish unique educational principles; 51.59% emphasize unique
teaching methods; 71.79% think a positive and pleasant learning environment
matters; 78.09% take a safe schoolyard as a vital factor (see Fig. 7.1).
Based on the survey and relevant interviews, the criteria fall into three cate-
gories: good school, good teachers, and good classmates. The following part will

Fig. 7.1 Factors considered by chinese parents when choosing a school

114 7 School Choice: A Harsh Journey …

explain the three factors to help readers better understand the references of Chinese
parents in choosing schools for their children.

7.2.1 A Good School

A “good school” is more of a subjective preference than an objective judgment. The

Opinions on Further Enhancing the Supervision and Evaluation of Primary and
Middle Schools issued by MOE established several indicators for a “good school”: a
sound system, good management, right course design, effective in-class teaching,
and progress of students. That is what a good school should be in the official
document. How about in parents’ eyes?
A good school should first be a school with good teaching quality. Most Chinese
parents of this generation changed their life through education. Education is a vital
path for most Chinese to improve their life quality and to realize upward mobility.
Its impact is self-evident. In parents’ eyes, a school of good teaching quality is also
one with high enrollment rate to the next-phase education, which is vital for the kids
to attain a quality education next phase.
A good school should provide various activities for all-round development of
children. Most parents are ordinary workers. What they can give to their child is
very limited while their expectations are high. An ideal school should have better
infrastructure, a nice reading room, a library and a playground; there should be
colorful after-class activities, including those related to arts and sports. A good
school in parents’ expectations is one that can nurture the child in every aspect and
improve the child’s overall qualities.
Finally, a good school turns a child into a person with integrity and good
behavior. Compulsory education years are where a child picks up good life and
learning habits, and the school plays a vital part in that. Parents expect school not
only to teach a child knowledge, but also to shape the child’s moral integrity and
To summarize, a good school should have “sound infrastructure for a child’s
all-around development,” “high teaching quality, high enrollment rate to next-phase
education and a good learning atmosphere,” and “strict management, high stan-
dards.” To parents, the school is where a child grows and develops, and thus should
meet every related need.

7.2.2 Good Teachers

Teachers are an essential part of a school. Teachers should have been incorporated
as a component of a good school, but they are so important in influencing a child
that an individual part has to be dedicated to them. As Chinese saying put it,
“Teachers are gardeners and candles”; they sacrifice themselves for students’
7.2 Criteria 115

growth, and light their way to the bright future. “A teacher for one day is a father
for a lifetime,” teachers’ influence on a child sometimes is no less than the parents’.
In China, children are taught to respect teachers as they respect their own parents.
What exactly is a “good teacher” in parents’ eyes?
Based on children’s needs, parents describe the qualities of an ideal teacher as:
excellent teaching skills, care for the child’s growth, attention to and expectations of
the child. In the eye of parents, a good teacher should “have rich knowledge and
high-level professionalism,” “be good at communicating with children and can
effectively manage the class,” “care about the child’s growth and development,”
and “be responsible.”

7.2.3 Good Classmates

According to psychological theories, although children begin to make friends at a

very young age, it is from adolescence that peers’ influences in attitude and
behavior might override those of parents. Through interactions with peers, a child
begins to find his/her identity, and decides what kind of person he or she wants to
become (Gerrig and Zimbardo 2014, p. 311). A healthy relationship with peers
satisfies a child’s social needs, increases the sense of belonging, helps develop
social competence, and leads to right self-perception and sound personality (Zeng
2011, p. 57). In a word, a peer relationship is significant in shaping an adolescent’s
character and social interactions, and it is natural that parents take it as a key factor
in their school choice.
Good classmates should be hard-working. As a saying goes: “A child is influ-
enced by his/her close association.” A child spends a lot of time with his/her
schoolmates and thus can easily be influenced by peers. If most of the enrolled
students work hard and pursue progress, parents would agree that the school has a
positive learning atmosphere that is favorable for the child’s development.
Parents also emphasize the connections of the circle that their child is in. For the
child, classmates are important networking resources. Children from middle class
families are generally open-minded and have a clear picture about their future. If a
child can grow up with such peers, it would be of great benefit to his/her future
There are other particular criteria. In the interview, a parent said:
Some parents would not like to see their children in the same school with migrants’ children
[whose parents are not Beijing natives]. Although those migrants might have good job and
salaries, their mindset is very different from the locals. For many local families, the only
goal of school choosing is to find a school where most students are Beijing natives.
(personal communication, December 30, 2015)

To summarize, “good classmates” should seek progress, be ambitious and have

great personalities. In fact, parents judge that by looking at student sources, which
is used to measure the quality of the newly enrolled students. Good student sources
116 7 School Choice: A Harsh Journey …

means the newly enrolled students are of high quality: they are top students with
high academic performance, and have potential to make further progress.
When targeting a school or several schools, parents are likely to combine the
above three criteria instead of just looking at one aspect. They would finally select
one with all the three qualities or make a compromised choice.

7.3 Capabilities

When parents decide on target schools, another factor that concerns them is whether
they are able to send their children to those schools.

7.3.1 Financial Status

Financial capability is the precondition for school choosing. Research shows that
school choice behavior is proportional to families’ monthly income. Among the
families with more income, school choice is more common (Zeng 2011, pp. 96–97).
In whatever case, money is the foundation. Thus when a family decides whether
they will go for school choosing, money is the most important factor.

7.3.2 Relationships

Chinese society values relationships. Each person is like a knot on a giant network
through which they communicate with each other. Your social connections basi-
cally determine how much information you get, when you get it and what you get.
Sometimes, friends and relatives can put in a good word for you (Zhou 2003,
p. 124). It is a widely existing fact. It has been there ever since ancient China and
that is just how the Chinese solve problems. The stronger a family’s network is, the
easier for the parents to choose a good school for their child. Usually, parents would
carefully review their network and connections to see whether someone they know
has good relations with the senior management of target schools, and play the
“relationship card.”

7.3.3 The Child’s Academic Performance

School choice is ultimately about the child, and quality matters. Some schools give
specific requirements on students’ academic performance. For instance, a municipal
key school declared that “students whose test scores reach or exceed 640 pay a
7.3 Capabilities 117

30,000 RMB sponsorship fee; every point less than that puts an extra 1,000 RMB
on the fee and students whose scores are 50 points lower than 640 will not be
admitted.” If the child’s academic performance is really bad, most parents see no
need to make any efforts. Even if admitted to a good school, the child would be
under so much pressure that he/she might not be able to enjoy growing up.”

7.4 Instruments

Based on literature and interviews, there are three major school-selection instru-
ments: excellence, fortune and social relationships. The three instruments have
different emphasis. Parents balance their pros and cons before deciding which to
focus on.

7.4.1 Excellence

A student can get admitted into a good school either by taking a special exam
organized by the school or by being recognized as a student with special talents
(Cao 2014). Enrollment by excellence is longest in existence and the most prevalent
way to enter key schools. Even now, academic standard is not fully replaced by
economic or administrative standards, and entrance exams still serve as a selecting
instrument and play an important role. Good schools especially value the quality of
students; many will hold an exam, and only students who exceed a certain score
will be considered. Enrollment by excellence is targeted at students with special
talents and endowments, which means most students are shut out. That, however,
induces the after-school tutoring market.
If a student has won titles such as national-or-municipal-level excellence, young
pioneer model, or has won any competition recognized by MOE, or has got 5 As, or
held important student positions in school (Zeng 2011, pp. 6–7), he/she might have
a chance to be recommended to key schools.

7.4.2 Fortune

Fortune plays an irreplaceable role in school choosing. Parents pay school choosing
fees, or obtain the hukou within a good school district by purchasing an apartment
at much higher prices than that of neighboring areas. The orientation, age and
structure of the apartment do not really matter; what matters is that the property is in
a good school district. A new type of school choosing fee is born: sponsorship fee.
If a student wants to go to a school that is not in the school district where his/her
hukou is in, the parents have to pay an amount of money as sponsorship fee. The
118 7 School Choice: A Harsh Journey …

fees vary across schools. Some charge 30,000 RMB, some charge 35,000 RMB.
Besides sponsorship fee, there is a 7,000 RMB tuition fee for each semester. To
bring out the enthusiasm of kids, an exam is held in the first semester, and a certain
amount of money will be returned to the top students. For instance, the top 10
students will have all the 30,000 RMB back; students who rank from 10th to 100th
will have 15,000 RMB returned.
The sponsorship fee is a common replacement for a school choice fee. The
Compulsory Education Law stipulates that the country encourages social organi-
zations and individuals from home and abroad to donate money to schools.
Therefore, the sponsorship fee is legitimized as a voluntary donation from parents
(Zeng 2011, pp. 6–7). Schools feel at ease accepting the fees, and parents are more
than willing to pay.

7.4.3 Relationships

Yang Guoshu, a professor in psychology with National Taiwan University classifies

interpersonal relations in China into three categories by closeness: families and
relatives, acquaintances, and strangers (Yang 2004, p. 102). Relationships, as a type
of social resources, deeply impact school choosing. According to a parent, most
parents will take advantage of useful relations in order to increase the chances of
their children being admitted to a good school.
It is natural that parents try all measures, no matter by using money, relation-
ships, or by nurturing their kids into excellent students, to send them to good

7.5 The Dilemma

As stated above, school choice is a bottom-up behavior of parents using all skills to
obtain quality education for their children. From parents’ point of view, it is so
natural and cannot be more appropriate. The government, however, sees it as a
“monster,” and does everything to stop the phenomenon. The contradictions and
conflicts cause the dilemma.

7.5.1 Driving Factors

The Chinese has been valuing education ever since ancient times. In ancient China,
there is a story about Mencius’ mother moving three times to find a good learning
environment for her child. It is the same of Chinese parents. To them, good schools,
learning environment, teachers and classmates are critical for a child’s growth.
7.5 The Dilemma 119

Therefore, parents would try every measure and use every resource they can obtain
to send their children to good schools.
In China, the reality is critical. First, education resources are hugely imbalanced.
In the past several decades, the government’s preferential policies toward key
schools have caused huge difference between key schools and ordinary schools in
funds, teaching staff quality, infrastructure and teaching results. Secondly, the
government presses ahead with “enrollment to a nearby school” principle and that
restricts parents’ freedom to choose schools for their children. Thirdly, the One-
Child Policy makes the child the focus and hope of the whole family.
Besides, Chinese parents are influenced by the global trend. Since the 1980s,
major developed countries have been adopting policies that ensure parents’ and
students’ freedom to choose schools to bring out the competition between schools
and to raise the overall education quality. With the globalization of economy and
education, school choosing policies of developed countries are introduced to China.
The new generation of parents have better education and can easily obtain those
information. Policies of developed countries are influenced by neo-liberalism and
the market-oriented education industry. Since the 1960s, the US has already formed
a basic school choosing system. Policies include encouraging education institutions
outside the public school system, such as charter schools, magnet schools, home
schools and private schools, to provide various services, introducing laws to protect
parents and students rights to choose as consumers, such as school voucher system,
income tax credits/deductions accounts and education savings accounts, flexible
choosing within/across school districts, flexible entrance, etc. (Ma 2008, p. 59).
Chinese parents regard policies of developed nations as irresistible trends of
China’s education reform and development, and are determined to continue the
school choosing journey.
Finally, Chinese parents live in an atmosphere of school choosing. Since the
1990s, the Chinese government has been introducing a series of prohibition mea-
sures. From press to internet, from mainstream media to local newspaper, there are
bunches of reports on the topic which stir the whole society: “Thousands scramble
for school entrance exam papers” (Beijing Youth Daily 2016), “No class choosing
in Jinan since 2016” (Sohu 2016a), “Exclusive: Enrollment management since
kindergarten in Wuhan, no more school choosing?” (Sohu 2016b). In interviews,
many parents suggest that most of their information is obtained from other parents
and relatives who are choosing or have chosen schools for their children. In a word,
from government policies to news report, and to the everyday chat of parents, the
signal is clear: everyone is choosing school for their kids, and they have to.

7.5.2 Consequences

Competition between parents becomes heated. As mentioned earlier, school

choosing, in essence, is the behavior of parents to obtain quality education
120 7 School Choice: A Harsh Journey …

resources for their kids. Therefore, School choice to some degree is parents’
competition in financial strength and social relationships. For instance, when
signing their kids up for a school, parents have to fill in a form to confirm their
“voluntary” donation, where they have to write how much they will donate and
confirm that they are voluntary in doing so. This makes parents very perturbed.
On the one hand, they are afraid that the donation amount is too low and their child might
miss the chance to be admitted because of that. On the other hand, a large amount might
guarantee the admission, but is often beyond the family’s ability and seems not worth it.
(How much to donate to schools? Parents vexed, May 20, 2010)

Parents revealed in the interviews that some schools even adopt “the highest
bidder wins” measure. The fact that parents would give it all to send their children
to a good school will certainly make the competition fiercer. It is likely that children
from rich families will have more opportunities than those from ordinary or poor
families, and that will cause Matthew Effect in education field.
School choice also causes elementary education to become exam-oriented. No
matter what, a student’s academic results are fundamental to being enrolled into a
good school. Many low-performing children have to spend more time and energy
increasing their scores. Children are encouraged to develop talents to increase the
chances of enrollment than to enjoy hobbies. School choice is a fierce competition,
not only between parents, but also between students themselves. Both in-school
learning and after-school tutoring are for better academic results; even developing
certain talents is to get certificates that will enhance the chances to be enrolled to a
good school.
School choice inhibits the all-around development of students. The Soviet Union
educator Sukhomlinskii points out that overall development includes development
in physical health, moral integrity, intelligence, labor, and aesthetic perception;
preference over or negligence in any aspect will lead to an incomplete education
(Xue and Zhang 2013, p. 44). The exam-oriented elementary education leads to
overemphasis on exam scores and talents, in a utilitarian way, regardless of stu-
dents’ own hobbies. China’s current education system is not healthy and cannot
produce talents that can meet international competition.

7.5.3 Government Interference: Prohibition of School


The unfairness of school choosing leads to government intervention, including

adopting “enrollment to a nearby school” principle and improving the quality of
ordinary schools to promote a balanced compulsory education.
7.5 The Dilemma 121 “Enrollment to a Nearby School” Principle

The government issued a series of documents to prohibit school choosing, including

Education Commission’s Implementation Opinions on Controlling Arbitrary
Charges in 1995, Notification on State Council’s Forwarding of Implementation
Rules on Nation-wide Governance on Primary and Middle schools’ Arbitrary
Charges Issued by Education Commission and Other Authorities in 1996,
Education Commission’s Principles and Opinions on Regulating the Compulsory
Education Schooling in 1997, MOE’s Implementation Rules on Special
Governance of Primary And Middle school Fees Charging in 2000, Notification on
the Enhancement of Several Issues in Elementary Schooling in 2002, Guidance on
Governance of Arbitrary Fees Charging for School Choosing in Compulsory
Education Phase in 2010, MOE and NDRC’s joint Eight Measures on the
Governance of Arbitrary Fees Charging for School Choosing in Compulsory
Education Phase in 2012, MOE’s Implementing Rules on Exam-free Entrance to
Nearby Middle Schools in 2014, and MOF’s Implementing Rules on Regulating
School Fees Charging in 2015.
The 2015 document clearly announced that the government will continue
strengthening the control of arbitrary school-choosing fees in compulsory education
phase. It will continue improving the policy of enrollment to a nearby school,
establish the enrollment registration system, and monitor the implementation. All
the enrollments, transfers and drop-outs of primary and middle school students will
be recorded in the system. All counties (districts) are required to divide the area into
school districts and implement enrollment to a nearby school principle with no
entrance exams. The 19 major cities should consolidate the results and prevent the
rebound of the school choosing heat. More enrollment places of quality ordinary
high schools should be allocated to junior schools. Any enrollment related fee
charging in any form is prohibited (MOF 2015).
The “enrollment to a nearby school” principle and prohibition on arbitrary fees
are adopted to contain the phenomenon of school choice. Increasing the Number of Quality Schools

The government introduced a series of documents to stress the importance of a

balanced compulsory education, including MOE’s Several Opinions on Improving
Poor Schools of Middle-and-Large Cities and Making Every School Reliable in
1998, Opinions on Further Promoting A Balanced Compulsory Education in 2005,
Notification on Distributing the Temporary Measures of Supervision and
Evaluation on the Balanced Development of County-Level Compulsory Education,
and the State Council’s Opinions on Deepening the Balanced Development of
Compulsory Education in 2012. The State Council’s Opinions points out that we
should deepen the balanced development of compulsory education, improve the
schooling of rural and poor schools, and the overall teaching quality, and enable all
school age children and adolescents to receive a good education are of far-reaching
122 7 School Choice: A Harsh Journey …

influence, both in reality and in historical sense, on promote all-around develop-

ment of children, solve the deep-rooted problem in education field, promote this
industry’s healthy development and equity, and build a harmonious society with
high-quality residents and adequate talents (MOE 2012). The Outline points out
that balanced development is a strategic task of compulsory education and require a
sound guarantee system and a set of standards, and an even distribution of teachers,
equipment, books and school buildings. The Chinese government steps up support
for poor schools. It will try all means to promote a balanced compulsory education,
ensure quality education for every child, and make every school in the neighbor-
hood reliable and trustworthy for parents.
China’s education reform started almost the same time with other countries’
since the 1980s, but the situations are quite different. The challenge for developed
nations is public schools’ lack of motive to improve. To cope with that, those
nations introduced market mechanism to bring out competition among schools and
to improve teaching quality. It is not the case of China. Chinese schools have the
tradition of taking accountability for students’ performance. The government
assesses schools by performance, and earns money based on that. That to some
degree enlarges the differences between schools, and makes education resources
more uneven. Parents are worried that, if they follow the principle of enrollment to
a nearby school, their child might be ending up at a poor school. But if they are to
compete for quality resources, it will cost them a lot.
The government is aware of the fact that merely containing the phenomenon of
school choice will not work. The Outline stresses on the need to improve “every
school in the neighborhood,” and to provide more quality education by “forming
education groups,” “improving poor schools,” and “increasing the number of
campuses of key schools.” From the “supply and demand” perspective, more
quality schools will increase resources and ease parents’ impulse. We have every
reason to believe that, through the above measures, there will be more good schools
to meet parents’ needs; by then, the school choice heat will cool down.


Beijing Youth Daily. (2016). 千人抢试卷择校戳中教育的痛点 [Thousands scramble for school

entrance exam papers]. Retrieved January 18, 2016, from http://epaper.ynetcom/html/2016-01/
Buhler, P. (2004). 24小时精通管理技巧 [Management skills in 24 hours]. Li, W. Y. trans. 北京,
中国: 生活读书新知三联书店 [Beijing, China: SDX Joint Publishing Company].
Cao, J. H. (2014). 城市义务教育家长择校研究 [A study of school choice of urban parents during
the compulsory education] (Unpublished master’s thesis). 华东师范大学, 上海, 中国
[Shanghai, China: East China Normal University].
China Youth Daily. (2009). 调查称6成民众认为择校费有碍教育公平 [Survey shows 6 out of 10
finds school choosing fee inhibits education equity]. Retrieved January 4, 2015, from http://
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[Principles and Opinions on Regulating Compulsory Education Schooling]. Communiqué of
the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, (3), 96–100.
Fan, X. Z. (1997). 中小学择校问题产生的原因探析 [Analysis on the reasons for school choice
problems in primary and high schools]. 现代教育论丛 [The Modern Education Journal],
(2), 33–35.
Gerrig, R. J., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2014). 心理学与生活 [Psychology and life]. 北京, 中国: 人民
邮电出版社 [Beijing, China: Posts and Telecom Press].
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科学出版社 [Beijing, China: Educational Science Publishing House].
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Development of Compulsory Education]. Retrieved January 16, 2016, from
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Part III
Chinese Teachers

Every learner of the ancient times had a teacher. A teacher is the

one who educates, teaches, and enlightens. People are not
born with knowledge. Everyone has confusions. If one is
confused yet does not learn from a teacher, he/she will always be
“Shi Shuo”
Han Yu (Tang dynasty)

For thousands of years, “to educate, teach, and enlighten” has been what makes a
teacher. A teacher is the embodiment of knowledge and thinking; a teacher is one
who teaches and enlightens. In ancient China, teaching was the role of officials.1
In the past, some officials made their living from teaching, becoming the first
teachers in China. In ancient China, “teachers” were the symbol of knowledge and
power. The tradition of worshiping knowledge and power led to a great respect for
teachers. The ruling class appreciated the role and worth of teachers. “If a country is
to prosper, the ruler has to respect teachers” (“Da Lüe,” Xunzi). The traditional
identity of a teacher is based on a holy moral character that transcends human
nature and secular life. Teachers taught for free and students could bring their
teacher meat as a tuition fee, if they liked.2 The traditional image of a teacher is one
of poverty and devotion to spiritual things. Teachers teach, educate, and set
examples. Early on in feudal society, much thought had already been put into
standards for being a good teacher. Book of Rites, written in the Late Warring States
Period, points out that a strict teacher who knows the laws and rules of education
has the character be a good teacher. “A man of noble character knows how edu-
cation results in a success or failure, then he can be a teacher... When the teacher is
strict, knowledge is respected; then education is revered.” In an era when knowl-
edge was scarce, Chinese people of all social classes revered teachers: “Trust your
teacher and his philosophy” (“Da Lüe,” Xunzi); “Treat your teacher as you treat
your father” (“Quan Xue,” Lü’s Commentaries of History).

In the feudal society, only those from royal and noble families can receive an education. Military
officers took the responsibility of teaching.
The point is the “rituals”; the gift itself does not matter.
126 Part III: Chinese Teachers

As incarnations of knowledge and wisdom, teachers are respected for fulfilling

the “holy duty” of untiringly spreading knowledge and truth to educate and
enlighten children and young people. In modern society, with knowledge becoming
widespread and more and more of the general public being educated, teachers have
become secularized and have lost the traditional “sacred” image (Hu and Lin 2014,
p. 130). In an era where the division of labor dominates, teaching roles are more
specialized. Since the founding of the Republic of China, the specialization of
teaching has taken a big step forward. At the end of the twentieth century, peda-
gogical education in China transformed from being a “three-tier system” to being a
“two-tier system” and is becoming a “three-tier system” again.3 Chinese people
value education, and the economic and social status of teachers has increased,
making teaching an ideal job choice for many. In 2004, the teacher certificate was
introduced, and now, after more than 10 years, an open accreditation system has
been established.4 The development of pedagogical education and the teaching
certification system guarantees the quality of teachers. Both pedagogical graduates
and other graduates need to obtain the certificate and sit exams held by the local
authorities or schools, and only the qualified can be formally hired as teachers. The
job is increasingly attractive, while the recruitment rate has fallen. Statistics show
that in 2015, the recruitment rate for English teachers in Xiamen, Fujian, is less than
5% (Minshi Education 2015). As the threshold raises, more Master’s and doctoral
graduates are teaching at primary and middle schools, greatly enhancing the general
quality of the teaching body. Now, those with a Bachelor’s degree make up 79.8%
of the total teaching staff; Master’s and those with higher degrees constitute 5%.5
In 1996, China implemented a strategy of “Rejuvenating the Nation through
Science and Education,” putting education at the base of social and economic
development. As a state policy, the strategy brought education into focus for the
public, inducing a series of reforms aimed at improving educational quality.
Teachers became more specialized and professional, and more reforms were
implemented to raise teachers’ salaries and social status. In 1993, the Teacher’s
Law was introduced. This law provided that the average salary of teachers should
be no less than that of national public servants, and should be increased gradually. It
also underlines the necessity to improve teachers’ living conditions, protect their
legitimate rights, and enhance their social status (Art. 25). The 2006 Amendment to
the Law reiterates that teachers’ salary should be no lower than that of the local

In the three-tier system, the secondary normal school, junior normal college, and normal college
train teachers for primary, junior middle school, and senior middle school, respectively. The
two-tier system does not include secondary normal school. The new three-tier system is the
two-tier plus normal education in graduate level.
Both pedagogical graduates and other graduates need to obtain the certificate before assuming a
teaching position. The examination for the certificate covers pedagogy, psychology, and other area
and requires a Mandarin certificate and physical examination. Also, a micro-teaching examination
will be held to assess the candidate’s ability to lecture. Only those with a degree and a teacher
certificate can take the recruitment examination, and only the qualified can become a teacher.
Based on the survey.
Part III: Chinese Teachers 127

public servants. The ensuing salary reform of government authorities and public
institutions contributed to a virtuous mechanism under which the salaries of pri-
mary and middle school teachers must be paid in full and on time. This resulted in
the average salaries of primary and middle school teachers growing faster than
China’s national GDP. However, it is lower than for workers in the financial
industries, science research, public health, social work, and public administration,
and the gap is widening. In 2012, the average monthly salary of financial practi-
tioners was 7000 RMB per month, while teachers were only earning an average of
4500 RMB per month (An 2014, p. 47).
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, teaching has become more
specialized than ever, and the supporting policies, teachers’ economic, and social
status have been significantly enhanced, meaning that a job in teaching is
increasingly attractive and respected. In 2007, the Science Association and
Provincial Statistics Bureau of Guizhou conducted a sampling survey on the sci-
entific literacy of citizens aged from 18 to 69. According to the results, teachers
have the highest prestige (64.8%), followed by doctors (52%) and scientists
(42.3%) (Tang 2011, p. 19). Meanwhile, teachers’ social position has been greatly
improved. In 1985, China designated September 10 every year as Teachers’ Day.
Many excellent teachers are selected as people’s representatives and involved in the
nation’s decision-making process. They exercise their political rights to contribute
to the development of China’s education cause. Besides, they also play an irre-
placeable role in spreading knowledge on science and culture.
In 1986, China began to implement nine-year compulsory education. By 2015,
the number of full-time teachers in compulsory education phase surpassed 9 mil-
lion. This huge body of teachers educate 140 million6 primary and middle school
students, and thanks to their hard work, China’s education sector is prospering
(MOE 2015). In China, teachers have a strong sense of identity from their career
and are positive about their work, which inspires them to work harder. In order to
further bring out their enthusiasm and enlarge the potential room for career growth,
the MOE launched a reform on teachers’ professional title evaluation in 2015.
Before, primary and middle school teachers were evaluated separately. The reform
merged the two evaluation tracks and allowed primary school teachers to become
middle school teachers. The highest professional title would be at the same level as
college professors. The new standard emphasizes teachers’ morality, performance,
and experience. It narrows regional differences and provides a more open platform
for teachers’ career development.
The next chapter tries to provide the readers with a genuine picture of teachers in
China. It will give a narrative of the everyday work of head teachers, who guide
students’ study, physical and mental growth, and shape their morality. Readers will
also get to know the Chinese people’s general perception of teachers, and teachers’
teaching and research life.

Calculations based on MOE’s Data. Retrieved July 6, 2016, from
128 Part III: Chinese Teachers


An, X. H. (2014). 我国中小学教师工资水平变化及差异特征研究 [A study on the evolution

and features of the salary of Chinese primary and middle school teachers]. 教育研究
[Educational Research], (12), 44–53.
Hu, X. K., & Lin, B. (2014). 当代中国社会变迁中教师身份被解构的伦理审视 [An ethical
examination of teachers’ identity in the changes of modern China society]. 道德与文明
[Morality And Civilization], (2), 129–135.
Minshi Education. (2015). 福建教师招考全省报考比例分析其中167个岗位录取比例低于10%
[Analysis on the teacher recruitment of Fujian province: 167 positions’ recruitment rate lower
than 10%]. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from
MOE. (2015). [Annals of statistics]. Retrieved July 6, 2016, from
Tang, Z. X. (2011). 教师地位的历史演变及其对教师专业化的启示 [Evolution of teachers’
status in China and its implications on the professionalism of teachers]. 中国成人教育 [China
Adult Education], (11), 18–19.
Chapter 8
A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China

Among the professionals in schools, there are administration personnel, teachers for
each subject, and, most significantly, head teachers, the mainstay.
In 2006, the MOE published the Opinions on Further Improving the Work of
Head Teachers in Primary and Middle Schools, pointing out that “head teachers are
the mainstays, organizers and coordinators of schooling.” The fulfillment of head
teachers’ duty requires right educational ideas, understanding of the law of kids’
physical and mental growth, reasonable methods and good use of all kinds of
resources. Head teachers should work with teachers of each subject to manage
classes, educate and guide students, and support class activities by class committees
and the Communist Youth League. They are bonds between school, parents, and
community. They should know how students behave outside school, and guide
parents and community to support school work (Elementary Education 2006). As a
special group of teaching staff, head teachers bear a unique responsibility. They
help students to form the right values, supervise their study, and care about their
health and life. They are not only the bridge between students and knowledge, but
also the bond between students and their school. They play a key role both in school
affairs and in the growth of students. A head teacher is not only a teacher, but also
the organizer and leader of a class, and the most reliable person for kids in school.

8.1 Busy Schedule

In public schools, head teachers usually play several roles. As subject teachers, they
teach two or three classes every semester. Usually head teachers teach one of the
major subjects which means around six class sessions a day as shown in Fig. 8.1.
Besides, as leaders, they implement the school’s teaching plan and moral education,
and organize student activities as required by school supervisors.

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 129
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_8
130 8 A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China

Fig. 8.1 Average number of class session of head teachers

Head teachers call their students “kids,” and themselves “nannies.” They care
about their kids, not only their study, but also their physical and mental growth and
development, and they guide them in facing the ups and downs of their study and
life with a good attitude. Head teachers are the mainstay of the teaching cohort and
are part of each school’s management group. Their professional skills and quality
are critical for student growth and school development, and they tend to make
improving themselves an important part of their everyday work.
Table 8.1 briefly indicates the average schedule of head teachers. In fact, their
work is far more complex. Class management, student affairs, school affairs,
teaching and research, most of them cannot be calculated by time only. Besides,
head teachers’ work is students-oriented and sometimes unpredictable. Also, their
work varies in different phases of schooling.

Table 8.1 Schedule of a head teacher of a middle school in Shanghai

Time Work
7:10–7:30 Arriving at school/supervising morning reading
7:30–7:50 Flag-raising ceremony/supervising morning exercise
8:00–9:40 Classes/correcting papers/preparing for classes/meetings
9:40–10:00 Supervising ocular gymnastics/one-to-one coach
10:00–11:40 Classes/correcting papers/preparing for classes/meetings
11:40–12:45 Lunch, break/correcting papers/discussions
12:45 Sanitary inspection
13:00–13:30 Afternoon meeting/organizing activities
13:30–14:40 Classes/correcting papers/preparing for classes/meetings
14:40–15:00 Supervising ocular gymnastics/one-to-one coach
15:00–16:40 Classes/correcting papers/preparing for classes/meetings
16:40–17:00 Class affair inspection/one-to-one coach
17:30–19:30 Seminar/tutoring on self-study
20:00–22:30 Going home to correct papers/work summery/preparing for classes
8.1 Busy Schedule 131

Fig. 8.2 Major duties and

their proportions

Generally, primary school head teachers arrive at school at around 7:30 am and
middle school head teachers have to arrive by 7:10 am. Usually, head teachers will
directly enter the classroom and supervise classroom cleaning and morning reading
sessions. Some schools arrange morning exercise right after morning reading; some
put the exercise after two classes. No matter what, head teachers should be on site to
supervise and discipline the students. And it is the same with ocular gymnastics,
especially in primary schools where students need more discipline. Head teachers’
supervision helps them form good habits. Middle school students tend to be more
self-disciplined, so sometimes head teachers do not have to come to the classroom
to supervise ocular gymnastics. However, usually, they will be busy in their offices
with other affairs. The major duties and working hours on workdays of head
teachers refer to Figs. 8.2 and 8.3 respectively.
During class time, head teachers are teaching, correcting papers, or dealing with
other affairs.
Some schools do not have noon break time; head teachers rush through their
lunch and come to class to supervise study, or organize class meetings. In some
schools, head teachers are allowed to have some rest after lunch. Before afternoon
classes, head teachers will come to the classroom to help students adjust their mood
and prepare for study. Primary school students are dismissed at around 16:00. In
middle and high schools, self-study lasts till 22:00. Head teachers are always the
last one to leave school. Usually, they still have some unfinished school affairs to

Fig. 8.3 Working hours on

132 8 A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China

handle at home. After that, they will reflect on the day’s work and think about how
to better manage the school. Usually, they still have some unfinished school affairs
to handle at home. After that, they will reflect on the day’s work and think about
how to better manage the school.
No matter in which phase of education, a head teacher spends almost every day
handling school and student affairs.

8.2 Supervising Studies

Study is students’ priority. It is what links the school, teachers, and students.
Everything in a school exists for the purpose of study, especially teachers. If
teachers are the source of knowledge in certain subjects, head teachers are the key
factor for the increase of overall academic performance.

8.2.1 Ms. Guo: Focusing on Students’ Study

Ms. Guo is a head teacher of Grade 6 at a primary school in Putuo district,

Shanghai. She has been a head teacher ever since she started her teaching career
nine years ago. There are 34 students in her own class. She also teaches Chinese for
another two classes. As a head teacher, besides her own teaching, her duty includes
supervising students’ study. As shown in Fig. 8.4, most head teachers teach three to
six classes or more, every workday. Figure 8.5 indicates that 72% head teachers
find the work very heavy, and sometimes they need to bring the work home.
Ms. Guo has a busy schedule. She arrives at the classroom before 7:30 am to
organize morning reading and self-study, or talk with the students whose perfor-
mance is not stable, or those who are not hard-working. During the breaks, she
often holds meetings with other teachers, through which she would know students’
performance in each class, even the progress of certain individuals. Based on the
feedback of other teachers, she talks to the students to find out reasons and help and
encourage them to solve problems. Besides, she also reminds other teachers to pay

Fig. 8.4 Average number of

classes on workdays
8.2 Supervising Studies 133

Fig. 8.5 Whether they need

to take work home

special attention to those who need more help to increase their performance. As a
Chinese teacher, Ms. Guo often urges students to read and recite Chinese classics,
and leaves students homework to improve on their weaknesses. Sometimes, she
tutors them after school. For those who are naughty and mischievous, she devotes
more time and energy, not only to discipline them, but also to inspire them and help
them to build confidence. Although very busy, she corrects every student’s
homework with 100% attention. She often does it at home, for she thinks correcting
Chinese homework, especially compositions, requires a quiet environment and a
peaceful mind. Only in that way can she finds out the strength and weaknesses of
students and tutor them well. She also analyzes their exam scores at class meetings
to help them better understand their performance level and areas needing work.

8.2.2 Supervisors

Ms. Guo is only one among the many head teachers who closely follow students’
academic results. In China, the study and performance of students are the most
important for students, classes, and school, and directly impact on students’ future.
As supervisors of students’ study, head teachers urge them to work hard and try all
means to improve their performance. They also have the responsibility to nurture
their learning habits and enhance their learning abilities. Cooperating with Other Teachers

In China, a head teacher usually teaches a major subject such as English, Chinese,
or math. The three subjects are the most important and make up the majority of
scores in high school and college entrance exams, and thus usually have more class
hours dedicated to them. As the teacher of a major subject, a head teacher needs to
consider the performance of students, and supervise students’ learning. With ade-
quate knowledge of students’ learning performance, the head teacher offers targeted
help. Besides teaching and management, most head teachers spend a lot of time
correcting homework and papers, sometimes even bringing the homework back
134 8 A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China

home to correct. Through that, head teachers know more about student’s learning,
notice problems, and work on them.
Head teachers focus on and intervene in the overall performance of classes. They
communicate with other teachers regularly to know about the discipline, atmo-
sphere and situation in each subject classes. From the average academic perfor-
mance of classes, to the fluctuations in scores of an individual student, to who
disrupts class discipline, a head teacher cares about everything. Through commu-
nication with other teachers, the head teacher can provide targeted help to students,
especially those with low performance or weak abilities. In a word, the head teacher
works together with other teachers to know about students’ learning in each subject,
and encourage and help them to improve their performance. Cultivating Students’ Learning Habits

In either primary or middle schools, head teachers devote much energy to nurturing
students’ learning habits. They arrive at class before students and help students to
get prepared for a new day’s learning. They organize morning reading and guide
students to find that morning hours are the best time of the day to start work and
how important it is to make every minute count. In middle school, students are
faced with more pressure, and the head teacher can and should help them to develop
good learning habits to prepare them for high school and college entrance exams.
For instance, head teachers guide students to make use of fragmented time and
self-study time, and teach them to better manage their time to increase learning
efficiency. Some head teachers ask students to memorize English words when they
are lining up for the morning exercise. Some head teachers forbid students from
talking with each other during self-study time. Besides, most head teachers in
middle school ask students to list their mistakes in homework and exams, and to
review them during self-study time, so that they would not make the same mistake
next time.
Discipline helps foster good learning habits and thus is important for improving
academic results. Students are young, and sometimes can be weak in self-discipline.
To better discipline the class, head teachers talk to students and sometimes have to
reproach them. Some head teachers try to prevent bad discipline in the first place;
they arrange seating thoughtfully. For instance, chatty students are not seated at
neighboring desks and high performing kids may sit next to low performing kids. In
that way, the discipline is guaranteed, and high performing students can help their
peers to improve.
It is the key job of head teachers to supervise students’ study. They guide
students to finish their learning tasks, and work with other teachers to educate
students, help them understand the purposes of learning, discover their motivations,
and find the right learning methods for them and thus improve their academic
8.3 Promoting Students’ Healthy Development 135

8.3 Promoting Students’ Healthy Development

In school, students, under the guidance of teachers, learn knowledge of various

subjects and attain the necessary skills for social life. They gradually grow into
persons that can live in real society outside school. School is not only a place for
knowledge, but also one where students live and grow. In the socialization of
students, head teachers are the mentors; they guide students to development in a
healthy way.

8.3.1 Ms. Gu: Caring for Students’ Health

Students’ personal safety and health is increasingly emphasized both by schools and
communities. As the head of class, head teachers care about students’ health and
safety in every possible way. In the flu and chickenpox season, the whole school is
immersed in a serious atmosphere. The head teachers are especially tense, and
closely watch every student. They supervise classroom cleaning, especially in often
neglected corners, help spray disinfectant, remind the students to open windows for
ventilation, and even remind them to manage personal hygiene and to put on
clothes when the temperature lowers. They are like mothers, protecting the children
from viruses and germs that can affect their learning and life. Winter is the peak
season for the flu and colds.
Ms. Gu is a head teacher at a primary school in Jinshan district, Shanghai and
she is concerned that sick students might lag behind. As a caring teacher, purely
seeing the kids suffer from illness is a torture for her. To her, primary school
students, especially those with lower grades, are too young to have self-protection
awareness. In every flu season, Ms. Gu stays in the classroom with kids most of the
time. She cleans the classroom with them, especially the often neglected corners,
helps them clean their desks, and reminds them to open the windows. In the
morning, she enters the classroom early to open the window and when school is
over, she comes to spray disinfectant, hoping to provide a clean environment for
kids to grow up healthily.
Ms. Gu particularly mentioned the kids that were having chickenpox in the
recent weeks. As a head teacher, she was afraid that they might infect the other
students, and had to forbid them from coming to school during that time, although
they wanted to go back to class very much. Every day, she would call parents of the
kids who were sick at home to know about their situations and guide them to study
by themselves and to keep a positive attitude. Besides, Ms. Gu encourages students
to participate in the half-hour “Sunshine Sports” every day to do rope-jumping,
running and exercise, in order to help them to foster good exercise habits and build
stronger bodies.
136 8 A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China

8.3.2 Ms. Han: Helping Students Get Rid of Perplexity

Students of every age have their own problems and confusions, especially ado-
lescents under the pressure of high school or college entrance exams. Anxieties and
confusions can drive them crazy, and may impede their physical and mental health.
Head teachers interact with students every day, so they know about their person-
alities and behaviors. When noticing anything unusual in a student, the head teacher
may talk to him/her and, in a sincere and warm manner, listen carefully to his/her
thoughts and confusions, and find out the reasons behind the problem.
Ms. Han, a head teacher of Grade 1 of a high school in Putuo district, Shanghai,
has noticed something wrong with Xiaogang, a student in her class. Xiaogang used
to be an outgoing and positive boy. Recently, however, he has been in low spirits.
He does not raise his hand to answer questions in class, and does not talk or play
with classmates after class. He has become unsociable and seems really upset. Ms.
Han is worried about him. She talks with his friends, pays home visits to talk with
his parents, and most importantly, talks with Xiaogang himself. Xiaogang,
encouraged by Ms. Han, finally walks out of the shadow.
In the interview, Ms. Han also mentions students who are so stressed that they
hate going to school, and those who are in a relationship at a young age. When you
are familiar with students, she says, you can read a lot from even a look or a move
of theirs. Through talking with students, she helps them get rid of confusions and
anxieties. It is a head teacher’s responsibility to understand his/her priority; and it is
his/her greatest delight to see all the kids grow healthily and happily.

8.3.3 Playing an Important Part in Students’ Growth

Head teachers put students’ health and safety first. In both primary and middle
schools, head teachers encourage students to participate in sports activities.
Especially in primary schools, head teachers care for students like a mother cares
for her kids. For physical health, head teachers guide students to do the cleaning as
required by school’s Work Regulations on Physical Exercise and Hygiene, leading
by example; they educate students to exercise more, and to develop healthy habits
in their personal life. Recent years have witnessed more kidnapping, abduction and
sex assault cases targeted at children, making parents very nervous. Head teachers,
as the people in charge of children’s safety at school, closely follow every moment
from kids leaving school until they get home. When a kid is late for school, the
head teacher would call his/her parents immediately, not to blame, but out of the
concern for the child’s safety.
Basic knowledge of psychology and pedagogy helps head teachers better assume
their responsibility for managing classes. Students are at the center of the work of
head teachers. Students of different ages, genders and backgrounds have different
psychological developmental paths. Head teachers spend time approaching and
8.3 Promoting Students’ Healthy Development 137

watching students’ behaviors and facial expressions to better know them. Through
knowledge about students’ school and home life, head teachers can understand their
thoughts and feelings, talk with them like close friends, and help them to cope with
their problems. Head teachers also work with their parents to help students build an
optimistic attitude and learn useful self-training methods to solve psychological
problems and develop healthily.

8.4 Organizing Various Activities

The promotion of education for all-around development extends the focus from
purely knowledge passing to every aspect of students’ growth and development. In
order for students to be able to participate in various after-class activities to gain
experience and grow, head teachers spend much energy in organizing activities.
Behind each student’s activity, there is time for the devotion of head teachers.

8.4.1 Ms. Qian: Students’ “Leader”

In Jinshan district of Shanghai, there is a week of national defense education every

year for fifth grade children. This year, Ms. Qian, head teacher of a Grade 5 primary
school class in the district, will take her students to an army camp to receive one
week of training. Upon receiving the notice, Ms. Qian has been busy preparing for
and encouraging the students to value this precious opportunity. After arriving at
the camp, she looks after students’ accommodation, and stays there all day
receiving the training with the students. She tries her best to motivate the students to
optimize results.
To enrich school life, during every holiday, schools organize themed activities.
For instance, during the Christmas week, Ms. Qian will spend class breaks dis-
cussing and planning Christmas events with students, including how to decorate the
classroom and what needs to be prepared. She also leads students to make a
Christmas tree, draw pictures and put up decorations. She allocates tasks to students
so that everyone can be involved in creating the warm Christmas atmosphere. She
believes that kids love that, and as a head teacher, her job is to create opportunities
for them, make sure it goes well, and ensure students’ safety.
Besides those required by school, Ms. Qian also encourages students to come up
with themes of class meetings and asks them to implement them. During that
process, she pays attention to the children’s thinking, interests, and needs, and
motivates them to participate. In that way, students’ abilities and talents can be
demonstrated and promoted.
138 8 A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China

8.4.2 Organizer of Students’ Activities

On one hand, head teachers, as required by their schools, ask students to participate
in all kinds of events such as sports games, art performance, and drama acting.
Although there are professional teachers to instruct the students, head teachers are
always there to watch students’ performances and encourage them. On the other
hand, head teachers care for students. They make full use of time to organize
interesting activities or class meetings for students, such as “reading and life,”
“Happy New Year,” “dumpling making,” “English and Chinese,” “my dream,” etc.
They inspire students to get involved and learn something. They also guide them to
participate in scientific, entertainment, social, and other after-class activities, and
encourage them to develop their interests and talents.
By designing more activities available for students, head teachers help develop
their skills and abilities, and enrich their school life. It is important for students’
growth, and it is a duty that head teachers must fulfill.

8.5 As a United Group

A head teacher’s work is class-oriented. A good class cannot be built on his/her

own. The key is cohesion and class dynamism. That means all the students of the
class, who have the same goal, and are disciplined for the purpose of their education
and all-around development, form a stable and united group. That cannot be
achieved without a head teacher’s efforts (Chen 2001, p. 183). The key to building a
collective class identity lies in the management system and the cadres, a small
group of students who are chosen to assist the head teacher in managing the class.
Both require head teachers’ advice and guidance.

8.5.1 Mr. Zhang: I Have Great Helpers

Mr. Zhang is a head teacher at a primary school in Zibo of Shandong province and
he is fully aware of the influence of the class on students. Upon taking charge of a
class, he sets up strict and fair rules to regulate students’ behaviors and develop a
good climate. Before, the cleanliness level of the classroom was really bad, ranking
last among all the classes. Mr. Zhang implemented an accountability system and
divided the classroom floor in to small areas. Everyone was responsible for a certain
area and their work was rated. That quickly changed the cleanliness of the class-
room. Now, the class has been chosen as the school’s “cleanliness star” many times
in a row. To develop students’ sense of responsibility and guide their opinions and
behaviors, Mr. Zhang encourages students to examine themselves and accept
criticism from others, so that they can know their own mistakes and problems and
8.5 As a United Group 139

make changes. Mr. Zhang also forms a pool of cadre candidates through students’
recommendations and selection, and after a month’s observation, he finally deter-
mines the formal members. In his work, the cadres share a lot of his burdens. He
calls them his “great helpers.” He selects a student as an executive monitor, in
charge of internal management and external contact. Other cadre members work on
specific areas. For instance, the cadre in charge of studies works with representa-
tives of each subject to check homework hand-in. The cadre in charge of cleanliness
sets up a special workgroup to supervise everyday cleaning inside and outside the
classroom. Then the class management work can be done in an orderly manner.
In the beginning, when Mr. Zhang was away, he would ask other teachers to
watch the class, in case anything happened. The surrogates always told him that
everything was in good order. He knows that the key was in unification and
discipline, and the role of cadre members. He believes that children are totally
capable of managing their own affairs. The cadre members are role models, and
with a little bit of power delegated by the head teacher, they can lead the class very

8.5.2 The Builder of the Group

A good management system is critical to a good class. As J. A. Comenius (1985)

says, “A school without discipline is like a mill without water” (p. 215). Head
teachers determine management principles and classroom rules after considering
national laws, school regulations, class conditions, and students’ ideas. Students are
encouraged to get involved in the decision-making process, so that the rules can
reflect their willing. The head teacher should make it clear as to what is required,
what is encouraged, what is prohibited, what is in accordance with the rules, and
what is cautioned against. Rules must be strictly followed, and no arbitrary changes
should be allowed (Zhou 2011). Only in that way can the system formed through
discussion and agreed by both teachers and students bind the whole class and lead
to an orderly group.
Usually, head teachers’ workload is very heavy. The class committee or student
cadre helps share head teachers’ burden. The key is in the selection of cadre
members. Usually, when a head teacher takes charge of a new class, he/she knows
little about the students and it is hard for him/her to select the right cadre members.
Thus, he/she would obtain information from students, files, home visits, and other
teachers, and appoint a temporary cadre. After some time, the head teacher and
students would know each other better through work, individual contact, and col-
lective activities, and are clearer about who are the right candidates. Then the head
teacher will hold a meeting to elect formal cadre members, and assign responsi-
bilities. Usually, the head teacher needs to improve cadre members’ ability to work
independently and develop their sense of serving the class. After all that is done,
they can be qualified helpers and assist the head teacher in handling class affairs.
140 8 A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China

Trusting students, selecting an elite group, and guiding them to get involved in
class management can develop their leadership, create a good class atmosphere and
relieve the burden on the head teacher.

8.6 Coordinating the Trilateral Relations Among

Students, Families and School

In order to cope with the challenges for education raised by the rapid development
of modern society, and to mitigate the negative effect of inconsistency, the com-
bination of family and school education is an important guarantee for students’
learning and growth. As a representative of school, the head teacher plays an
important role in coordinating relations among students, parents and school.

8.6.1 Ms. Sheng: Communicating with Parents Is


Mrs. Sheng is a head teacher at a primary school in Jinshan district, Shanghai and
home visiting is one of her most important job. This year, she has around 40
students in her class. As the head teacher, she pushes herself to visit all their
Ms. Sheng spends her vacation on home visits at least two times a year. In her
half-a-month vacation, most time is spent running from one student’s home to
another. In fact, the school does not set any requirement for that, but Ms. Sheng
finds home visits useful in helping her know about students’ family and learning
backgrounds, weaknesses and strengths, and health conditions. For instance, Ms.
Sheng says, there was a student who was very introvert. Via a home visit, she got to
know that he was from a single-parent family. Knowing the cause, she could take
targeted measures to help him. To be frank, she says, home visiting is a lot of work,
but still worth it, and is what needs to be done if you want to be a good head
As educational philosophy changes, education is not limited to school anymore.
Parents and even social stakeholders are increasingly involved and play their parts.
Speaking of parent-school cooperation, Ms. Sheng tells us about the parent com-
mittee of her school, and she says that as communications technology is widely
applied, including WeChat and QQ social media groups, the cooperation becomes
As a bridge between family and school, Ms. Sheng tries her best to bring out the
potential of parents’ involvement. She uses many ways to get parents to play a part
in children’s education. For instance, she invites parents to lectures in class
8.6 Coordinating the Trilateral Relations Among Students, Families and School 141

extensions every Friday. Sometimes, she organizes family activities on weekends to

promote school-family cooperation in education.
To achieve effective communication among students, parents and school, Ms.
Sheng often talks with parents via social media platform WeChat even after work to
build a platform for students’ learning and growth together.

8.6.2 Coordinator of Trilateral Relations

Once, education was regarded as merely the school’s business, having nothing to do
with family and society. That idea causes an inconsistency between family and
schools, and lead to friction and contradiction. However, as educational philosophy
and mechanisms change, as Ms. Sheng mentions, head teachers at all education
phases increasingly value communication and collaboration with parents, and they
have become coordinators of these trilateral relations.
Usually, the head teacher encourages parents to set up a committee, and com-
municates with them via home visits, QQ, WeChat groups, etc., to bond students,
families and school. Every day, parents ask about children’s performance at school
via WeChat, and the head teacher responds. Through such instant communication,
head teachers can better supervise the children enrolled in their schools. Many
primary schools organize regular family events. Head teachers coordinate and
encourage parents to participate. On one hand, parents learn about the education
their children are receiving and can clear any misunderstandings. On the other hand,
with parents’ participation, schools can hold more colorful events for students, and
promote more intimate parent-children relations. Besides, via such communication
platforms, head teachers can help parents who lack knowledge of education, and
become their consultants.

8.7 Active Participation in School Affairs

Head teachers’ work is unique. They are naturally involved in school’s adminis-
trative affairs, for they are the bonds between school and students. They convey
school’s general strategies and general rules, and put them in place.

8.7.1 Mr. Liu: Multiple Duties

Mr. Liu teaches at a high school in Tongliao of Inner Mongolia. It is not only
physical tiredness that he has to bear, but also mental pressure. The third year in
142 8 A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China

high school is a year that changes the fate of students. No slack is ever allowed in
both teaching and management. He admits that students are very sensitive, and a
little trace of dropping the tempo by the teachers would send students a signal that
they can also slack off. That would be horrible. Thus, no matter whether in teaching
or in class management, Mr. Liu always stays strict with students and with himself.
Faced with the pressure of college entrance exams, teachers, especially head
teachers, try everything to improve students’ academic performance. Mr. Liu is the
head teacher as well as the Third Year director. He holds regular meetings and
discusses students’ performance with his colleagues, working out solutions to
improve performance, and reporting to the vice president in charge of teaching
affairs. Besides, as the chairman of the district’s Youth Union, he guides young
teachers in their careers, and organizes regular lectures and trainings. As the head of
the school’s Financial Aid Office, he is also in charge of information recording,
selection and supporting of students in need of financial aid, and the delivery of
national grants. With so many titles, he feels a little bit tired sometimes, but he does
enjoy his work. “It is a test of my abilities.”

8.7.2 School Affairs

In China, head teachers like Mr. Liu are active participators in school affairs. Most
of them are selected directly by their school president, and serve as mainstays in the
school’s implementation of education and teaching plans. Class is the basic unit of
school. All the national educational plans, school’s educational reform resolutions,
the Office of Teaching Affairs and Office of General Affairs’ requirements for
students’ education and life, Students’ Union’s activities, and voluntary work for
public interests are implemented and carried out in class level by head teachers (Tan
1998, p. 8). That means, being a head teacher means participating in the imple-
mentation of school plans and serving as a bridge between students and schools,
and school leaders. Active participation in school affairs is a must and routine for
head teachers.

8.8 Seeking Self-improvement

It is head teachers’ obligation and responsibility to supervise students’ learning and

promote their growth. Head teachers, as individuals, have their own demands for
development. With the resources and platform provided by school, they can
improve themselves and enhance their skills and abilities.
8.8 Seeking Self-improvement 143

8.8.1 Ms. He: Seeking Perfection

Ms. He is a head teacher at a primary school in Jinshan district of Shanghai and she
has just finished her “head teachers’ basic skills” competition. She is an energetic
lady who pursues excellence. As required by school, head teachers must be
involved in teaching and research, just like other teachers. The school implements a
credit system. Every teacher has a certain amount of credits to obtain every
semester. Each phase needs five year to complete. How to obtain credits is complex,
but teachers must take courses opened by the Office of Teaching and Research, just
like taking required courses in college.
Besides, as an English teacher, Ms. He needs to be involved in municipal,
district, and school level teaching and research events, and participate in profes-
sional skills competitions. To improve her abilities and professionalism, Ms. He
also participates in all kinds of training on skills and theories, and applies for
research projects. Such a busy schedule makes her feel enriched but also tired.
However, with students to supervise, and herself to improve, she must work to raise
her spirits. In fact, these two factors reinforce each other. She enjoys the process
very much.

8.8.2 Improving Themselves

For a teacher who loves education and students, he/she also wants to realize his/her
value and dream in classroom. Although it is head teachers’ duty to teach and to
participate in school affairs, they are also doing these things to improve themselves.
They learn and work hard for their dreams.
Training is an important part of guaranteeing the professional development of
head teachers. Since the MOE launched the National Plan on Training of Primary
and Middle School Head Teachers, head teachers’ training has been incorporated
into continuing education. Professional training of head teachers has sprung up,
including national, provincial, municipal, county and school level training sessions,
such as national training for primary and middle schools’ mainstay head teachers,
and remote training for ten thousand primary and middle school head teachers.
Training helps motive head teachers and meets their demand for self-improvement,
which have proved very popular among head teachers (Huang 2010, p. 84). In
recent years, some places and schools have set up excellent head teachers’ studios
to better leverage their demonstrating and leading role. In Shanghai and
Guangdong, professional skills competition are held, where head teachers show and
improve their abilities through speech, class activity designing, impromptu defense
and talent show.
In spite of their busy schedule, most head teachers still choose to participate in
training, teaching, research and competitions to improve themselves and gradually
realize their value in education. Besides, the launch of “New Curriculum Reform”
144 8 A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China

provides opportunities and platform for head teachers’ development, and also raises
new challenges. Head teachers learn knowledge on educational theories, formulate
their own development plan, participate in on-job learning and training, and con-
duct educational action research. They make good use of all the resources, com-
municate with peers and reflect on themselves. With their own professional abilities
improved, they will be better at teaching and class management.

8.9 Head Teachers’ Views of Themselves

Head teachers, a Chinese characteristic category and a group irreplaceable in

China’s education cause, work at the front line and contribute their energy and time
to students’ growth. For the country’s educational cause, they implement and
promote educational philosophy and policies; for schools, they achieve teaching
goals and manage the classes; for parents, they lead children to knowledge, to the
entrance of the next phase education, and to a bright future; for students, they are
the “devils” who supervise on them and criticize them, and the angles who care for
them. What exactly are head teachers like, then, in their own eyes?

8.9.1 The “Almighty” Me

Head teachers need to watch every child in the class. Students are from different
backgrounds and have different experience and personalities. Head teachers shape
the students’ moral integrity, supervise their learning and intellectual development,
and promote their physical and mental growth. They also organize colorful events
for students’ all-around development, and unify the class to increase sense of
belonging and responsibility. Besides, they need to coordinate multilateral relations
and make good use of all the resources. They also participate in school affairs and
management. As individuals, head teachers also seize opportunities to improve
themselves. The scope of their work indicates that only those teachers with com-
prehensive ability can take the responsibility of a head teacher.
Head teachers believe that they are capable of anything. They will take care of
all things that are related, even in the slightest way, to class and students, and they
will make sure these tasks are in good hands. On class management, the head
teacher is whom the students look up to. As a head teacher, “no” is not an option,
for every child counts on you. It is not like teaching. In teaching, if a student asks a
question that you do not know the answer, you can be honest. In handling other
affairs, such as incidents, however, a head teacher has to handle well, protect and
assure the students, and make them feel safe. Head teachers must be prepared for
everything. They must be “almighty.”
8.9 Head Teachers’ Views of Themselves 145

Other teachers also find head teachers’ work complex, as it includes school
affairs, meetings, teaching and research, supervising students’ leaning, cleanliness,
health, organizing events, and contacting parents’ committee. A head teacher said,
“Sometimes I’m like a superman, with all those coordinating and balancing stuff.”

8.9.2 With a Challenging Job

Head teachers’ work is student-oriented. It is about studying and educating people.

Thus, in teaching and class management, there are various contradictions and
complicated relations. A head teacher must educate students in accordance with
national standards, while considering students’ own personalities and differences, to
bring out their potential and promote their development.
Head teachers’ duties are intertwined. Many think a head teacher only needs to
supervise students’ learning and classroom hygiene. That is not true. Take learning
for example. Supervising learning requires communication with teachers of all
subjects on students’ classroom performance and learning characteristics to find out
the best teaching method and proper homework amount. Besides, different methods
should be used targeting at high-performing students and low-performing students.
Also, communication with parents is needed for a joint supervision on students’
study and for extension events. And students should participate in after-class
activities besides learning textbook knowledge. Thus, a head teacher’s work is
more about targeted and creative management based on class-specific conditions
rather than following a regular pattern. That makes it really challenging.
Mr. Lin has been a teacher at a middle school in Heihe of Heilongjiang province
for more than 30 years. He witnessed the huge changes in school. Before, an
experienced head teacher would not find his/her job difficult. It was all about
supervising learning and improving students’ academic results. However, since the
education for all-around development has been promoted, campus life is not only
about learning anymore. There are more events, activities and practices. The
workload for head teachers is increased, and old teachers have to cope with new
challenges. They have to change the old way of class management. They are not the
“rulers” anymore; instead, they need to communicate with students on equal
footings. That raises challenges particularly for teachers who are used to absolute
authority. In today’s class management, a head teacher needs not only to supervise
learning, but also to come up with ideas to organize colorful events and activities
for students in order to promote their overall development. Students are different
from the past, too. They are more creative and mature. All those pose challenges for
head teachers. Besides, in a society not as safe as that in the past, head teachers also
need to keep in touch with parents to ensure students’ personal safety. Almost every
head teacher is faced with challenges.
146 8 A Typical Day of a Head Teacher in China

8.9.3 Tired but Happy

With so much and diverse work, head teachers often call themselves “nannies,” or
“handymen,” who take care of the students all day from school affairs to class
cleanliness, as long as it is related to students. Moreover, head teachers often teach a
major subject, which makes it even harder for them to balance teaching and
management. Faced with so many duties, head teachers sometimes feel unable to do
everything well. Sometimes, they would get tired of their work and feel frustrated.
However, head teachers are irreplaceable not only because they have strong pro-
fessional abilities, but also because they love education and children. And it is
because of the love that they can find pleasure in the difficulties and feel the real
happiness in working with children. Ms. Han has been a head teacher at a middle
school in Putuo district of Shanghai for 13 years. She admits that this job can be
demanding and complicated, and she also points out directly that whether this job
makes you happy mainly depends on whether you love the students. If the head
teacher really loves working with students, he/she would be willing to devote
himself/herself into class and students. “Being a head teacher is all about con-
science.” Ms. Han says,
The best thing about being a head teacher is that, one day, you’ll find what you do have
influenced the children. You might not know what influence it would be, and the influence
might not be huge. But as long as there is some influences, even a little, you would feel that
what you do is meaningful. That will make you feel very happy and is your biggest
achievement. (personal communication, December 23, 2015)

It is true that a head teacher works more than the eight hours of other teachers.
They work all day long, from morning to night, busy coping with everything related
to their students. When other teachers are focused on teaching, head teachers must
balance teaching and management, family and work. What supports and motivates
them, perhaps, is not the salary, or welfare, or social status, but the growth and
progress of students. Late in the night, the head teacher falls asleep, relieved, and
when the sun rises, another busy and rewarding day will come.


Chen, R. R. (2001). 德育与班主任 [Moral education and the head teacher]. 北京, 中国:高等教
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further improving the work of head teachers in primary and middle schools].
Huang, Z. P. (2010). 我国班主任工作现状分析与对策建议 [Analysis of head teachers’ work in
China, and advice on countermeasures]. 教育学术月刊 [Education Research Monthly], (3),
References 147

Tan, B. B. (1998). 班主任学 [The study on head teachers]. 长沙, 中国: 湖南师范大学出版社
[Changsha, China: Hunan Normal University Press].
Zhou, S. J. (2011). 班主任与班级管理 [Head teacher and class management] (Unpublished
doctoral dissertation). 上海师范大学, 上海, 中国 [Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai,
Chapter 9
Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers

Different people may have different ideas about the image of a typical teacher, either
portraying them as being genial and amiable or serious and taciturn. Although there
are differences between individual teachers, every historical era has its representa-
tives of the typical teacher. A teacher’s image is formed by the public’s perception of
teachers as a social group and by the self-perception of teachers.
A positive image of teachers has both educational and social significance. On
one hand, it promotes students’ learning and growth, improves interpersonal rela-
tionships, enhances professional efficiency and expands their educational function
as mentors for the students’ life and study (Qiu 2003, p. 40). On the other hand,
good teachers are the benchmark for education and employment, thus contributing
to the sustainable development of education. As Book of Rites puts it, in the pursuit
of learning, respecting teachers is difficult to achieve but very important advice to
follow, because it is only when teachers are valued that it is possible to appreciate
the knowledge imparted by teachers, and only then will the public be enlightened.
What were the images of teachers like in traditional Chinese culture? What were
the changes to the image of the ideal teacher in the New Curriculum Reform? How
do the teachers perceive themselves in modern times? To answer these questions, we
will illustrate the images of teacher in terms of the teacher’s personality,
teacher-student relationships and teacher’s responsibilities (Ruan 2003a, pp. 47–50).

9.1 The Traditional Image of Chinese Teachers

Descriptions of teachers date back to as early as the Pre-Qin period. To name but a
few, Confucius described teachers as “gentle but demanding, strict but not
aggressive, modest but esteemed” (“Shu Er,” The Analects of Confucius).
According to Xunzi’ account, it is insufficient for teachers to have broad knowledge
alone. They also need four basic qualities: to have dignity and authority, to have
rich life experience and lofty beliefs, to have the ability to impart Confucius
© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 149
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_9
150 9 Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers

philosophy explicitly and to have insight (“Zhi Shi,” Xunzi). Han Yu defined
teachers’ responsibilities as being to impart philosophy and knowledge to resolve
people’s puzzles and problems (“Shi Shuo” by Han Yu).

9.1.1 The Personality of Teachers

As one main facet, teachers’ personalities represent the image of the teaching
profession (Ruan 2003a, p. 47). The social group of teachers has been profoundly
influenced by Confucianism, which stresses integrity as a must when it comes to the
qualifications of teachers. As Confucius said, “how could a teacher rectify others if
he could not rectify himself?” (“Zilu,” The Analects of Confucius).
In traditional Chinese culture, teachers’ personalities are unpretentious and
gentle, self-disciplined and self-esteemed, and indefatigable in the pursuit of
knowledge. Chinese teachers have long been expected to be successors and dis-
seminators of traditional Chinese culture.
Confucius represents the traditional image of Chinese teachers. Born into a poor
family, Confucius’ success was attributed to his own endeavors. In his chapter “Shu
Er” which illustrates his educational ideology, regarding learning attitudes, he
advocates learning without satiety. He also points out that anyone can be a source of
learning. He wrote, “When I walk with two others, they may serve me as my
teachers. I will learn good qualities from them while self-correcting myself by using
their bad qualities as a mirror.”
Regarding morality, as a philosopher, Confucius advocated the ideology of
benevolence, the core of which is “the benevolent love others” (“Li Lou Xia,”
Mencius). As a teacher, Confucius is a model that cannot be surpassed in the mind
of the Chinese people. He believed in the importance of actions speaking louder
than words (“The Preface,” Records of the Grand Historian).
Regarding students, he proposed equal access to education for all social mem-
bers who have the desire to learn, regardless of their family background and social
status (“Wei Ling Gong,” The Analects of Confucius).
In the process of teaching, he insisted on and practiced a sincere learning attitude
by himself (“Wei Zheng,” Confucian Analects). He stressed honesty and prudence,
which he believed were universal moralities across the world. “No one will have
any problems communicating with primitive tribes or in remote areas if he is sincere
and cautious; no one will be accepted by his neighborhood if he is insincere and
incautious” (“Wei Ling Gong,” The Analects of Confucius).
Considering the characteristics of individual students, Confucius adopted
student-oriented teaching approaches and motivated students to be independent in
their thinking.
Confucius represents the traditional image of Chinese teachers. On one hand,
teachers should have profound knowledge and noble morals. On the other hand,
they are expected to impart their knowledge and moralities to their students while
continuing to improve themselves.
9.1 The Traditional Image of Chinese Teachers 151

9.1.2 Teacher–Student Relationships

In traditional Chinese culture, the image of a teacher is highly authoritative. As

described in the (“Tai Shi,” Book of History) “to bless the public, Heaven created
the emperor and teachers.” This implies that the emperor and teachers are of equal
importance. In “Li Lun,” Xun zi says,
Heaven and Earth are the roots of life. Forebears are the root of kinship. Emperors and
teachers are the root of order. Were there no Heaven and no Earth, how could there be life?
Were there no forebears, how could there be issue? Were there no emperors and no
teachers, how could there be order?

In addition, he illustrates the necessity of respecting teachers (“Zhi Shi,” Xun zi).
In “Da Lüe,” Xunzi stresses the absolute authority of teachers in education.
“Anyone who does not follow his teachers’ ideology is a traitor to his teachers.
A person like that will not be used by wise rulers and will be ignored by the literati
and officialdom.”
The traditional image of the Chinese teacher is a result of history and culture,
which actively motivates teachers and enhances their sense of pride in their pro-
fession. However, this traditional respect for teachers empowers those with absolute
authority, allowing them to leverage their privileged position to blame and control
students. Students are expected to follow their teachers’ will without any
This absolute authority may affect the interactions between teachers and stu-
dents. Students may be afraid of telling teachers about their feelings and concerns.
As passive learners and observers of regulations, the students barely have any
initiative to learn or join in with campus life. This does not help develop students’
initiative or inspire their enthusiasm, thus hindering students’ development.
Furthermore, the traditional authority of teachers impedes teachers’ own
development, as well as blocking out effective feedback, and affects teachers’
self-reflection and improvement.

9.1.3 Teachers’ Responsibilities

Teachers’ responsibilities have long been socially perceived as selfless devotion. In

traditional Chinese culture, teachers are described as being like spring mud,
“anything but ruthless, falling flowers are turning into spring mud to nurture the
potential blossom” (“No title,” Li Shangyin1) and candles that burn out themselves
to create light for others.
In China, ideal teachers are the ones who are like “burning candles who sacrifice
themselves to foster talents and spring silkworms who devote their entire lives to

There is a type of poetry in ancient China named No Title.
152 9 Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers

education” (Xu 2006, p. 25). Burdened with their passion for education, teachers in
practice implement their perception of education and contribute to the growth of
future generations. Not in pursuit of fame or gain, they remain at the frontier of
education silently in spite of harsh working and living conditions. They spare no
effort to realize the optimal development of students.
It is quite common for teachers to work while sick and sacrifice themselves for
the sake of students. Below are the stories of Mr. Wang and Mr. Tian.
In 1978, People’s Education reported the experience of Mr. Wang, a primary
school teacher in a remote village of Yanchang county, Shaanxi province. Apart
from his teaching responsibilities, he voluntarily assisted with campus construction.
Despite the shortage of resources and underdeveloped living conditions, he, toge-
ther with his students, reclaimed school-run cropland and operated a small farm.
The revenue was used to purchase teaching facilities, textbooks and school
Thanks to Mr. Wang’s efforts, the enrollment rate began to stabilize, while the
drop-out rate declined sharply. Mr. Wang’s salary was rather slim, and because he
was overwhelmingly occupied with school affairs, he barely had any time or energy
to take care of his own family, let alone cultivate the farmland belonging to his
household. Nevertheless, Mr. Wang devoted his life, without hesitation, to the
cause of education in Yanchang county, Shaanxi province, while giving up the right
to pursue a better life for his own sake (Zhou and Wang 1982, pp. 14–17).
Another report in People’s Education in 1995 was about Mr. Tian, a private
school teacher in a desolate Miao village of Wuling Mountain, northeastern
Guizhou province. Discouraged by its remoteness, inconvenient transportation and
harsh living conditions, teaching staff from other places quit one after another, with
school even being suspended once due to the lack of teachers.
In order to ensure that the students could receive their education, Mr. Tian
offered to be the teacher. He not only assumed teaching responsibilities, but also
managed to raise funds for a new campus. Contributing both financially and
physically, Mr. Tian stayed on the construction site day and night, and covered the
deficit of funds and timber. Despite his minimal income and a subsidy of just 5
RMB monthly, he constantly supported impoverished students for four consecutive
years, spending an amount totaling several thousand RMB.
Considering the scarcity of teaching staff, he persuaded his two sons to give up
their jobs with monthly incomes of 600 RMB so that they could teach with him for
a salary of only 50 RMB. Mr. Tian’s contribution did not count for nothing, with
his endeavors, the school enrollment rate of his village increased from 50% to 80%
(Long and Yin 1995, pp. 10–12).
Mr. Wang and Mr. Tian were among tens of thousands of dedicated Chinese
teachers. While eulogizing their lofty deeds, such a deified image is worthy of our
reflection. As an occupation, a teacher is supposed to impart knowledge and wis-
dom to students, facilitating their comprehensive development. Also, it should be
noted that, like other occupations, teaching is a way of making a livelihood. Such
an over-lofty image no doubt portrays teachers as “epic martyrs,” imposing upon
their job responsibilities with their life-time contributions.
9.1 The Traditional Image of Chinese Teachers 153

However, the point is that teachers are human beings who also have the right to
fulfill their individual needs. In addition, it should be understood that students’
growth is not achieved by teachers’ sacrifice, but by the teachers’ own develop-
ment. The progress of teachers and the progress of students are not contradictory,
but are conducive to one another. During China’s economic development, the
concept of cost-efficiency which was learned from the idea of a market economy
has gradually removed the expectation of teachers’ sacrifices from social

9.2 Images of Teachers During the New Curriculum


In order to satisfy the educational goals of cultivating innovative and pragmatic

talents, the National Basic Education Working Meeting 2001 issued the Basic
Education Curriculum Reform Outline (trial).
The Reform delivered adjustments in all dimensions, thus requiring education to
swiftly move from “over-emphasis on the passage of knowledge,” “ongoing ori-
entation with passive learning, mechanical memorizing and repetitive training” and
“the excessively decisive function of evaluation in discrimination and selection” to
“helping students foster active learning altitudes,” “advocating participatory,
exploratory and operational capabilities,” and “improving teachers’ practical
teaching competencies.”
These adjustments set forth relatively demanding requirements for teachers, thus
leading to a transformation in the image of teachers.

9.2.1 Teachers’ Personalities

Teachers are no longer seen as “sages” any more, but rather as normal individuals
who possess virtue, intelligence and competence.
Regarding teachers’ virtue, this now differs slightly from its traditional meaning,
with a sense of virtue in the modern context referring to professional ethics and
personal morality. On one hand, teachers are expected to be committed to educa-
tion, as Tao Xingzhi addresses, “holding a heart without asking for anything in
return.” Passion is the cornerstone for the fulfillment of teachers’ responsibilities.
On the other hand, students engage most with their teachers on campus, and
teachers’ words and deeds impose subtle influences upon their cultivation.
Therefore, it is only teachers with integrity who are qualified to be role models and
foster ideal talents.
154 9 Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers

Regarding teachers’ intelligence, the reform has set forth demanding require-
ments for teachers’ intelligence. Teachers are required to master a type of
three-dimensional knowledge, with the dimensions thereof being extensive general
knowledge, professional knowledge and theories, as well as practical skills.
This three-dimensional knowledge lays the foundation for quality teaching and
professional development. Extensive general knowledge, especially in subjects like
psychology and management, enables teachers to be more flexible in their
engagement with students and their classroom organization. Moreover, since
teachers may influence their students in diverse aspects, teachers having a wide
range of knowledge could be very helpful.
Professional knowledge and theories guarantee the systematic and comprehen-
sive passage of knowledge, while also benefiting one’s occupational advancement.
Practical skills are accumulated during routine practices, which facilitate class
attraction and efficiency, thus being one of the necessary skills.
After the reform, the image of an ideal teacher now features multiple compe-
tencies, including pressure-resistance when faced with a heavy workload, response
to emergencies, continued education in pursuit of further development, interper-
sonal relationships with colleagues, students, parents and other stakeholders, and
coordination as well as communication.
Such an embodiment of integrity, knowledge, intelligence and competency is
best illustrated by Monumental, a poem written by a graduate of Changle
No. 2 Middle School:
You are the backbone of national rejuvenation and China’s emergence,
Assuming the social responsibility of education and
Bearing the commitment to the next generation.

You are the role model for loving one’s duty and being devoted to one’s position.
With noble and determined professional faith,
You burn out your youth and sacrifice your lifetime.

You are the passage of culture and knowledge

Who continues learning and enriching oneself.

You are eager to conduct lifelong learning and broaden your vision.
You upgrade your knowledge and practical skills, and improve your capabilities. (Ma and
Li 2007, p. A03)

This new image of teachers after the reform stresses the basic integration of
virtue, knowledge and skills, a goal that is accessible to a majority of teachers. This
new image is completely different from the traditional image which set out an
impossible mission: the perfect integration of talents and virtue. The significance of
this new image is that it sees teaching as an ordinary profession and teachers as
human beings who need a balance between their life and work.
9.2 Images of Teachers During the New Curriculum Reform 155

9.2.2 Teacher–Student Interactions

In terms of interactions with students, teachers no longer have absolute authority.

Instead, they are equal to the students in two senses. First, both teachers and students
are equal in dignity. Regardless of their race, gender, family, intelligence, etc.
Second, both teachers and students are equal in personal growth. During the age
of informatization, teachers are not the only ones who can get access to knowledge.
Students can also acquire the latest information through various sources. It is only
through exchanges and the sharing of views that teachers can grow with students.
In terms of educational activities, teachers and students have distinct roles.
Teachers are the owner and bearer of more knowledge and are supposed to impart
such knowledge to students. Teachers have the ability to impart such knowledge.
Their role this is to organize classroom teaching, impart knowledge and solutions,
and guide students to be proactive learners. Teachers are an inevitable component in
optimizing classroom teaching.
The leading role of teachers does not overwhelm the equality of interactions
between teachers and students (Chen 2008, p. 11). Leadership does not mean
dictatorship. Leadership helps organize and guide students’ learning in such a way
that teachers and students progress simultaneously. Ms. Yang is a teacher of that
very kind (Cui and Yang 2014).
Ms. Yang is a geography teacher with a senior title. She is known by her
students as “Mother Yang.” She named her class “Sirius” in the hope that her
students would be brave and strong, and it was on this basis that the students
designed their class emblem and anthem.
When entering Grade 12, on the suggestion of her students, Ms. Yang organized
a class journal called Wishes of Sirius to record their growth. Ms. Yang and her
students actively contributed to this journal, in which they collected each student’s
childhood and current photos, as well as their wishes for their own 18th birthday.
During the development of this class journal, Ms. Yang shared the students’
experiences with them, which strengthened class integrity. This experience has
helped the students to identify their strengths and overcome their weaknesses, and
to surpass themselves in their growth.
This change in the role of teachers is a result of the demands for evolution and
individual development. It has narrowed the gap between teachers and students,
enhanced their interactions and highly motivated students to learn. Meanwhile, this
change does not deny the leadership of teachers.

9.2.3 The Responsibility of Teachers

In the context of China’s modernization, the previously divine image of teachers

has become professionalized (Society of Education 2003). Teachers are redefined as
being the ones who,
156 9 Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers

…are specially educated or trained in proven (scientific or senior) knowledge and theo-
retically based skills, in order to conduct specific services for the benefit of the entire
society according to each client’s requirements as expressed by a random majority of
citizens. (p. 452)

The image of teachers as professionals is a must for both educational develop-

ment, and teachers’ career development for the improvement of students. The
professionalization of teachers in China is manifested in many aspects. On one
hand, there has been increasing demand in terms of employment standards, edu-
cational background and pedagogy. An accreditation system for teaching qualifi-
cations has been practiced across the nation.
On the other hand, teaching as a profession has been given sufficient respect, in
that teachers get what they deserve in terms of salary, reputation, rights, individual
development and internal values as professionals (Ruan 2003b, p. 108).
Teachers’ professional development is multi-layered. It involves the experience
of growth and adaption led by interactions between the teachers and their sur-
roundings, as well as coordinated development of teachers’ cognition, emotion, will
and deeds. It may also be the process during which a novice teacher finally turns
into a veteran education expert through pedagogical education, internship educa-
tion, inductive education and professional training.
Every teacher starts as a novice. With the accumulation of knowledge and prac-
tices, he/she may grow into an educational expert. As a highly respected biology
teacher, Ms. Sun has undergone this process as well (Mao 2007, p. A01). Her teaching
has transformed from being teacher-oriented to being student-oriented. Students are
encouraged to integrate their life experience with their classroom learning.
Ms. Sun’s success has not been acquired easily, and has taken years of effort. Since
she graduated from the department of biology, she never stopped learning. Reading
pedagogical journals and books has become her daily routine. She also actively
attended professional training sessions and achieved excellent achievements.
Her classes are poetic. Ms. Sun integrates pieces of knowledge into coherent and
dynamic passages that are understandable. She encourages students to ask questions
during class. She also helps the students to foster their own values.
The professionalization of the image of teachers has improved teachers’ eco-
nomic status and provided opportunities for teachers to improve their morality,
improve their professional competencies and grow with the students. Contrary to
the divine image of teachers in traditional Chinese culture, the modern image of
teachers not only stresses passion and commitment for educational development,
but also stresses individualism in people-oriented innovation.

9.3 Teachers’ Self-perception

Teachers’ self-perception has provided a new perspective on the nature of the

teaching profession from the inside of same.
9.3 Teachers’ Self-perception 157

Fig. 9.1 Importance of

cultivation objectives

9.3.1 The Image of Teachers

Teachers’ self-perception has reflected their needs for individuality and cooperative
spirit. They are independent in their life and cooperative at work.
The individuality of teachers is manifested in their different ways of under-
standing educational philosophies. Regarding teaching objectives, different teachers
stress different aspects. Some stress the improvement of academic performance,
while others place emphasis on the cultivation of artistic taste, as shown in Fig. 9.1.
A teacher’s individuality is also manifested in their personal interests. Ms. Guo
is a young and fashionable Chinese teacher. Since she’s very interested in her
clothes, her female students frequently discuss clothes with her or go shopping with
Ms. Guo is fond of singing and once won the campus singing competition. She
often invites her friends to go to karaoke. To her, singing is a hobby as well as a
way of releasing pressure. When she sings, she feels happy, and hopes to share her
joy with others. She sings when she’s depressed, letting go of all her troubles.
Her love of singing has influenced her class and finally made her class stand out
in the school for their excellent singing performance. Her class has won many
singing competitions at the school and city levels. In addition, Ms. Guo organizes
musical drama at class meetings or mobilizes her students by singing before
Ms. Sun is different from Ms. Guo, and has completely different personality
traits and interests. She is rather fond of traditional culture, and you can tell this
from her dress sense and manner of speaking.
She loves classical literature, plays the zither and practices calligraphy. She
voluntarily teaches students of her class to play the zither. She also teaches students
of the school calligraphy after school.
From these cases, it can be seen that having teachers with diverse characteristics
helps create harmonious integrity. Surveys have shown that 80.47% teachers like
their schools, and 63.84% would like to recommend their schools to others, as
illustrated in Figs. 9.2 and 9.3.
158 9 Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers

Fig. 9.2 Whether or not

teachers would like their

Fig. 9.3 Whether or not

teachers recommend their
schools to others

Teachers’ acknowledgement of their schools is closely related to the relation-

ships among the teaching staff. Completing teaching objectives requires a concerted
effort. Many schools conduct collective class preparation, during which teachers
share desirable pedagogical approaches with one another.
Ms. Guo has been impressed by the loving family of teachers since her
recruitment. Her school practices mentoring as a tradition, during which two
experienced teachers share their insights with novice teachers. Such mentoring
allows newly-employed teachers to progress rapidly and strengthens their sense of
belonging to the school.
Dynamic extra-curriculum activities and interactions have also enhanced the
coherence and relationships among teachers. Teachers are supportive of each other:
When disaster strikes, help comes from all sides. Teachers for senior grades coach
evening classes, increasing the day’s workload to up to 14 h. In order to alleviate
the burden, teachers in junior grades work overtime voluntarily to share the
In addition, when colleagues are experiencing lesson quality appraisals, teachers
attend intensive preparation sessions all together, offering comments and sugges-
tions for their advancement. Such incidences are too many to name. Teachers tend
not to feel jealous or resent colleagues who are performing better than them.
Surveys show that only 16.63% teachers felt threatened by better performing col-
leagues, and only 2.79% bore a grudge against dissident colleagues.
Ms. Guo and Ms. Zhang are the epitome of Chinese teaching staff. Their
self-perception has reflected their own understanding of the basic requirements for
9.3 Teachers’ Self-perception 159

their knowledge, morality and competencies. Such a perception reflects the appeal
for collaboration, as well as a customized education. As the major participants of
teaching activities and thus the main body of education, teachers differ in their
interests and educational style. An integration of individualized teaching and
educational collaboration is needed to enable the students to have good learning
attitudes and individuality in their all-round development.
The image of teachers is no longer a universally applicable standard. As time
progresses, this image of the teaching profession has become more dynamic and

9.3.2 Teacher–Student Relationships

In their self-perception, teachers see themselves as mentors for students’ study and
life. Teachers have described their dual role in interactions with students as: a guide
in the students’ classroom learning and a navigator in their individual development.
Our survey has shown that many teachers thought they helped students to solve
study problems and grew with the students in their acquisition of knowledge. After
class they were the students’ friends, teachers and elders who mentored the students
in their studies and in life. A Guide for Students’ Classroom Learning

In order to be a qualified guide for learning, a prerequisite is the possession of

extensive knowledge. An investigation has shown that teachers with Bachelor’s
degrees account for 79.91% of all teachers and that there has been an increase in the
number of teachers with Master’s degrees and Ph.D. degrees (see Fig. 9.4 as
The knowledge of teachers not only includes systematic knowledge on teaching,
but also includes education-related knowledge. Teachers are expected to have
insights about students’ psychological development, in order to encourage them to
fully take the initiative when learning.

Fig. 9.4 Situation of teachers

holding degrees
160 9 Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers

According to our survey, 94.42% teachers agreed that the role of the teacher was
to promote students’ active learning and research; 95.42% agreed that solutions
gained by students themselves were the most valuable; 98.99% agreed that students
should think independently before being told answers; and 95.76% thought that the
students’ thinking process was more significant than the teaching itself.
Mr. Li is a Chinese teacher at a primary school in Tongzhou district, Beijing.
At her class, one can easily feel her inspiration to and encouragement of stu-
dents. Take the teaching of a lesson called Protecting Nature to grade-one students
as an example. The teaching objective was to learn how to write two Chinese
characters and their pinyin; one character being “关” which means “care” and the
other being “心”, which means “heart.”
Ms. Li started her teaching by asking questions about the students’ daily life. She
asked them questions like, “who cares about you the most” and “who do you care
about the most,” thus inciting children’s daily experience to create a direct
understanding of the concept of “care.” She also made the students aware of the
love and care they have been given in their daily life.
Besides teaching how to write these two Chinese characters, Ms. Li also
introduced traditional Chinese culture. She showed them images of the word
“heart” in China’s oracle bone inscriptions, and then she vividly described the
evolution of Chinese characters from oracle bone inscriptions to simplified Chinese.
In addition, she took this teaching opportunity to arouse the students’ awareness
of environmental protection matters. Using comics to attract the students’ attention
and help them to understand, Ms. Li explained the disasters caused when forests are
destroyed, and problems animals face when their living environment is destroyed.
Students were encouraged to discuss how to protect the environment in their daily
In such a lesson, the students learned more than how to write two Chinese
characters. They understood the meaning of the word “care” and the importance of
environmental protection. This teaching approach successfully imparted knowledge
and morality to the students. A Navigator in Students’ Life

Apart from respecting students’ engagement during class, teachers are supposed to
guide students by listening to students’ opinions and respecting their individualities
in daily life.
According to our survey, 83.26% of teachers thought they were able to take
students’ opinion seriously. 96.09% of teachers were willing to help students in
Ms. Zhang, a highly esteemed teacher, is a typical example of the majority of
teachers. She teaches Chinese at a primary school in Tongzhou district, Beijing.
During her interview, when she looked at a photo of a student of hers wining a
speech contest, she could not withhold her delight. This student was very shy and
Ms. Zhang made lots of effort to help him to grow out of his timidity.
9.3 Teachers’ Self-perception 161

Ms. Zhang noticed how different he was at the very beginning. Children are born
energetic, and when they are close to their teachers, they are normally rather
talkative like twittering birds. However, that student was an exception to this rule.
He stayed in his seat, and failed to communicate with his classmates. He did not
make any eye contact with teachers who walked toward him, let alone try and make
conversation. After talking with his parents, Ms. Zhang realized that the boy was
too shy, he even locked himself in his room when guests or relatives stopped by at
his house.
Being so introverted at school age was definitely not good for his future
development. Ms. Zhang discussed this matter with the other teachers, in the hope
of nurturing his courage. The student was assigned to call students to stand up at the
beginning of classes. His voice was quite quiet at first. Since all the teachers would
praise his performance after class, he spoke louder and louder as his confidence
Ms. Zhang also appointed him to be the inspector during eye exercises. Too
scared to look around the class, he only performed the exercises at the teacher’s
desk. Ms. Zhang then did the inspection together with him and told him to observe
his classmates, pointing out and rectifying perfunctory or improper performances.
After Ms. Zhang’s second demonstration, the student dared to look around the front
rows, then most of the classroom, and finally the entire classroom, he even strolled
back and forth. Ms. Zhang asked other teachers to keep an eye on him as well and
encouraged him to answer questions more often.
It was rather reassuring that this student, who was first afraid of looking teachers
in the eye, grew to be a student who was able to communicate confidently with
anyone at any time. Ms. Zhang kept in touch with the student’s parents, who were
pleasantly surprised by the changes in him. The student would actively share things
that happened at school with them and say hello to guests who came to visit.
Ms. Zhang encouraged him to attend the speech contest when there was an
opportunity, and he won the second-prize. This student was now as outgoing and
confident as all the others.
Ms. Zhang has another student whose character was completely opposite to that
of the introverted student. She adopted different tactics to encourage this extro-
verted student to learn to be well disciplined.
At first, this extrovert student was a headache to both his teachers and his
classmates. He behaved badly in class and purposely argued with teachers. After
class he either threw others’ textbooks onto the ground or pushed over others in the
corridor, he was quite rude and stubborn.
Ms. Zhang once talked with him, asking if he knew how his classmates felt
about him. The student replied depressingly that they must say nothing good about
him. Ms. Zhang however told him that other students thought he was very smart,
had good hand-writing, was quick to finish his homework, and quite masculine. The
student was surprised as well as a little bit suspicious about such comments. Ms.
Zhang promised him that, as long as he listened carefully during class and stopped
pushing over others after class, she would play the recording of students’ views
about him.
162 9 Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers

The student then began to behave well. He began to actively answer questions
during class and did not bully his classmates. Furthermore, Ms. Zhang discovered
his strength regarding English vocabulary and pronunciation. She then took
advantage of this strength of his, asking him to read English articles about disci-
pline for the class and host discussions about how to regulate one’s words and
deeds. In doing so, Ms. Zhang helped the student to set up a positive mindset and
facilitate communication and understanding among the students. As a boy with
strength, he actively assumed the responsibility for some labor work of the class, for
example, mopping the floor and the daily carriage of drinking water from the
ground floor. Later, his classmates felt completely positive about him. The student
hugged Ms. Zhang with joyful tears after hearing their comments.
Like a compass, teachers navigate the students’ learning and growth. This
navigating role in the whole educational process is most commonly manifested in
the holistic education of knowledge, integrity and thinking abilities.
According to our survey on the self-perception of teachers’ qualities, there was a
consensus that integrity (76.6%) is the most important quality compared with
professional knowledge (11.9%) and teaching skills (8.6%). This again illustrates
that morality is the most important quality for teachers.
It is assumed that in solving students’ problems, professional teachers do not
adopt the traditional approaches of giving orders without explanation or punishing
students for no reason. They navigate the students skillfully and promote their
overall development.
The self-perception of the image of teachers is consistent with the image of
teachers during the reform, both stressing the leading role of teachers and the
equality between teachers and students. It can be found that teachers have seen both
classroom teaching and promoting students’ overall growth as their responsibilities. Teachers’ Responsibilities

Nowadays teachers perceive their occupation as being nothing special compared

with other professions. The only difference is that teachers engage themselves to
educate young people and are responsible for their future development.
Many teachers prefer the general public not to raise their occupation up to an
excessively high position, but to treat it equally with the professions of doctors,
lawyers, nurses and the like. However, being a teacher indeed involves something
special, that is, teachers are supposed to possess knowledge and teaching skills, as
well as to facilitate students’ inclusive development. Many teachers have accepted
such expectations as their responsibilities. They also felt that too much praise would
divinize their profession, giving them a social burden which is beyond their
responsibilities and capacity.
9.3 Teachers’ Self-perception 163

Fig. 9.5 The most important cultivation objectives as perceived by schools

There has been a popular social assumption that teachers are omnipotent to all
the undesirable habits of students. However, it should be noted that without the
cooperation of family education and society education, school education alone
would do nothing for the growth of students. For example, at school, students are
taught to observe public regulations. However, this school education would not be
effective if students would then often see people cutting the line when taking the
bus back home.
School education is an integral part of students’ growth. Teachers impose their
direct influence upon the students. However, teachers are not able to complete
educational tasks that are within the responsibilities of society and the family.
According to our survey, although 77.9% teachers regard cultivation of morals
as the most important teaching objective, they have to be subjected to schools
which prioritize students’ academic performances (see Fig. 9.5).
In addition, a divinized image of teachers is not good for the self-promotion of
teachers. In order to be a qualified teacher, theoretical knowledge is the hurdle to
jump through for teachers to enter this profession. However, it takes time and
practice to develop from being a novice to an expert. It is only through teaching
various courses and coming into contact with students with different characteristics
that teachers can move on in their career development.
According to our survey, 67.52% teachers admitted that they sometimes failed to
answer questions raised by students, and 83.82% teachers admitted that they have
become angry at students. It is clear that this divinization contradicts with reality.
As a matter of fact, teachers are not heroic martyrs, spiritual engineers or diligent
gardeners, as in the imagined images in mainstream society. They are ordinary
people with love and commitment for their students.
164 9 Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers

9.4 Reasons for Changes in the Image of Teachers

In different social contexts, the social image of teachers is dynamic and distinctive
due to a combination of factors, including socioeconomic, political and cultural
development and the subjective perception of teachers.

9.4.1 Reasons for the Traditional Image of Teachers

The traditional image of teachers is attributed to three reasons. First, traditional

Chinese culture is highly demanding in terms of teachers’ morality and knowledge
and in terms of students’ respect for authority. Teachers are expected to be
self-disciplined, giving up their material interests and spiritual freedom, and
devoting themselves to teaching.
Second, in the past, China’s economy was underdeveloped and people’s living
conditions were not good. People strived to survive and did not have the extra
money and time for education. Moreover, educational investments take a long time
to show returns by nature. Comparatively speaking, people at that time did not
attach much importance to education. This caused the low economic status of
Finally, under the great influence of the theories in Education compiled by the
Soviet Union’s Kairov, knowledge has long been viewed as a static conception and
teaching as a unilateral activity. Teachers are supposed to be the possessors and
exporters of knowledge, the makers of regulations and the supervisors of

9.4.2 Reasons for the New Image of Teachers in the Reform

Since opening up and reform began in 1978, the nation has engaged more and more
in outward exchanges. With its constantly developing economy and strengthened
comprehensive power, China has become more influential in the international
community, and at the same time, more exposed to globalization.
Knowledge and technology have proven to be the powerhouse of economic
development, and increasingly fierce international competition has grown to be
talent-oriented. It was only through nurturing innovative and practical talents that
China could meet the demands of economic and social development.
The eighth round of curriculum reforms was initiated in response to such con-
text. The transformation of the educational purpose and social atmosphere gener-
ated new expectations for teachers, causing their image to change.
First of all, opening up and reform in China has diversified people’s social values.
The traditional value of teachers—their excellent morality and intelligence—has
9.4 Reasons for Changes in the Image of Teachers 165

been gradually replaced by the pursuit of basic qualities for teachers in terms of
morality, intelligence and competencies. Teachers are no longer pushed to sacrifice
themselves and attain perfection. Instead, they are encouraged to set up specific
goals for self-promotion.
Second, the boost in the economy and the internationalization of HR competition
have enhanced the importance of education and thus uplifted teachers’ social status.
The public have realized that only refined teachers can foster excellent students.
There has been increasing concern regarding the professionalization of teaching.
The professionalized image of teachers results from the curriculum reforms.
Last but not least, the Chinese educational philosophy evolves along with the
changing educational targets. No longer is teaching a teacher-oriented unilateral
activity. Now, teaching has become a form of interaction and experience-sharing
between teachers and students.
Knowledge is not a static concept any more, but rather a dynamic concept. Thus,
the role of the teacher is not to impart knowledge rigidly, but instead to help
students foster their respective understanding. The teacher-student relationship is
not submissive, but equal in terms of communication and mutual growth.

9.4.3 Reasons for Self-perception by Teachers

The self-perception of teachers is not always consistent with the image expected by
the society. The main reasons therefor are as follows: first, teachers have increas-
ingly been made aware of their individuality, which prioritizes their own identity
over that of their occupation. As a result, they have explicitly understood that they
are not appendant to education. They hope that they themselves can be examples to
students in life and provide students with abundant life experience. They also hope
that a harmonious teaching team can show the students the meaning of cooperation.
Second, due to the ease of access to information, teachers are no long the only
source of information. Students can get access to all sorts of information where they
lack the ability to discern between right and wrong. Teachers’ guidance thus
becomes important in respect to students’ individuality, and stimulates their ini-
tiatives both inside and outside the classroom. Teachers are expected to take care of
every aspect of students’ learning and even of their daily life, for example,
reminding a student who has got a cold to take their medicine.
Finally, the threshold of accreditation for the teaching profession has been
increasingly lowered. This is the same case with teaching requirements. Currently,
the accreditation exam for teaching is open to the public rather than being an
exclusive right of students from normal colleges and universities. Regardless of
their disciplinary background, anyone can become a teacher if he/she meets the
basic requirement of the degree and passes the exam. In society, unofficial training
agencies have increasingly appeared, members of staff of which also claim to be
teachers. This phenomenon has demeaned the teaching profession.
166 9 Diverse Images of Chinese Teachers

The image of teachers, though distinctive over time, is inheritable. This char-
acteristic can be detected by examining the traditional and the new images of
Chinese teachers and their self-perception. The nature of inheritance is manifested
in various forms. On one hand, teachers’ authority in the traditional Chinese culture
remains the same in the modern teacher-student interactions. Although teachers and
students are equal in terms of dialogue, it is assumed that teachers still need to keep
a distance from students; otherwise, it would be difficult to discipline them when
On the other hand, although teachers nowadays are not expected to sacrifice
themselves to education, they continue to indulge themselves in their work despite
harsh working conditions. Their love for education and students is evident in the
inheritance of the traditional image of Chinese teachers.
The image of teachers has constantly been enriched and diversified during
historical eras. Nowadays, teachers are no longer seen as godlike figures, but are
increasingly seen as common practitioners bearing profound love for their students.
They are no longer authorities that cannot be violated, but are seen as guiding
compasses. They are no longer seen as lofty masters excelling in both integrity and
intelligence, but rather as individuals with their own colorful lives and independent
characteristics. For Chinese people, the image of the teacher is interwoven with
memories of their childhood and expectations for the future.
As one Chinese song goes,
When I was a child, you were so beautiful, leading us to fly/ When I was a child, you were
so great, guiding our growth/ Right in that classroom, we have grown and left, leaving you
to stay/ On that blackboard, you erased the lust for fame and drew the rainbow of life/ With
your sweat and tears, on that platform, you uplifted us and sacrificed yourself.2


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(9), 11.
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together with students]. 中国教师报 [China Teacher Daily], p. 14.
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Story of Mr. Peifa Tian, a Miao village teacher]. 人民教育 [People’s Education], (10), 10–12.
Ma, Z. H., & Li, B. T. (2007, November 28). 每一位老师都应该成为教育的丰碑 [Every teacher
should strive to be an educational monumental]. 中国教师报 [China Teacher Daily], p. A03.
Mao, W. D. (2007, May 20). 一位生物老师的诗意课堂 [The poetic classroom of a biology
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images]. 教育评论 [Education Review], (3), 38–40.

A song named “I grow up to be you”.

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Chapter 10
The Value of Education: Chinese
Teachers’ Teaching and Pedagogy

Throughout teachers’ career development, what matters most is improving teachers’

abilities to educate people, impart knowledge and solve puzzles as well as prob-
lems. Occupational training is the main approach for that purpose, consisting of two
forms: teaching research (TR) and pedagogy research (PR). Both of these methods
play an irreplaceable role in implementing teaching plans, summarizing teaching
experience, launching educational reforms, and facilitating teaching and research
Grounded in practices, TR and PR enable teachers to discover regularity,
overcome obstacles, and explore the purposes and values of education. Teachers
use both teaching experience and research findings to avoid rigid repetition in
classroom teaching and thus make daily teaching a platform for meaningful
teacher-student interaction.
The occupational development of teachers and their pedagogical research has
been emphasized throughout the world. The TR and PR regime in China hold its
own in the field of basic education.
At the beginning of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, China’s
education system was poorly developed, and suffering from regional disparity.
There had been a severe shortage of teachers and great regional differences in
teaching quality up until that point. Particularly in rural areas, it was not unusual
that primary school graduates were permitted to teach at local primary schools. The
improvement of teaching competency and teacher professionalism was a matter of
some urgency.
With the support of the central government, localities started to set up special-
ized facilities for TR and collective course preparation. In 1952, in the Provisional
Regulations for Elementary Schools and the Provisional Regulations for Secondary
Schools, the MOE required that on the basis of disciplinary features and the school
situation, primary schools and middle schools should organize TR groups. The
group leader was responsible for hosting research meetings fortnightly in order to
improve teaching performance (Hu 2007, p. 1).

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 169
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_10
170 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

After 1960, with the founding of the Institute of Education Science, PR units
were established at local educational departments of all levels. In 1976, as a
milestone in the development of the TR regime, school-based TR units were set
up. These research units gradually developed into a three-tiered hierarchy involving
provinces (autonomous region or municipalities), districts (county) and schools.
Ever since then, China’s TR has been on a stable developmental track.
Starting in the 1990s, primary schools and middle schools started to set up PR
units aimed at promoting the integration of teaching and pedagogical research with
projects and programs.
In 2001, China launched curriculum reform in order to thoroughly promote
school-based TR in basic education. The main purpose was to solve practical issues,
and create an open and democratic environment for comprehensive participation,
communication and cooperation (Gong 2015). TR activities gradually became
school-oriented through various working modes, i.e., between and within regions or
through the network.
In the pursuit of high quality teaching and self-promotion, over ten million
elementary and secondary school teachers are supposed to not only complete the
teaching tasks, but also carry out academic research on pedagogy. Their research
achievements (e.g., completed research projects or research publications) have
become an important indicator of their research competence in appraisal and
PR is one of the highlights in the occupational development of China’s teachers.
The increase in the proportion of teachers holding MA and/or Ph.D. degrees has
improved the overall research competence of teachers in China. Using specific
teaching problems as a point of departure, teachers voluntarily applied for and
conducted PR projects. Teachers, schools and administrative authorities have also
deemed PR increasingly important over recent years.

10.1 TR: School-Based Teachers’ Professional


Within occupational development, which is vital in education, a school-based

model is the basic form for teachers’ development, as adopted worldwide. Unlike
problem-based instruction in the US, traditional lesson study in Japan, educational
inspection in Germany and Italy, and educational research centers in France, TR in
China is a practical and reflective activity in which TR groups and course prepa-
ration groups jointly work out solutions to teaching problems systematically and
effectively (Gong 2014).
Aimed at promoting the overall development of students and the occupational
development of teachers, TR focuses on specific teaching problems. In collabora-
tion with professional researchers, teachers study teaching activities so as to opti-
mize teaching arrangements and to improve teaching quality.
10.1 TR: School-Based Teachers’ Professional Development 171

10.1.1 The Regime of TR in China

In China, the regime of TR is tertiary-tiered, i.e., province (autonomous regions or

municipalities), districts and schools. The TR groups are classified on the basis of
China’s administrative divisions. Among them, the TR group at the school level
organizes teachers’ research on teaching and the TR group at the provincial level
takes charge of the schools within its precinct, giving direction and guidance for TR
activities. The TR group at the district level is not subordinate to that at the
provincial level, rather they forms a collaborative relationships.
District-level TR has the most direct and tangible contact with primary schools
and middle schools. Its educational guidance and inspections have four character-
istics, i.e., grade-wide, discipline-wide, full participation and zero distance.
Since most TR is based on teaching routines at school, school-based TR thus
becomes the most active when compared with TR at the province and district levels.
School-based TR accounts for 84% of total TR while province-based TR accounts
for the least, i.e., 2% of the total.

10.1.2 School-Based TR

School-based TR varies due to differences between regions and schools. The main
organizational forms are TR groups, pedagogical research groups and groups
focusing on both TR and PR.
As shown in Fig. 10.1, generally, pedagogical research and scientific research is
under the supervision of the school office of teaching affairs. Some schools set up
an office exclusively for TR and PR. At some schools, the TR group is divided into
a TR group and a lesson preparation group. The lesson preparation group consists

Fig. 10.1 Teaching/research

group at school level
172 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

of teachers of the same discipline at the same grade. It arranges the collective
preparation of lessons, and as a result serves the TR group.
Though differing in basic structures, teaching and research units in primary
schools are without exception divided based on grades and disciplines. The shared
principle for organization is that teachers of the same discipline at the same grade
are in the same TR group. Each group is headed by one leading teacher who has
advanced teaching methodology, teaching competence and has demonstrated
leadership in group research. Usually the head of the TR group is a middle-aged
teacher who is in the middle of his/her career development. This facilitates teaching
collaboration, improving teaching competence and the overall teaching quality at
the school in question.
TR groups address the specific problem of teaching content and teaching
methods through self-reflection, peer coaching and professional guidance. All
school faculties are included in their relevant TR group.
Although TR groups vary in terms of the number of classes, working tasks and
school rankings, the basic aspects of TR groups are as follows.
In primary schools, the major disciplines are Chinese, mathematics and English.
The individual TR groups are responsible for routine teaching and research, such as
class preparation, organizing and running workshops on teaching skills and con-
tents, and the formulation of guidance plans.1 The school’s TR groups jointly
organize large-scale teaching and research activities like teaching contests and
classroom teaching demonstrations.
Since Chinese teachers and math teachers generally outnumber English teachers,
English teaching TR groups always consist of all the school’s English teachers,
regardless of grade. This practice also applies to other disciplines (e.g., ethics and
science) that tend to only have a few teachers.
At middle schools (junior and senior), some schools have many classes for the
same grade. TR groups within that grade will be subdivided accordingly. According
to teacher Wang in Zhumadian, Henan province,
I teach Grade 7 at a large-scale middle school and there are 20 Grade 7 classes. As there are
a relatively high number of teachers, the English teaching and research group is further
divided into five sub-groups, consisting of four teachers each. (personal communication,
October 25, 2015)

10.1.3 The Frequency of School-Based TR Activities

School-based TR groups usually carry out their activities on a regular basis.

These TR activities are scheduled according to teachers’ spare time, generally a

“Guidance plan” refers to the teaching plans for teachers’ course delivery and students’ learning.
It is not only the outlook of teaching, but also involves details like questions, teaching procedures,
and homework among others.
10.1 TR: School-Based Teachers’ Professional Development 173

fixed time in the morning or afternoon of a fixed workday, each lasting 30–
120 min. Each teacher will spend no less than 2 h on these teaching and research
activities per week. Aside from regular TR activities, irregular TR activities involve
school visits, class observations and commentary, intensive class preparation,
online teaching and research, and a top teacher studio. Their frequency is deter-
mined on case-by-case arrangements and actual demands.
The allocation of time for TR activities varies depending on the specific tasks
and agenda. For example, a TR group can observe and evaluate the demonstration
as one activity, using 40 min for classroom observation and a little more than 1 h
for the evaluation of teaching performance. To guarantee communication amongst
teachers and their teaching efficiency in class, there will be at least 10 regular
teaching and researching activities per semester.
Young teachers are less engaged in activities when compared to their senior
counterparts. Some schools conduct teaching and research randomly based on their
teaching arrangements and schedule. Some schools have separate TR groups and
class preparation groups once a month, while class preparation is conducted fort-
nightly for an hour each. In addition, district teaching and research sections will
arrange class observations or demonstrations, five to six times per semester for 2 h
each time.

10.1.4 Modalities of TR Activities

School-based TR groups actively take on diversified activities in teaching and

research. With regards to basic education, TR activities include regular and irreg-
ular teaching and researching. Regular teaching and researching are activities clo-
sely related to classroom teaching, say, collective class preparation, discussions on
classroom teaching, paper designing and paper reviewing. Irregular activities
include short-term class contests, class demonstrations, class observation and
commentary, intensive class preparation, mentoring, and online TR. Basic Modalities of TR

TR is about reflecting and exploring current teaching practices, featuring team

members’ analysis, discussion, and the observation of teaching elements. TR is
designed to improve teachers’ teaching capability and competency, thus enhancing
education quality.
(1) Teaching Discussion. A major kind of TR, the activity of holding an open class
refers to teaching practices organized by schools or research institutes. It is also
a teaching commentary with classroom teaching as its formality. Open class is a
localized teaching activity, delivering an effective format for professional
training, TR and experience sharing. It also offers opportunities for observation
174 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

and mutual learning. Open classes inspire research and exploration while
strengthening teachers’ capabilities in the process of preparation.
There exist diverse formalities of open classes, including class designing,
demonstrative classes by leading teachers, classes for observation, classes for
presentation and evaluation, promotion classes, experimental classes, and elite
classes (Wang 2009, p. 7). Generally before an open class, a teacher needs to
prepare exquisitely and revise repeatedly. After the class, teachers and discipline
experts, based on commentary and other research activities, conduct TR on open
classes featuring intensive class preparation, open class and commentary.
It takes much more time to prepare open classes, including collective class
preparation, experts’ commentary, repeated trial presentations, repeated revising of
teaching plans and optimized course delivery. For a desirable open class, teachers
may go over a lecture more than 10 times. Novice teachers need to go through class
initiation, trial lectures and intensive class preparation, which involves open dis-
cussions. After the discussion, they will continue intensive class preparation, the
entire process of which takes 1–2 weeks.
A Chinese TR group leader in Putuo district, Shanghai, pointed out that,
Teachers are required to carefully design an open class per year. Teachers communicate on
a certain topic. The formats used include stage performance and drama amongst others. To
reduce the teachers’ workload, female teachers over 45 year’s old and male teachers over
50 are exempt from doing so. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

Teaching discussion is the most frequently used approach to conducting TR. To

improve TR’s efficiency, several schools strive to establish related regulations
tailored to their respective situation. Haidian Experimental Primary School
Affiliated to Beijing Institute of Education, after summarizing their long-term
experience, concluded a TR contract as follows,
No repetitive statement; six-second applause in acknowledgement to one’s statement; less
abstract ideas but supporting one’s statement with cases; employing instruments to observe
classes; justifiable discussion and evidence-backed statement; rotated host, recorder, and
timer; one-sentence feedback before the activity ends; and one case per month. (Wang

(2) Seminars. Seminars are frequently employed in teaching discussions and

research with different topics at the district or city levels. For instance,
Shanghai’s Jinshan district 2015 guidelines for primary schools and middle
schools focus on students’ learning concentration. Putuo district focuses on
specific teaching approaches. In a high school of the district, the Chinese TR
group of Grade 11 classified Chinese teaching into 4 modules: essays, novels,
classical Chinese, and poetry. The teaching activities for this are open classes,
collective class commentary and outside review.
Discipline-based seminars also adopt the case study approach in the discussion
of actual teaching problems. This type of seminar helps to find a point of departure
in TR.
10.1 TR: School-Based Teachers’ Professional Development 175

According to a group leader of math TR at a primary school in Shanghai’s

Jinshan district, the focus of his group this semester is on the experience and
feedback of support instruction. They will discuss how to use precise student
analysis to motivate students’ enthusiasm and encourage participation in learning.
Through the analysis, they will set up support frameworks for learning to solve
students’ problems and ultimately enhance the efficiency of instruction.
Table 10.1 shows the research schedule for Chinese teaching at Dongyang
Foreign Language Primary School in Zhejiang province in 2005, demonstrating the
specific contents and arrangement of thematic research activities.
(3) Collective Class Preparation. Collective class preparation emphasizes the
sharing of teaching resources and experiences. It also stresses leveraging on
collective wisdom in innovative teaching and research. Collective class
preparation optimizes teaching procedures and facilitates experience sharing
among teachers. It usually happens as meetings with a pattern like this: indi-
vidual preparation-collective discussion-individual reflection (second round of
preparation)—independent course delivery-reflection after delivery (Li and
Zhao 2011, pp. 74–75).

Campus TR activities have become a part of teaching routines. Class preparation

groups gather to discuss course design and teaching content. In doing so, one
teacher is appointed as the leading preparation teacher who is responsible for
designing the basic teaching procedure. He or she leads group members to study the
teaching materials.
The study of teaching materials aims at standardizing the teaching plan through
collective discussion. A standardized teaching plan is customized by individual
teachers according to the actual learning situations of their own classes.
Collective class preparation not only deepens the ability to teach, but also helps
less developed classes establish platforms for exchanges and space for progress.
Teaching plans and learning guides are the outcomes of collective preparation. In a
middle school in Zhumadian, Henan province, the English TR group is further
divided into five sub-groups. A weekly learning guide is written and then amended
on a daily basis by individual sub-groups, before they present their proposals in the
English group’s collective discussion every Thursday afternoon.
(4) Teaching Contest. Teaching contests are used to promote teaching capabilities
through evaluation. The organization of teaching contests is a basic function of
school teaching and research units. Primary and middle school teachers attend
most contests organized by provincial, municipal, district (county) and school
Targeted at different teachers, contests are categorized into different age periods,
for example the Beijing Ultramarine Contest is for teachers who have taken up their
positions within the past year, Spring Blossom is for teachers born in the 1980s, and
Autumn Fruit is for teachers who have already been in the industry for over 15 years.
176 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

Table 10.1 Research schedule for Chinese teaching at Dongyang Foreign Language Primary
School in Zhejiang
Semester theme TR on dynamic course delivery
Monthly theme Teaching theme Week Curriculum
Class preparation Teaching from the starting point of Week 3 Kite
students’ cognition
Second exploration of textbooks Week 4 Comparison
Course Teachers’ Equal dialogues between teachers and Week 5 Giving tree
delivery responsibility students
Platforms for comprehensive Week 6 The sour and
interactions the sweet
Effective utilization of resources Week 7 The Great
generated in class Wall
Effective utilization of resources Week 8 The voice of a
generated after class Chinese child
Students’ Paying attention to students’ of various Week 9 Autumn
response levels and their learning situation
Guidance on explorative reading Week 10 Whales
Inclusiveness and effectiveness of Week 11 Three visits to
after-class extension the cottage
Diversity and effectiveness of Week 12 Terrine and
evaluation on students’ class learning can
Commentary Focusing on effective outcomes and Week 13 Giving is
check teaching results delightful
Efficiency of students’ resource Week 14 Applaud
Students’ class participation Week 15
Children with
2 pens
Source Ke, K. B. (2008). 校本教研实践模式研究 [A study on the practice mode of school-based
educational research]. 杭州, 中国: 浙江大学出版社 [Hangzhou, China: Zhejiang University
Press], p. 112

Schools host annual teaching contests, selecting candidates for district or

municipal contests. Contestants have to go through group selection, group com-
petition, preliminaries and intermediary heats. District and municipal contests are
held annually or biannually, while primary and middle schools host contests each
semester. Though the contest format changes, most have sections for writing
teaching plans, lesson explanation and course delivery.
(5) Teaching Routines. Teaching routines involve basic teaching activities
including class observation and commentary, paper analysis, and random class
visits. Examination-related activities also are part of teaching routines,
including the designing of exams as well as reviewing and analysis.
10.1 TR: School-Based Teachers’ Professional Development 177

Group leaders will generally decide the week following midterms and the week
following final exams as the week to review students’ exam performance. Based on
specific errors and the error rate, teachers set up the reviewing plans for students.
Classroom observation is set as one of the basic teaching tasks. Many schools
have quantified the workload of classroom observation and linked it to title
appraisal and incentives. As for supervision and inspection, schools collect teach-
ers’ observation notes and relevant learning materials. Many key teachers are
required to conduct class observation both at their own school and other schools.
According to a high school English teacher in Shangqiu, Henan province, “every
teacher is required to attend 13 classroom observations each semester, and senior
teachers are required to attend more. Teachers within the research group are sup-
posed to conduct two rounds of mutual class observation each semester.”
Informal communication on TR activities is an essential component of TR. To
facilitate such exchanges, schools allocate teachers of the same grade or same
discipline to work in the same office so that they are able to communicate with one
another whenever a problem emerges.
TR activities have grown to be a daily routine for Chinese teachers, extending to
details of their lives. Leveraging IT and social media like WeChat and Fetion,
teachers of the same discipline or even of different disciplines are able to conduct
discussions anytime and anywhere, teaching a very real part of everyday life. Complementary Formalities of TR

Apart from the above-mentioned basic TR activities, schools carry out diverse
activities tailored to their own specific features.
(1) Mentoring. Mentoring in many schools adopts the traditional apprenticeship in
which experienced teachers give one-on-one instructions to novice teachers.
The experienced mentors share their teaching experience step by
step. Supervising the entire teaching process, they instruct novice teachers
according to the teaching rules, the analytical methods of teaching, classroom
arrangement and teaching pedagogy. In addition, they assist novice teachers to
solve actual teaching problems.
(2) Inter-School Visit. Inter-school visits enable teachers to learn the best practice
from others. This aims to avoid repetitive implementation of teaching skills and
research findings of their own. The scope of inter-school visit can cross dis-
tricts, cities and provinces. Some schools even conduct inter-school visits with
schools in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
A group leader teacher Bai at a primary school in Beijing’s Tongzhou district
School visits are more frequently arranged by our school. Last month, when our math
teaching group attended the summit of primary school math teaching held in Zhejiang
178 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

province, we took this opportunity to visit Zhejiang Chongren School in order to facilitate
communication between teachers. (personal communication, December 9, 2015)

(3) Expert Seminar. Educational seminars are given by experts including not only
top-ranked teachers and renowned teachers, but also teachers at district and city
levels, as well as university experts. These experts not only participate in
classroom observation, but also organize seminars on teaching strategies.
Taking Beijing as an example, in a primary school in Mentougou district, the
teaching and research group for teachers organizes group readings with the support
of experts on Mondays. Amongst these teachers, some are leading teachers at the
city level. Some of the invited experts are from Beijing Normal University or from
universities outside Beijing.
(4) Heterogeneous Teaching Structure for the Same Lesson
In this practice, different members of the teaching and research group prepare the
same classes respectively. To be specific, two or more teachers prepare the same
lesson respectively. Before teaching, they will exchange their teaching plans for
revision. They also invite other teachers to listen to their teaching. When the class is
over, they will ask their colleagues what they observed in the classroom, and
discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the teaching.
Heterogeneous teaching structures for the same lessons can be practiced in
various forms. Teachers can invite not only their colleagues, but also teachers from
other schools for classroom observation. They may also teach a lesson in other
schools, or two teachers might teach the same lesson together.
(5) Online TR
During the current age of information, TR should fully make use of IT resources.
Online teaching has the ability to break the restrictions of time and space, giving
more freedom for teachers to carry out TR.
Platforms for internal online TR have been constructed on city, district (county)
and school levels. Online TR activities are organized regularly: usually two or three
times per semester on a large scale.
These online activities select one theme, inviting teachers from different schools
to discuss and debate teaching. Whenever teachers have any inquires on teaching,
they are able to put their questions up on these platforms for public discussion. One
of these platforms is the Haitang E Forum from Shanghai’s Haitang Primary
QQ and Weibo have grown to become basic intermediary online TR software
(6) Group Discussion. Group discussions are presented in various forms, including
saloon discussions and coffee meetings. Unlike conventional research activities,
group discussions are much more informal and may feel more relaxing to the
participants. Thus, this method can be a great assembly point for teachers to
discuss their teaching issues more freely.
10.1 TR: School-Based Teachers’ Professional Development 179

10.1.5 The Role of TR

To promote growth of both teachers and students, TR focuses on actual teaching

problems in classroom teaching and with regards to curriculum reform. It aims to
improve the overall teaching competence of schools by means of innovating
teaching methodologies.
In the Chinese context, the school-based professional development of teachers
has made its achievements in the following aspects. Promoting Teachers’ Professional Development

TR at various levels and in various forms has diversified teachers’ options. TR has
promoted teachers’ professional development mainly in the aspects of educational
ideology and teaching practice.
Firstly, the transfer of educational ideology. TR has provided platforms for
discussions amongst teachers. Teachers are guided to transfer their focus from
students’ academic records to new educational ideology. Mentored by experts,
teachers are able to gain a better understanding of curriculum reform at a
macro-level. Thus, TR has provided a platform of observation in order to have a
clearer overview of the curriculum system.
Secondly, the improvement of teaching competence. For novice teachers, TR has
given great support to improving their teaching competence from early onwards.
Compared to their pre-employment training, which focuses on presenting educa-
tional theories with few case studies, TR is built on case studies. Using this method,
novice teachers are guided to master the skills needed for classroom management,
learning the best practices from experienced teachers. Watching novice teachers
teaching in the classroom, other teachers can act as observers and can give feedback
where needed, for example on the speed of the lecture, blackboard writing and
wording of the lesson.
TR and teachers’ professional development are interdependent. Investigation
reveals that 64% of teachers attended professional development activities that
introduced conducting TR in the past year. As illustrated by Fig. 10.2, 82.9% of
teachers affirmed the positive impact of TR on their teaching performance.
Thirdly, collecting group wisdom, sharing resources and improving teaching
efficiency. TR involves discussions on teaching content and this content’s teaching
difficulty. It encourages teachers to share their teaching experiences and jointly
tackle teaching problems. This would definitely improve the overall teaching
quality of the entire teaching group.
For example, in the teaching of English, one word may have multiple conno-
tations. This could make teaching and learning difficult in the classroom. As
illustrated by Fig. 10.3, a total of 92.8% of teachers concluded that discussion with
peer teachers complements their own weakness, and 82.6% of teachers had an
instructor who offered guidance to their teaching activities.
180 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

Fig. 10.2 Positive impact of

TR on teaching practices

Fig. 10.3 Opinions on

setting up mentonship for
teachers to improve their
teaching performance

Fourthly, enhance collaborations of TR. For teaching and research, TR has built
up a two-dimensional platform. Along the horizontal dimension, inter-school and
inter-district communication and exchanges are conducted to share teaching
experiences. Along the vertical dimension, experienced teachers serve as mentors to
novice teachers.
Collaborations have been carried out across grades, disciplines and within TR
groups. In this working environment, young teachers grow more rapidly while
middle-aged teachers have found new space for development. A favorable atmo-
sphere of mutual assistance has been established amongst teachers. From our sur-
vey, a total of 96.1% of teachers said that they would help colleagues in need.
Fifthly, encouraging teachers to think independently. Successful TR depends on
each and every teacher’s endeavors. Their engagement in educational discussions
involves their efforts to stimulate their creativity through independent thinking.
Independent thinking in TR could help teachers promote their independence and
individuality. It is natural that teachers may feel embarrassed when faced with
criticism. Just because TR is an activity open to all criticisms, in a TR context,
teachers tend to feel relaxed when other members point out a deficiency in their
teaching. This relaxation could enable teachers to pursue solutions with an open
mindset, identifying effective teaching plans through independent thinking.
Our survey reveals that 67.5% of teachers admitted that they had no certain
answer to questions raised by students. A total of 96.5% of teachers said that they
were honest in their teaching and 69% of teachers were confident in their judgments
towards students.
10.1 TR: School-Based Teachers’ Professional Development 181 Sharing Experience and Guaranteeing Teaching Performance

TR has committed to the mission of assisting in the effective course learning of

students and in their acquisition of knowledge. This mainly takes the form of class
preparation that aims at efficient teaching with a focus on the teaching priorities and
learning difficulties. It advocates reducing learning burdens and cultivating stu-
dents’ competence through learning.
There is a consensus amongst teachers that collective discussion, class prepa-
ration and other TR activities can facilitate experience sharing and jointly improve
teaching quality. A teacher from Beijing’s Tongzhou district commented, “With
TR’s effect on the teaching of Chinese, students have acquired better text pro-
cessing and problem-answering skills as well as refined morality.”
Class preparation groups design learning guides collectively, reducing the
workload of individual teachers and improving the work efficiency of the TR
group. A case study of TR has shown that TR has proved to be an effective pathway
to improving teaching quality.
For instance, Shanghai has recently promoted support teaching through TR
activities. This teaching method is highly effective and is based on precise student
analysis. Before class, teachers adopt questionnaires or interviews to estimate
students’ understanding of the new content. Then, teachers design customized
teaching plans that motivate students to partake in self-learning and reduce their
frustration, thus improving teaching efficiency. Offering Inspiration and Insight into Pedagogical Teaching

TR is inseparable from teachers’ practice while PR is the sublimation of teaching

experience into the discovery of educational rules and theories. PR in practice is a
process of conceptualizing experiences and transferring information into knowledge.
PR observes teachers’ problem-solving competence and initiatives towards
work. Proactive teachers often take initiatives to concentrate on the study of actual
teaching problems. As a result of their in-depth research, their findings are spread
for exchange and discussion.
Practice-based TR inevitably promotes PR, which is conducive to educational
innovation. Practice-based TR has laid a solid foundation for cultivating
research-oriented teaching staff. It serves as a bridge connecting teaching practice
and PR for the systematic and sustainable school-based professional development
of Chinese teachers.

10.2 PR: From Practice and for Practice

A PR teacher’s main asset is that PR is closely related to routine teaching and

education. PR’s research area covers disciplinary knowledge, educational issues
and teaching problems. The involvement of PR reflects teachers’ awareness and
182 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

Fig. 10.4 The process of

teachers’ PR. Source. Wang,
X. F., & Huang, L. E. (2015).
科研”: 话语, 身份与权力
[How do primary and middle
school teachers perceive
“teacher research”: Discourse,
identity and power]. 教育学
报 [Journal of Educational
Studies], (4), 48

competence of research. The idea that teachers are also researchers is now being
accepted by an increasing number of teachers.
At the stage of basic education, PR focuses mainly on the actual problems in
teaching practice and teachers’ occupational development. The main purpose in this
case is to work out solutions and improve teaching quality.
PR is closely related to actual teaching: It is full of complexity and uncertainty.
Meanwhile it is inevitably a prerequisite for innovative teaching and organic career
development. As shown in Fig. 10.4, PR has been carried out as such.

10.2.1 Problem Solving as the Purpose of PR

Primary and secondary school teachers have never neglected the value of peda-
gogical research. Multiple curriculum reforms and other educational reforms have
greatly impacted teachers’ teaching methodologies and ideology. In this context,
research competence has become a critical factor in creating teachers’ own teaching
model and improving their TR competence.
As part of the PR process, teachers need to be fully aware of the research
purpose. Compared with researchers in universities and institutes, teachers have the
research advantage in that they can get first-hand information from their routine
teaching. Teachers also need to consider how to apply their research findings to
actual teaching for innovation.
Most primary and secondary schools require full coverage of teachers’ peda-
gogical research. Research projects can be hosted by individual teachers, co-hosted
by schools and teachers or joined by teachers. Only a few teachers have never had
any research experience.
Based on actual teaching issues that are worth studying, teaching groups at all
levels also offer more opportunities for project application. For example, the
teaching groups of Shanghai’s Putuo district opens applications twice per year: a
collective program at the end of February and an individual program at the end of
10.2 PR: From Practice and for Practice 183

It, however, should be noted that PR at school is not restricted to research project
and publications, but that there are extensions of valuable research findings.
Teachers have strengthened their teaching competence from applying themselves
to, and completing, the research process. A Chinese teacher of higher grade at a
primary school in Beijing’s Tongzhou district identified students’ reluctance to
writing. Considering possible explanations, the teacher discovered that students see
writing boring, as topics are repetitive and lack novelty.
Based on that, I applied for a district level program named Delightful Writing, during which
I gathered interesting writing topics relevant to daily life to inspire students’ interest in
writing. After the application, we set up an experimental class, to which the research results
were applied. Thanks to experimental study, students’ willingness to write was increased.
(personal communication, December 10, 2015)

Many research projects were completed, but those with practical teaching values
are “Practice Research on Reading-Based Organized Writing Training,” “Practice
Research on Teaching Patterns of Primary School Chinese Reading, Interactive
Research and Feedback of Applying Educational Technology to Class,” “The
Application of Tablets in Class and Research on Effective Teaching Strategies of
Classical Chinese at High School.”
A middle-ranking officer of a primary school in Beijing’s Mentougou district
stated that,
During the Twelfth Five-Year Plan period (2011–2015), the school completed over 30
pedagogical research projects, among which many were sub-projects extending from the
teaching reforms. Such fruitful research results in turn facilitate teaching practice,
enhancing the education capacity and quality of the school. (personal communication,
December 13, 2015)

10.2.2 Impact Factors of PR

Students’ academic performance, teachers’ teaching and research competence have

long been the major indicators used to evaluate teachers. As shown in Fig. 10.5, in
the evaluation-based career development mechanism for teachers, the drive for
research comes from the needs of teachers and schools. From most important to
least important, the drivers for teachers to carry out research are: solving actual
teaching problems, professional title appraisal, personal interests and hobbies, a
promotion or salary increase and self-fulfillment.
Some teachers, however, prefer not to conduct pedagogical research. This is
mainly due to research difficulties, limited time, incompetent research capabilities
and a lack of partners or mentors (see Fig. 10.6). Young and middle-aged teachers
are the main force in PR. Senior teachers, especially those around the age of 50,
tend to be less interested in and motivated to conduct research.
PR is related to incentives which are not mandatory, but supportive. Proactive
teachers engage themselves in PR for performance rewards or to receive academic
184 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

Fig. 10.5 Teachers’

purposes of taking PR

Fig. 10.6 Factors hindering

teachers’ engagement in PR

title appraisals. Take a senior middle school in Henan as an example. Three years
after their recruitment, the teachers are required to attend the academic title
appraisal, which prioritizes those who have research achievements. This regulation
has forced many teachers to carry out PR.
The school has given great support to those who are willing to carry out PR, but
the biggest challenge for teachers is that they do not have sufficient time for PR. As
they are tied up with every aspect of students’ campus life and learning, no matter
how trivial, teachers, especially female ones who also bear the burden of family
care, barely have time to concentrate on research.
It has become a common practice for many schools to link PR with teachers’
academic title appraisal. Some schools explicitly make specific requirements on the
quantity and quality of research that has to be achieved, for example, at least two
journal articles for an intermediate academic title and three journal articles for a
senior academic title, two of which should be based on district-level research
projects. Some schools do not explicitly require teachers to do PR. However, in
academic title appraisal, priorities are often given to the teachers who have obtained
certain research achievements. At the end of the academic year, schools count
teachers’ publication, which is a major indicator of evaluation.
10.2 PR: From Practice and for Practice 185

When competing over teaching skills, achievements matter. For instance, the
Teachers’ Fundamental Skills Contest in Shanghai requires participants to have
research papers, regardless of whether they are published or unpublished, presented
at academic conferences. During this contest, contestants’ papers will go through
rigid review. The organizer sends papers to experts of the discipline for blind
review, after which there will be thesis defense. This shows that research publi-
cation have become the equivalent of teaching skills and qualification exams in the
eyes of teachers.

10.2.3 Safeguard for PR

Besides schools, the strong support for the implementation of PR also comes from
related education management authorities and educational organizations. Currently,
the cultivation of PR competence is carried out mainly through self-learning,
exchanges amongst colleagues and expert lectures (see Fig. 10.7).
Though fully occupied with routine teaching, a majority of teachers have chosen
to conduct PR. Data shows that 61.9% of teachers spend more than 5 h on research
every month (see Fig. 10.8). Schools are highly supportive to every aspect of
teachers’ PR process so as to improve the overall teaching quality at the school and
uplift schools’ reputation.

Fig. 10.7 Channels for

teachers to improve their PR
186 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

Fig. 10.8 Teachers’ monthly

time allocation on PR Project Identification and Application

Based on the actual need of school development, schools set up their own research
projects and assign appropriate teachers to form a research team. The district-level
teaching and research sector allocates some of these projects. Teachers may apply
to district-level projects according to their professional needs and personal interests.
A research platform at school is built with the support to principal, which motivates
teachers for PR and provides PR opportunities from various channels. Schools try
every means to create research environment for teachers. Mentoring in Research Methodologies and Theories

The frequently adopted methodologies for PR are action research, educational

narrative research, questionnaires, interviews, literature, contrast experiments and
quantitative data analysis. Teachers acquire such research methodologies mainly
through self-learning, expert mentoring and exchanges with colleagues.
In self-learning, teachers learn the research methodologies through readings and
the Internet. Schools invite experts to mentor the teachers for PR through seminars,
professional training and practical instruction. External communication is carried
out, dispatching teachers to attend academic conferences and research exchanges, as
well as to visit professional institutes. The exchanges with colleagues involve key
teachers, research group leaders and discipline leaders. These are conducted within
and amongst schools.
To facilitate teachers’ application for PR projects, the Directors of School Office
of Teaching Affairs mentor the teachers in all application details including the
revision of their application.
10.2 PR: From Practice and for Practice 187 Hardware Support and Requirements

Schools provide hardware support for teachers’ PR. To facilitate PR research, both
districts and schools have invested in terms of computers, books, journals and
online database information. For example, in a primary school in Shanghai’s
Jinshan district, the school library acquires new professional textbooks regularly for
teachers, and inquires about needed books or journals for purchase and subscrip-
tion. Some schools adopt customized purchase, organizing teachers to purchase
books at book press conferences or bookstores as needed.
To supervise pedagogical research, schools set up quantitative and
school-specific requirements on teachers’ reading and writing. For instance, a pri-
mary school in Beijing’s Tongzhou district requires 12 pieces of writing per
semester from each teacher, be it teaching notes, reflective essays, records of
individual thinking or literature extracts, all of which need to be submitted at the
end of the semester for school leaders’ review. The Extension of Research Achievements

To highly motivate teachers for PR, collaboration amongst the teaching and
research groups at the school, district, city and province levels, the related educa-
tional departments and publishers organize a variety of activities including com-
petitions on essays, research and publications.
The extension of research findings is carried out in two forms: publications and
conferences. For publication, the research findings are presented in monographs,
academic theses, academic reports and internal brochures. To extend the influence of
research achievements, schools not only compile high quality papers and reports for
publication, but they also greatly support their publication by means of establishing
long-term partnership with publishers to recommend high quality research findings.
For conferences, teachers attend conferences to present their research findings
and communicate with their counterparts for valuable insights. Shanghai Putuo
Teacher Training Academy, for example, hosts paper communication events every
year in January and June. Some teachers are selected to present their research
results during these events or at district-level teaching and research activities.

10.2.4 The Value of PR

Each and every teacher shall independently conduct pedagogical research, or he will lose
the faith of persistence. If he, however, excels in research, the thing he is capable of doing is
anything but persistence in his perception, but is seen as an ever-flowing fountain. Should
he figure out how everything is connected to human advancement, he will, through
observation, know how to approach things, thus feeling a sense of responsibility. (Eckart
2014, p. 6)
188 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

The integration of teaching and research has now become a mainstream edu-
cational philosophy. It advocates the pursuit of research, which is applicable to
actual teaching and benefits the mutual growth of teachers and students. In practice,
it will foster teachers with strong practical competence and bring results and
resources for schools. Guiding Teaching Practice

The main researchers in PR research are those engaged in teaching, as they have
advantages of their research being closely related to their routine teaching. They are
more likely to detect actual teaching problems, work out practical solutions and
apply their research findings to teaching practice. They are also more likely to
instantly implement their findings. From our survey, 77.3% of teachers express that
pedagogical research influences their teaching in a positive manner.
Take a primary school in Shanghai’s Jinshan district as an example. In a school
project hosted by the math teaching and research group, which conducted research
on support teaching based on accurate student analysis, one of the math teachers
learned to understand the importance of respecting individuality in students’ overall
development as a core educational value. He worked out a successful teaching
approach that could facilitate students’ cognitive competence in their study of math.
The group leader said, “Through group learning and research, we have found that
support teaching can enable teachers to learn more about their students and thus
effectively motivate their students to gain more confidence and accelerate
self-learning. These have led to positive teaching results.”
Other members of this math project also applied their research findings to their
classroom teaching, leading to more dynamic teaching and learning. Consequently,
students became highly motivated and teaching efficiency had improved. This case
demonstrates that research on pedagogy, though time consuming, actually made
classroom teaching interesting and had a positive influence on students. Generating Teachers’ Phronesis

Socrates defines phronesis as a rational self-reflection on one’s own practice, and

the ultimate purpose of phronesis is to understand oneself. Phronesis is featured
with its practicability, e.g., it discerns how to judge and act against heterogeneity
(Liu 2013, pp. 1–5).
PR is a process of self-reflection on teaching practice in order to improve
teaching competence. At first, many teachers expressed that they did not feel that
they were qualified to conduct research because they felt that research was totally
different from teaching. However, from their involvement in PR it turned out that
PR was not impossible, as they had assumed, since it was actually a process of
working out solutions to their day-to-day teaching.
10.2 PR: From Practice and for Practice 189

In the PR process, teachers fully make use of the available resources and explore
the best solutions through constant examination and self-reflection. Their cognitive
efforts have improved their cognitive abilities and problem-solving abilities. Every
successful completion of PR tasks have made them well informed, given them a
sense of fulfillment and confidence, and also strengthened their self-perception
ability. Guiding Teachers to Grow

Teaching scenarios are complex and uncertain, and pedagogical research is an

important pathway to improve teachers’ professional qualities. A novice math
teacher from Shanghai’s Jinshan district said, “Soon after I came to work at this
school, I was given a chance to attend a school research project, during which I
learned more about classroom teaching. This has laid a good foundation to improve
my teaching competence and helped me to grow rapidly.”
Research achievements, both quality and quantity, have widely been adopted as
major indicators of excellent teachers. In our survey on teachers of primary schools
and middle schools, one of our research foci is on the value of PR to excellent
teachers. It has been mostly recognized that “engagement in PR carries more weight
than teaching activities in helping excellent teachers to grow.”
It has also been found that excellent teachers are proactive in PR, and that they
do not need external supervision or inspection. They take initiative to use actual
teaching problems as a point of departure for their PR, and they proactively apply
their research findings to teaching practice.
Besides excellent teachers, the majority of teachers have benefited from PR and
grown into excellent teachers. According to our survey, teachers cooperate with
each other in their PR collaborations and 83.4% of teachers do not see excellent
teachers as a threat. Enhancing Reputation and Resources to Schools

Pedagogical research resolves teaching problems and uplifts schools’ social repu-
tation through publications and research exchanges. The research group leader of a
primary school in Beijing’s Mentougou district, teacher Liu said,
Our school was a less developed one located in the suburbs of Beijing but recently, we have
won many academic awards. Our school is called a pioneering school for teaching and
research. Our teachers have presented their research findings at district-level competitions
and seminars, many of which were awarded excellent prizes for journal articles. We have
turned our reputation around very quickly. (personal communication, November 30, 2015)

In addition, due to the platform of research exchanges with schools of good

reputations, excellent teachers of other schools have been attracted to work at the
Mengtougou district school. This has helped improve the overall quality of this
190 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

school even more. Their teachers have also gained more confidence as their
research findings have been positively appraised.
In their PR on the application of IT technology in teaching, to solve their
financial issues, the related educational authority equipped the school with
advanced teaching facilities.
Pedagogical research originates more often from practical details. The process of
research, however, is illustrative of the uncommon, promoting schools’ compre-
hensive education quality and capability in all dimensions.

10.3 The Outlook for TR and PR

TR plays a guiding role in improving teachers’ competence, which is a necessity to

carry out the school’s mission of educating students for their overall development.
TR is instructive of teaching activities, as problems encountered in routine work are
represented in both TR and PR. The level of TR directly indicates the teaching
quality of schools, and is essential to improving schools’ soft power. Teachers’
competitiveness is at the core of this.
Many teachers see TR and PR as an integral part of their work. As the backbone
of China’s basic education, over ten million full-time teachers are constantly
striving at the frontier of basic education, contributing to a better basic education,
educational reform and the cultivation of citizens in the new era. “All for students,
for students’ all, and for all students” is the motto shared by teachers. For the
purpose of educating students to pursue truth and optimism, as well as fostering
talents of accomplishment, teachers endeavor to overcome lower academic
achievement, intensive workloads, weak research approaches and other difficulties
hindering TR and PR.
To promote TR and PR competences and the overall research competence of
schools, competitions on teaching and research competence are carried out, and
incentives are set. In routine appraisal and evaluation, teaching performance and
research achievements are adopted as important evaluation indicators. Research
achievements in particular will be a significant indicator of teachers’ excellence for
still a long time to come.
As illustrated in Fig. 10.9, most teachers hold that the schools should give
prompt feedback on teachers’ teaching and research, which will motivate teachers
to conduct both TR and PR.
As illustrated in Fig. 10.10, such feedback mainly comes from main leaders at
the school level, principals and peer teachers.
10.3 The Outlook for TR and PR 191

Fig. 10.9 The promotion

effect of assessment on
teachers’ TR and PR

Fig. 10.10 The source of

feedback on teachers’ TR and

10.3.1 Exploration in Ordinary Work

Amongst all the social professions, teaching is not wildly different from other
occupations. However, teachers shoulder the mission to educate. It takes 10 years
to grow a tree, and a hundred years to bring up a decent generation. This profession
has infinite potential and evolving forces.
Teachers do their jobs day after day, and year after year, faced with an identical
work environment and identical content. The repetitive and tedious nature of this
profession means that teachers are more likely to burn out. An effective solution to
address this problem is to be creative with education, respecting students’ indi-
viduality, breaking traditional teaching approaches and creating dynamic teaching.
TR and PR is a process of bitter sweetness. This is a long journey full of
hardship as well as surprises, but in the end, teachers can experience a higher level
of happiness and joy through problem-solving and capability enhancement. Mr. Liu
Keqin, a special-ranking math teacher as well as national model teacher, concludes
The significance lies in the fact that we have experienced the great joy of overcoming the
challenges; we are touched by scholars’ integrity and thrilled to be emotionally connected
with children; we weather the hardship and collaborate together with colleagues who
support us with expectation and encouragement. That is what happiness is about. (Lei 2007,
p. 176)

Teachers, in essence, extend and deepen their professional career through

learning and creation. The unique value of TP and PR in basic education is that they
are the accumulation and summarization of the long-term teaching experience by
192 10 The Value of Education: Chinese Teachers’ Teaching …

teachers of primary schools and middle schools. Moreover, it is an innovation

challenging the seemingly tedious teaching jobs.
Teaching has a dual nature of being divine and ordinary. TR and PR by Chinese
teachers are thus two-folded: Firstly, they boldly break the traditional mindset for
teaching and actively explore creative solutions to specific teaching problems;
secondly, through problem solving and exploration, teachers have improved their
teaching and research competence. Their innovative exploration lays the foundation
for their career development and their pursuit of excellence.

10.3.2 Research on Educational Practice

Due to the interdependence between TR and PR, it is a research norm that TR and
PR are practice-oriented (Liu 2007, p. 19). Scientific methodologies are needed in
the active exploration of more rational and meaningful education, dealing with
practical problems through research.
The purpose of TR and PR in China’s school education is to comprehensively
and profoundly understand teaching scenarios, as well as rationally resolve edu-
cational issues, therefore realizing meaningful teaching with specific teaching
In recent years, China’s school education has increasingly stressed students’
subjectivity, making efforts to tap their potential, initiatives and creativity. This has
brought new challenges and opportunities for teachers. Nowadays, the composition
of teaching staff has changed dramatically with entry requirement constantly
increasing, as in both developed and under-developed regions, many primary and
secondary teachers hold Masters Degrees. Moreover, schools in advanced cities
even have attracted Ph.D. graduates with high-level research abilities.
Regarding already employed teachers, schools encourage them to further their
education by gaining either a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. degree. A degree upgrade
is recognition of teachers’ professional capability, and disciplinary quality. The
academic degree of teachers serves as one of the important indicators of the
schools’ entire education quality and high-level academic training has offered
intellectual support to teachers and helped them to strengthen their problem-solving
abilities, thoroughly improving the schools’ overall quality of teachers.
China’s basic education has long been regarded as demanding, strict,
result-oriented and ignorant of students’ interests and distinction. However, a
tranquil reform has been carried out which has changed the image of Chinese
teachers. They have gained a deeper understanding of being student-oriented and
the recruitment standards of teachers have been increased. Teachers are now also
evaluated in diversified approaches, and the exchanges between teachers have been
initiated across China and across nations.
Focusing on both specific educational problems and the essential educational
philosophy, China’s educational reform has made great achievements. Shanghai’s
excellent performance in PISA has attracted worldwide attention. Be it Chinese
10.3 The Outlook for TR and PR 193

head teachers’ attentive dedication, teachers’ diligent and collaborative image, or

the endless pursuit of teaching and pedagogical research, all are illustrative of the
persistent educational philosophy of striving for educational excellence and culti-
vating refined teaching staff.
As addressed in Zhuangzi, “there is a limit to our life, but to knowledge there is
no limit. To pursue after what is unlimited with what is limited is a perilous thing.”
(“Nei Pian,” Zhuangzi) For decades, Chinese teachers unwaveringly contributed to
educate people and inspire wisdom. Their commitment to education, sense of
responsibility, and pursuit of fulfillment have fostered the cornerstone of national


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primary and high school teachers]. 重庆, 中国: 西南大学出版社 [Chongqing, China:
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[Journal of Primary and Middle School Administration], (6), 37.
Part IV
Chinese Principals

Principals are the soul of the school.

Tao Xingzhi

The formal title of “principal” emerged when modern schools first started to be built
in China over a century ago. Yet even before that renowned and influential prin-
cipals have played an important role in history, despite not having such a title. One
of the earliest influential principals was Zhu Xi, a neo-Confucian rationalist who
headed the White Deer Grotto Academy (Bailudong Shuyuan) 800 years ago. He
was followed in the canon by Gu Xiancheng who founded the Donglin Academy in
the Ming dynasty. Later, renowned “principals” who made an indelible mark in
China’s history of education include Ruan Yuan who founded the Gujingjingshe
and Haixuetang academies during the Qing dynasty, Yan Yuan who headed the
Zhangnan Academy, Tao Xingzhi who founded Xiaozhuang Normal College, and
Zhang Bolin who headed Nankai High School (Qian 2011, p. 366). These pioneers
applied their unique teaching and learning principles to their schools and shaped
them into models whose influence is still felt today. Unlike other institutions,
schools have a uniquely moral character (Greenfield 1995). For this reason, prin-
cipals are often seen as moral role models.

1. Three Features of Chinese Principals

The outstanding academic performance of students in different schools can be

attributed to various factors, and one of the most important factors is the leadership
of their principals. Principals are judged by their strong leadership in teaching
capabilities (Drake and Roe 2002, p. 17). Schools are becoming a focus of society,
and persevering down-to-earth principals are needed to navigate their schools
through setbacks and challenges that will inevitably emerge on the bumpy,
uncertain, and sometimes difficult journey (Drake and Roe 2002, p. 381). Such a
description is equally applicable to Chinese principals. That being said, Chinese
Tao Xingzhi (1981–1946), a renowned Chinese educator and reformer.
196 Part IV: Chinese Principals

principals, as a group, have their distinctive features. Three major features are as
First, principals are numerous and have huge influence. According to the 2014
Statistical Bulletin on China’s National Educational Development (MOE 2015),
schools providing compulsory education on the Chinese mainland totaled 254,000.
Assuming that every school has one principal, the total number exceeds 200,000.
This sizable group leads more than nine million full-time teachers nationwide,
serving nearly 138 million students in primary and middle schools and subse-
quently having a bearing on students’ families and the Chinese society as a whole.
Second, Chinese principals serve as the key link in and out of the school.
Principals were once students and then teachers and are very often parents, so they
understand all the stakeholders. Within a school, a principal is the chief com-
mander. Students, teachers, and parents, who have no experience of running a
school, do not understand much of the pressure principals face. A special mission of
Chinese principals is to implement national or local educational policies. Therefore,
principals of primary and middle schools are key agents in China’s basic education,
connecting and communicating with middle-level cadres, teachers, students, par-
ents, and communities.
Third, the trend requires principals to become professional. In the new era,
principals are required to be more than just administrative leaders. The professional
standards for principals issued in February 2013 specified six categories of
requirement for the job: planning of school development, fostering a culture for
cultivating talents, leading regular teaching, guiding teachers’ development, opti-
mizing internal development, and adjusting the internal and external environment.
Chu (2007) argued that professional principals are essential to social reform and
education development.

2. The Three Stages of Being a Principal

Wang Guowei, a scholar at the end of the Qing dynasty, developed a theory on the
three states of studying:
All those who have achieved success must have experienced three stages, which can be
expressed by three poems. The first stage is: Last night the west wind withered jade-like
green trees. Alone I climbed the high tower to see to the limits of roads which lead to the
other end of the world. The second stage is: My clothes and belts are getting loose, yet from
beginning to the end I never feel regret. For her, I languish and become wan and sallow.
The third stage is: I was looking for thousand and hundred times in the crowd.
Suddenly I turned around, yet she was standing at the place with waning lamp light.
(Wang 2004, p. 2)

This theory is also applicable to the three stages that principals go through
progressively. Let us analyze the differences between the three stages from the
perspective of educational management.
Part IV: Chinese Principals 197

2.1 Climbing the High Tower Alone: Green-Hand

Principals in the First Stage

Principals in this stage are usually green hands and have worked for not more than
five years. These principals are excellent teachers and have acted as administrative
leaders for a long time. They have acquired the basics on teaching as well as
administrative management and are able to apply them to principals’ work. As “a
new broom sweeps clean,” newly appointed officials are fully motivated in the early
stage and will surely embark on reforms. During this stage, the most important task
for a principal is to adjust himself to the role, learn about the school, and win the
support and respect of school members. He also should set some short-term goals,
identify the positioning for himself, and gradually establish his authority and rep-
utation. Drake (2002) believed that a principal’s management ability of specifics is
the basis for his reputation and has a direct bearing on what people think of his role.
Thus, the main task for a green-hand principal is to improve his management
abilities, keep extensive communications and contacts with school members, and
establish close ties with teachers, so as to collect information, eliminate misun-
derstanding, achieve consensus, and strengthen friendships.

2.2 Clothes and Belts Getting Loose: Hard-Working

Principals in the Second Stage

After being in office for three to five years, a green-hand principal can usually move
to the second stage, where school operations are in good order. If we say that the
target for a principal in the first stage is better management, then the core target for
the second stage is to demonstrate stronger organizational leadership and fully play
his role as an educational leader. Principals also gradually realize that orderly
management alone is not enough. Kotter (1990, p. 103) once said that some cor-
porations are “over-managed and under-led.” This is also an important feature of
schools if their principals only focus on orderly management.
After honing their skills for a period of time, most competent principals are able
to move onto the second stage and ensure the smooth running of their school.
However, many are caught in trivialities, which prevent them from doing their job
in a systemic or efficient manner.

2.3 Searching Long and Hard: Expert Principal

in the Third Stage

Usually, principals who can enter the third stage have been in office for more than
10 years. However, to some principals, this stage may never be reached. Principals
198 Part IV: Chinese Principals

in the third stage have developed the five disciplines of a learning organization
proposed by Senge (1994), particularly the discipline of building shared vision, of
team learning, and of systems thinking, which are also the major tasks that expert
principals should perform in implementing changes in schools.
The important driving force for a transition from being a hard-working principal
to being an expert principal is their way of learning. Zhang (2011) believes that the
key lies in how to institutionalize social resources to guide principals toward sys-
temic and team-based learning. Becoming a dynamic thinker will effectively
advance the stage a principal is in and provide inspiration for school reform.
In this part, we mainly depict principals of primary and middle schools from the
three perspectives of their typical day, the selection of principals, and principals’
innovative leadership. We hope to answer the following key questions: What is a
Chinese principal’s daily work like? What selection processes were carried out?
How can a principal lead in an innovative and smart way?
The sample of this survey consists of more than 440 principals of primary, junior
middle schools and senior middle schools in 22 provinces, five autonomous
regions, and four municipalities. Male principals number 277 and female principals
163. The number of principals at or below the age of 40 is 119. Principals of rural
schools number 131, those from town schools number 121, and those from urban
schools number 188. We hope that this survey can reveal a true picture of the work
of China’s primary and middle school principals.


Chu, H. Q. (2007). 走向校长专业化 [Towards the professionalization of principals]. 教育研究

[Educational Research], 1, 80–85.
Drake, T. L., & Roe, W. H. (2002). The principalship. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Greenfield, W. D. (1995). Toward a theory of school administration: The centrality of
leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 31(1), 61–85.
Kotter, J. P. (1990). What leaders really do. Harvard Business Review, 68, 103.
MOE. (2015). 2014 年全国教育事业发展统计公报 [2014 statistical bulletin on China’s national
educational development]. Retrieved January 3, 2016 from
Qian, Y. W. (2001). 基础教育改革研究 [Research on basic education reform]. 上海, 中国: 上海
科技教育出版社 [Shanghai, China: Shanghai: Scientific and Technological Education
Publishing House].
Senge, P. (1994). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New
York, NY: Currency Doubleday.
Wang, G. W. (2004). 人间词话 [Commentary on “Ci” poems in the human world]. 北京, 中国:
中国人民大学出版社 [Beijing, China: China Renmin University Press].
Zhang, D. J. (2011). 学校文化驱动模型的建构与应用: 兼论基于文化自觉的校长学习方式
[Building and applying the driving model of school culture: On principals’ way of learning
based on cultural consciousness]. 中国教育学刊 [Journal of The Chinese Society of
Education], 2, 15–19.
Chapter 11
A Typical Day of a Chinese Principal

In the 21st century, Chinese principals have become even busier, as they have had
to adapt to more diverse roles as public figures, scholars, social workers, educators
and school board member, in addition to their regular work of planning, adminis-
tration, teaching and public relations. Under the responsibility system followed by
principals, their mandate has been extended to cover the handling of daily teaching
and research activities, improvement of school management and full representation
of the school authority in decision-making, as well as personnel and financial
affairs. With the development of chain schools, principals may have to take charge
of several schools, facing even greater pressure and responsibility.
The survey of 440 principals conducted by our research team reveals that only
12.95% of principals work for under eight hours, and 9.55% work for over 12 h a
day. For most of them, an eight-hour workday is a luxury. Even when it comes to a
two-day weekend, they often have to set one day aside for work, reading or
reflection. Although there are no rigid rules prescribing their working hours at
public or private schools, principals are motivated by their strong sense of
responsibility. According to their feedback, nearly 95% of principals feel rather

11.1 Busy, Busy, Busy

Let’s take a closer look at what a Chinese principal does during a typical day.

11.1.1 Observation of a Day of a Primary School Principal

The following provides a general picture of what a primary school principal does
during a typical day from the perspective of an observer:
© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 199
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_11
200 11 A Typical Day of a Chinese Principal

[7:20] Principal Li is already by the school gate to check attendance. Pupils salute and greet
Principal Li as they pass by. In addition to the school leader on duty, six student cadres with
an armband are also there to help keep order. Over 2,000 pupils enter the campus in twos
and threes, showing the result of discipline.
[8:00] Principal Li pays most attention to half an hour of reading out loud by pupils in early
morning, because reading out loud is believed to be the best form of language input, and the
early morning is the best time for memory. Therefore Principal Li checks what the pupils
read, and how their teachers supervise them every day.
[8:30] Accompanied by the ringing of the bell, Principal Li walks into the Class 257
classroom with a stool to observe a Chinese lesson for 5th graders by Mr. Yang. For this
lesson, the focus is to review The Analects. Principal Li listens attentively and keeps
detailed notes. When the class is over, he inquires about the techniques for organizing a
review lesson of this kind, and plans to introduce such an approach at an internal seminar
for Chinese teachers.
[10:00] Principal Li arrives at the District Education Bureau to attend a meeting for prin-
cipals about how to prepare to earn the title of a national model city. Next week, a national
inspection team will come to Xiangtan for various evaluations. As part of the citywide
preparatory campaign, schools are also required to make sure that everything is up to
standard, including sanitary conditions on and around the campus, student manners and the
recital of socialist core values by all teachers and students.
[12:10] Principal Li finishes her lunch at the school canteen and starts to walk around the
campus to check if there are any discipline or safety issues.
[14:00] Upon hearing the bell ring, Principal Li starts her one-hour reading. This time, she
is reading a copy of Harvard Business Review.
[16:20] Principal Li and the deputy principal in charge of teaching conduct a meeting for
teachers. The topics covered include preparations for the evaluation to become a model
city, and celebrations for the forthcoming New Year under the theme “In Search of the
Taste of the New Year.” In fact, celebrations are planned at the beginning of this semester
and the program of planned performances has been finalized. At the meeting, details
regarding the time, venue, rehearsals and performances are fixed.
[16:50] At the sound of the last bell, school is over. Principal Li sees off pupils at the school

This schedule reveals the busy yet rewarding day of a primary school principal.

11.1.2 Self-description of a Day by One Principal

We might as well contrast the above observations with the following descriptions
given of his day by one principal himself.
[5:40] In the morning, there is getting up, washing up and hurrying to school for fear of
heavy traffic, and then arriving at school after approximately an hour of driving.
[7:00] Meeting teachers and students at the school gate together with other colleagues on
duty, leaving things in the office, washing my face to cheer myself up and walking around
the teaching buildings to check morning reading.
11.1 Busy, Busy, Busy 201

[7:30] Having breakfast, checking the agenda and planning for the day.
[8:00] Attending the regular school management meeting to discuss various arrangements
and personnel assignment.
[10:00] Chatting with teachers and exchanging information.
[12:15] Having lunch, checking food safety at the school canteen, and meeting or dis-
cussing with teachers on certain issues as the time slot between lunch and afternoon classes
is the only period when teachers are all available.
[13:30] Attending meetings or handling some issues with other colleagues.
[17:30] Going to the south campus after closure of the main campus to visit the graduating
classes and talking with teachers and students there.
[19:00] Clarifying work plans, summarizing the day’s work and doing some reading.
[20:00] Going back home to have dinner, washing up and taking a walk.
[22:00] Going to bed without watching any TV to get ready for another busy day.
[18:10] Reading an article entitled, “Being an Optimistic Teacher.”
[21:00] Checking student dormitories with teachers and going back home if everything is
all right.

The above shows that principals work long hours from about 6am to 9pm. In
addition, they handle a wide range of issues, including classroom teaching, logis-
tics, and student attendance and teacher performance, amongst others. A lifestyle
like this is a reality for almost all principals regardless of slight differences between
primary and middle schools, and boarding and non-boarding schools.

11.2 Daily Affairs

The next question entails finding out how a principal’s time is spent.
To be specific, a principal spends his/her time on the following eight tasks:
(1) School development and planning. This is generally what principals put at the
top of their agenda and requires long-term reflection, summarization and
improvement. According to Principal Huang from Haidian district in Beijing,
“Principals should first and foremost be concerned with school development
and planning, as well as working out strategies to resolve existing problems.”
She went on to point out that “to identify future goals, I need to really
understand the current teaching team, parent needs and student development
problems, which take up much of my time and energy.”
(2) Curriculum development. Curriculums in China can be designed at the national,
local and school levels. The school-based curriculum is highly significant, as it
reflects the distinctive features and competitive advantage of a particular
school. For this reason, principals are urged to explore the development of
school-based curriculums. Principal Bai from Haidian district in Beijing
202 11 A Typical Day of a Chinese Principal

believes that a school-based curriculum is essential to student-centered edu-

cation and teacher development.
(3) Leading of classroom teaching. Driven by their mandates and recognition of
classroom teaching as a lifeline for school development, principals regularly
visit classes to identify and solve problems and facilitate communication
between teachers and students. Principal Wu from Fangshan district in Beijing
has a deep understanding of this. She said,
Visiting classes is very important to principals. According to the requirement of the District
Education Commission, a principal should observe 40 lessons each semester, but I observe
60 lessons. This allows me to understand what is happening in classrooms and how
teachers are conducting their teaching activities. Each week, I set aside some time for class
observation, which is done in the following ways. Firstly, random observation of open-door
lessons. Teachers are encouraged to open their classes for such observation in order to
improve teaching. Secondly, collective observation with leaders from six schools. This is
done on each Wednesday and followed by extensive comments and reflection. Thirdly, the
observation of closed-door lessons. As long as there is no clash with meetings and other
administrative obligations, I will partake in such observations. (personal communication,
November 24, 2015)

Principal Bai from Haidian district in Beijing fully agrees with the above
comments. He said,
I don’t teach any classes but I observe at least 40 lessons each semester. I wish I could
observe more, but there are so many other things to handle. We are also required to keep a
record of class observations to be checked by our supervisors, but the problem is that it
seems to turn class observation, which we’re willing to do, into something that we do
passively. (personal communication, December 16, 2015)

(4) Handling of daily routines. On average, a principal has to attend between one
and two meetings a week organized by the authorities, not to mention the many
more meetings within the school. In addition, a principal has to review docu-
ments, conduct exchanges, go on business trips and approve reimbursements,
amongst other tasks. Even during interviews with the author, the principals had
to answer phone calls and handle various issues. Admittedly, such a situation is
somewhat related to China’s education administration system and management
culture. Principal Huang from Haidian district in Beijing described the meeting
arrangements at her school as follows:
There are three routine meetings every week. Firstly, there is a meeting between the
principal and other school leaders in order to arrange weekly work, which should be aligned
with annual and long-term planning. Secondly, there is the meeting with middle man-
agement on the execution of the weekly plan agreed on in the first meeting. Thirdly there
are meeting with all the teachers, by which teachers learn what results are to be achieved
and how their work is to be evaluated. These three meetings can ensure our weekly work is
smoothly carried out. (personal communication, October 15, 2015)

Principal Bai added that each meeting also requires a lot of follow-up work,
including further meetings and report-writing.
11.2 Daily Affairs 203

(5) Management of public relations. Schools are not run in a vacuum but instead
they are intricately linked with parents, communities, sister schools and higher
authorities. For this reason, principals find it unavoidable to receive visitors and
keep well-connected to external contacts. Sometimes they even have to handle
difficult emergency situations in order to safeguard the school’s reputation.
Principal Li from Xiangtan in Hunan province pointed out that half of her time
was spent on the improvement of the external environment. Principal Bai
offered up an example of a case in which an emergency had to be handled. He
Some emergency cases can bring a lot of trouble. For instance, a student broke his teeth
while he was playing with his classmate in 2008 and his parents are still filing complaints
with the education authorities, discipline inspection committees and courts. Although the
court has made a final ruling on this issue, they do not accept the result. This means that the
problem has not been resolved for eight years. The student is already in college and his
parents are still demanding compensation. I have to receive them and talk to them each time
they come to the school. Handling such problems is rather difficult and time-consuming for
me. (personal communication, December 16, 2015)

Principal Huang shared a similar view and she said,

Handling emergencies is quite time-consuming. We have over two thousand children at our
school. If a child is down with an acute disease, I have to hurry to the scene. Sometimes I
have to listen to nagging parents. Of course, however, in dealing with parents I can learn
useful information. (personal communication, October 15, 2015)

(6) Communication with teachers and students. Unlike working in a factory,

working at a school means facing living people with different ways of thinking.
Communication is essential for deepening understanding of stakeholders to
support school development. For this reason, principals have created various
channels of communication, such as having lunch with selected kids, observing
classes with questions in mind, holding tea parties, organizing workshops and
visiting teachers in the office. Principal Huang has a strong interest in making
such communication work.
I very much enjoy communicating with teachers, students and parents. So part of my time is
spent on such communication, which I believe is beneficial to all parties involved. For
instance, I sometimes have lunch with students. This is important for students at a boarding
school who perform well and wish to get recognition from school leaders. On such
occasions, we say to those outstanding students that we feel privileged to meet with them.
(personal communication, October 15, 2015)

She said. Of course, her communication with teachers typically revolves around
a particular issue, and sometimes she offers a few suggestions to teachers.
(7) Work planning and summarization. Principals are aware of the importance of
planning and summarization, and generally do it every day, week, month,
semester, and year. Principal Bai treats planning in the morning and summa-
rization before going to bed as an important component of his daily work. In
addition, he generally spends Saturdays at school, handling unfinished issues
204 11 A Typical Day of a Chinese Principal

and writing reports. Principal Huang also believes that planning is highly
necessary and shares what they do at their school:
We’ve established a well-functioning online group for instant messaging among adminis-
trative staff. Each day, notices are posted online for our group. It only takes a couple of
minutes for us to know what meetings we need to attend in the forthcoming days. On
exceptional occasions, we discuss who should attend the meeting. (personal communica-
tion, October 15, 2015)

(8) Reading and thinking. With the increasing complexity of management, prin-
cipals need to improve themselves through continued learning. To do so, they
need to combine reading with thinking. Principal Huang said gladly,
I usually spend my weekends reading and thinking. In fact, I set my own tasks. For
instance, I visited two schools in Hong Kong and Shenzhen and attended a meeting for
principals of private schools last week. After my return, I only had time to sort out my own
ideas during the weekend, which I will share with department heads and teachers. (personal
communication, October 15, 2015)

Principal Wu also said candidly, “Learning takes up a large part of my time. To

lead a team to go further, a principal needs to improve his or her capacity to learn,
supervise and plan.”
Admittedly, principals are fully occupied each day with both planned and
unplanned issues. But it is mostly the above eight tasks that make them busy.

11.3 A Busy Heart Makes Life Really Busy

As representatives of their schools, principals are driven by a craving for

achievement and a sense of responsibility to meet various expectations set by higher
authorities, parents, students, and teachers. Therefore, a principal has to pay close
attention to campus safety, school development, and graduation examination

11.3.1 Principals in Primary and Middle Schools

Compared to their middle school counterparts, principals at primary school level

face less exam pressure, and have more room to experiment with quality. This is
because principals of middle schools have to give priority to the school reputation
in terms of exam results, and creating a colorful campus life is a second priority.
As the head of a full-scale middle school, Principal Bai has a deep understanding
in this regard. He said,
Although I may not attend many meetings today, I face overwhelming pressure in terms of
school survival and development. There are 36 classes in our school all together, with
15,000 students spread out over six grades. More than half of the students come from
11.3 A Busy Heart Makes Life Really Busy 205

migrant worker families. As there is no decent school in neighboring communities, we have

to take in students from such background for the sake of fairness in education. This pushes
down our school ranking and adds pressure to the school. Primary schools, however, have
more room for quality-oriented education with distinctive features. (personal communica-
tion, December 16, 2015)

Similarly, Principal Wang from a junior middle school in Xingtai, Hebei pro-
vince, is also under the heavy exam pressure and has only one weekend off every
two weeks. Even during a weekend when he is technically off-duty, he has to sum
up the work completed that week and make arrangements for the next week. In
contrast, Principal Huang, from a primary school, is in a much better position. She
believes that moral education is the most important and that the focus should be
placed on the development of desirable habits of pupils as well as a colorful and
happy campus life.

11.3.2 Principals in Boarding Schools

Compared to principals of day schools, principals of boarding schools generally

face greater pressure and have to make more effort. Principal Huang said,
I’m busy for two reasons. Firstly, I work at a boarding school and have to spend more time
with the children. We often jokingly say we sleep much better at school than at home.
Besides, we keep our mobile phones on 24 hours a day and arrange for night shifts.
Principals at day schools only work for eight to nine hours a day. Secondly, I feel at a loss
when I’m not with the children, this also makes me stay at school longer. In addition, I
enjoy keeping in contact with and talking to teachers, children and parents. (personal
communication, October 15, 2015)

11.3.3 Modern Principals Versus Traditional Principals

Principals in their contemporary roles need to improve their schools’ exam results,
but more importantly, they need to run their schools in distinctive ways, including
the development of school culture, creation of chain school for more effective use of
resources and specialized training on football, music or calligraphy. In this context,
principals have embraced diversified education highlighting excellence, compas-
sion, generosity and values of life respectively. These approaches reflect principals’
understanding of education and care for the development of their students.
In this regard, Principal Bai believes that school culture should be established
with the help of an expert team to support school development, Principal Huang
emphasizes the role of moral education in a boarding school for shaping desirable
habits and characters of students, and Principal He favors demonstration teaching
and class observation by leading teachers as well as the development of teachers’
research capacity through mini-projects.
206 11 A Typical Day of a Chinese Principal

11.3.4 Integrated Roles

A special feature of education in China is that a principal may also be party

secretary of the same school. In this case, the principal faces additional work in the
party system. Principal Bai shoulders such dual responsibilities. He said,
I have to attend a lot of meetings, including meetings organized every week by higher
authorities on party construction, school supervision, teaching or discipline inspection, and
meetings organized within our school for school management, party members and teachers.
(personal communication, December 16, 2015)

11.4 Busy in an Orderly Way

Faced with so many tasks, principals can hardly orchestrate their work in a perfect
way, but they try hard to improve their time management and bring out the best
from their limited time.

11.4.1 Causes of Time Wastage

Just like everybody else, principals can also waste their time. According to prin-
cipals, wasted time is mostly a result of five factors: (1) personal procrastination;
(2) insufficient grasp of selected problems; (3) failure in delegation of power;
(4) attendance of meaningless meetings; and (5) handling of emergencies. Principal
Wang feels that he is reluctant to delegate power. He said, “Many fellow principals
are quite comfortable with assigning tasks to other colleagues, but I don’t feel
secure when I delegate a task to others.” Principal Bai believes that he needs to
improve his judgment. He said,
My time is wasted mainly because I can’t properly prioritize all of my tasks. Sometimes,
I’m occupied with rather tedious matters, which should be assigned to my team members.
In addition, a lot of my time is wasted as a result of meetings. On average, I attend two to
three meetings a week, and one meeting can often take up almost the whole morning.
Sometimes I find it difficult to concentrate enough to reflect over the deep-rooted problems
in education. (personal communication, December 16, 2015)

Principal Li attributes her waste of time to insufficient grasp of problems and the
rigidity of her routine work. Principals generally agree that meetings are the most
time-consuming of all their tasks. In this regard, Principal Bai said,
“Attending meetings organized by higher authorities is mandatory, even when I’m busy with
something else. It is possible for those meetings to clash with each other. Once I was required
to attend four meetings in a single day, and three of them were in the morning. In this case, I
had to explain the situation, ask for permission for my absence and send my colleague to attend
the meeting on my behalf.” (personal communication, December 16, 2015)
11.4 Busy in an Orderly Way 207

Although meetings are time-consuming, principals believe that the biggest factor
leading to time wastage lies in themselves, and that many meetings are valuable.
For instance, principals prefer to attend meetings with a specific task (i.e., devel-
opment of school culture) or effective exchanges, rather than attending routine
administrative meetings.

11.4.2 How Principals Improve Time Management

Principals have offered the following ideas for improving time management:
(1) receiving specialized training or reading relevant books; (2) making clear plans
to reduce time wastage; (3) prioritizing matters to be handled; and (4) defining
clearly the responsibilities of each member of the management team and carrying
out appropriate supervision and evaluation.
In sharing her experience with time management, Principal Huang found an
MBA course on time management very helpful. She said,
First I make a general plan for each semester and each year, so that I can put work
assignments in a systematic framework. For instance, my plan for this year is to develop a
sound moral education system. In order for the plan to be effective, I need to have a deep
understanding of my tasks and the time needed for each of them. Second, I need to identify
the most important things that I have to handle myself. For instance, my work was delayed
yesterday due to an emergency. So I know I must make up what I missed yesterday this
morning and I pushed aside everything else before 10am in order to have discussion with
teachers on moral education. In fact, such brainstorming may not necessarily lead to any
result, but it is still necessary. (personal communication, October 15, 2015)

Regarding the improvement of time management, Principal Huang believes that

reading and reflection are indispensable. She said,
Principals should first and foremost manage themselves, including the management of their
own time. In addition, I would think about what to do on any given day every morning and
reflect back on my day in the evening. (personal communication, October 15, 2015)

Principal Wu has followed a similar approach. She said,

I’ve never attended any training on time management, but I’ve been doing relevant thinking
and reading. In particular, I pay attention to two points. First, I make detailed work plans for
each week, each month and each semester. Second, when something unexpected crops up, I
handle more important things myself. For instance, if I’m asked by the authorities to attend
a safety meeting when our school is about to hold the opening ceremony of an art festival, I
would send someone else to the meeting and receive leaders and parents at the festival.
(personal communication, November 24, 2015)

It is noteworthy that learning to delegate tasks is essential to effective time

management. In this regard, Principal Huang said,
“I expect my team members to take initiative but I will check their plans, oversee imple-
mentation and organize monthly review and stocktaking. In general, my management style
is based on democratic consultation.” (personal communication, October 15, 2015)
208 11 A Typical Day of a Chinese Principal

It should be pointed out that time management may run into fallacies, such as
overemphasis on time saving, postponed decision-making and an open-door work
style. To save as much time as possible, many principals shorten meetings, dis-
cussions and investigations, leading to hidden problems and undesirable results.
Regarding postponed decision-making, some principals resort to extensive dis-
cussions when resolute decisions should be made to resolve pending problems and
seize an opportunity. In addition, some principals follow an open-door work style in
order to keep close contact with teachers and kids. Such an approach will indeed
contribute to more smooth communication, but unsolicited visitors can easily dis-
rupt the principal’s work. In fact, effective communication channels can be created
without such side effects.

11.5 Busy yet Content

For principals, being busy at work is the norm. But as long as they can contribute to
school development, they feel content.

11.5.1 Contented Principals

Some principals do not want to be less busy, as they enjoy such a lifestyle, while
others wished they could be more productive with their busy work schedule.
Principals generally feel spiritually enriched and proud of progress made by stu-
dents and teachers alike. Principal Huang said, “I enjoy this kind of busy life very
much and I don’t want any change.” (personal communication, December 16, 2015)
Principal Wu added to that by saying, “As long as my busy work leads to real
changes and I guide my school forward, I feel greatly rewarded.” (personal com-
munication, November 24, 2015) However, Principal Wang felt that “One could
easily lose direction when life is too busy. So what should be sought after is value,
rather than a busy schedule.” (personal communication, November 19, 2015)
In contrast, Principal Li had a different view and she said, “I don’t feel like I’m
busy, but my heart is tired. I hope that one day China’s principals can concentrate
on school management and team building, instead of being occupied by things not
related to education and teaching.” (personal communication, December 12, 2015)
A female principal, pointed out as a role model in Tianjin, would go swimming
at 5am every morning. In spite of frequently working overtime around the year, and
only sleeping four to five hours every night, she was energetic and strong. More
importantly, she was daring enough to think, speak and act in a rather unconven-
tional way. In the late 1980s, she even advocated that there were no unsuccessful
students, but only unsuccessful teachers, which led to extensive debates. She held
11.5 Busy yet Content 209

fast to her principles and pledged not to waver on her cause. For decades, she
worked hard with great perseverance and detached herself from fame and personal
gains. She often inspired herself by saying, “If a principal cares for students and
teachers as much as she cares for her own eyes, she will be happy” (Ye and Wang
2005). This may truly reflect what is meant by being a Chinese principal.

11.5.2 An Ideal Day of Principals

Principal Huang describes his ideal day as such:

I come to the school after 6am when the students are up and running. Then I can have
breakfast with them and see them doing the morning exercises in the morning sunshine.
After that, I can handle some routine work until 9am, when I can start to observe selected
classes for investigative, supervisory or learning purposes, including classes offered by
excellent foreign teachers. Following that I can have lunch with top-performing kids. When
the students go back to their classrooms in the afternoon, I will walk around the campus and
try to arrange next-stage work and identify possible problems through communication with
teachers and students. After dinner, I will do some reading and plan for my work. There are
two things I enjoy doing most throughout the day. One is two hours of reading in the
evening, and the other is to stay with teachers and students in the classroom. If these two
things are done, I will feel superb. (personal communication, October 15, 2015)

Principal Bai looked at his ideal day from another perspective. He said,
First of all, there should not be fierce competition between different schools for better
students at the basic education level, because such competition creates huge pressure on
schools and the society at large. I hope we can keep calm, and instead concentrate on
education and research. Nowadays we tend to think too much about exam results, even on
weekends. In fact, education should be a long-term process. What we’re doing right now is
a far cry from the right track. (personal communication, December 16, 2015)

Principal He gave a more scholarly touch to his ideal day, as he hoped to do

research with fellow teachers. This might be associated to his former experience as
a director of teaching and research, and a deputy principal in charge of teaching. He
even proposed the idea that “education is life and research is education.”
The above descriptions show that principals wish to be freed from tedious
routines to a larger extent so that they can have more time for self-improvement
through reading and thinking as well as for communication with fellow teachers and
students. More importantly, they hope to deliver real quality-oriented education for
the benefit of healthy human development.
In spite of our limited exchanges with principals, we have come to understand
that, to complete their jobs, they go through far more effort than the average person.
Their days are busy, full and rewarding. We do hope that principals can spend their
time in a more effective and efficient way, and by doing so breathe new life into our
education system.
210 11 A Typical Day of a Chinese Principal


Ye, S. T., & Wang, G. R. (2005). 教育的真正魅力在于有付出总能有回报: 天津市第一零九中

学王桂儒校长访谈录 [The real charm of education lies in that efforts can always be paid off:
Interview with Wang Guiru, Principal of Tianjin No. 109 High School]. 天津教育 [Tianjin
Education], (7), 4–9.
Chapter 12
Principal Selection

In our effort to analyze the situation of China’s primary and middle schools and
their principals, it is important to start from the election of a principal. This chapter
attempts to answer three questions: What are the general profiles of principals? How
are they selected? And what is required of them?

12.1 What Are the General Profiles of Principals?

Before taking up their positions, what did Chinese principals do? What sort of
experience and competencies did they gain? To answer these questions, we inter-
viewed several principals. Based on our results, we summarized key experiences
they have had.

12.1.1 Background Diversified Experiences, but Mostly Starting as Grassroots


When asked about their previous experience, most principals answered that they
started as grassroots teacher. Principal Cai from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province said,
“I’ve been teaching all the way. I started as a class head teacher. I majored in
Chinese, but I taught geography, history, politics and even English.” Principal Chen
from Wenzhou said,
I began as a teacher. In my first year, I was a class head teacher. I did a good job. The
students got pretty good scores. In 1988, I was awarded the title of Promising Teacher in
Zhejiang Province. Since then, I became popular within the school and in Wenzhou city.
My experience is unique because I’ve been working at the same school for 28 years.
(personal communication, December 5, 2015)

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 211
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_12
212 12 Principal Selection

Table 12.1 Previous Position Number Percentage (%)

experiences of principals
(multiple choice) Grassroots teacher 257 58.4
Class head teacher 275 62.5
Civil servant 30 6.8
University scholar 3 0.7
Company employee 1 0.002

In other cases, principals have worked at universities or in government depart-

ments (Modern Education 2015). This is also reflected in the results of our ques-
tionnaire: Over half of the principals started out as ordinary teachers, but some had
previously worked as civil servants or university scholars, or even company
employees in rare cases (Table 12.1). Gradual Promotion

Another feature of principals is that they gradually developed the necessary

administrative competencies through step-by-step promotions. Principal Fang from
Wenzhou, Zhejiang province said,
From 1989 to 1995, I was the team leader for teaching and research affairs. From 1996 to
2002, I was deputy director of teaching and research affairs. In 2002, I became deputy
principal in charge of teaching, and was also awarded the title of master teacher. I assumed
my current position in 2012. (personal communication, December 5, 2015)

Principal Chen from Wenzhou questioned such a lengthy promotion process. He

During peaceful years, moving up on the administrative ladder is very time-consuming.
You have to climb step-by-step to get to the top. Looking at the bright side, this offers you
more grassroots experience, but such a lengthy process is exhausting. Perhaps this kind of
institutional design is due to the fact that principal posts are rare, and beneath the top of the
pyramid is a huge administrative system. (personal communication, December 4, 2015)

The emphasis on grassroots experience has its pros and cons. Though it is
conducive to selecting a genuinely competent principal, it wears people down,
particularly those candidates who have not been given a promotion for years. What
we’ve learnt from the interviews is also consistent with the questionnaire survey
results (Table 12.2). Most principals followed a promotion path from class head
teacher to mid-level cadre, and then to a deputy principal post. Some of them also
took posts unique to China, such as the head of a teaching and research group,
deputy principal in charge of overall affairs (equivalent to acting principal) or
Communist party secretary.
12.1 What Are the General Profiles of Principals? 213

Table 12.2 Previous positions of principals (multiple choice)

Position Number Percentage (%)
Class head teacher 275 62.5
Head of a teaching and research group 158 35.9
Head of a grade 50 11.4
Middle-level manager 304 69.1
Deputy principal or its equivalent 286 65
Acting principal 107 24.3
Party secretary 48 10.9 Experience of Working in the Countryside

Due to its vast territories and unbalanced rates of development, China faces a huge
urban-rural divide in terms of the distribution of educational resources. To narrow
the gap, some principals are assigned to work in rural areas. It should be noted that
such arrangements usually apply to principals working in nearby towns or suburban
areas. When talking about his teaching experience in rural areas, Principle Fang
from Wenzhou said, “I was assigned to work in the countryside three times, each
time to a different school. Those schools were really remote and I feel like I’ve
experienced three ups and downs.”
We learned from the interviews that most principals did not go to the countryside
on a voluntary basis. But given the vastness of the country, there is no shortage of
principals who choose to work in harsh conditions in rural areas. Such experience
can enable principals to become more aware of the urban-rural gap and thus
develop a deeper understanding of education in China.

12.1.2 Quality Dimensions

The above briefly describes which previous positions principals have held. But
what competencies or qualities have supported their promotion to the current
position? Based on the interviews, we have identified three key qualities. Proven Teaching Record

As stated in the Thousand Character Text, a traditional Chinese primer, “a good

scholar will make an official.” Influenced by such a centuries-old culture, a good
teacher is believed to have the ability to manage a school. To become a good
teacher, one should first of all work hard. One principal said,
214 12 Principal Selection

Fig. 12.1 Subjects once taught by principals (multiple choice)

Striving for excellence is something in my blood. At that time, I was the math teacher for
three classes. I went to bed at 9 pm and got up at around 2 am to prepare my lessons, so I
only slept for five hours a day. I can say I became a principal because of my academic and
teaching excellence. (personal communication, October 19, 2015)

In the questionnaire survey, we asked which subjects principals once taught. The
results are shown in Fig. 12.1:
The above results reveal that over half of the respondents had experience in
teaching Chinese, while those previously teaching math and political science
accounted for 40.5% and 23.2% respectively. On average, a principal had experi-
ence in teaching 1.6 subjects. In exceptional cases, one principal taught six subjects.
This shows that principals at least have rich teaching experience. Administrative Competence

Candidates with strong administrative competencies have a better chance for pro-
motion to the position of principal. For instance, Principle Hu from Fangshan
district, Beijing, described his experiences:
During those 12 years, I worked as a class head teacher for six straight years and was then
chosen to be the director of the Party Work Office in 2000, since the former director had
gone to the US to study. My job there was mainly being responsible for drafting documents,
and I quickly adapted myself to that position. (personal communication, November 30,

Given the special conditions and administrative culture in China, a principal

must have a holistic perspective and overall planning ability. A staff member of
12.1 What Are the General Profiles of Principals? 215

Rui’an Municipal Education Bureau in Zhejiang province mentioned in interview

that: “Many people believe a principal must have charisma to influence teachers.
However, in my opinion, a principal must have administrative competencies and
ideas in order to do the job properly.” Principal Hu from Beijing expressed the
following viewpoint:
When I was a deputy principal, I didn’t think about top-level design, although I devoted
myself to the job. In my current position, I have to take overall planning into account.
A principal should be able to lead and coordinate. Therefore, the three big tasks of a
principal are to set goals, execute plans and enhance school culture. (personal communi-
cation, November 30, 2015) Moral Leadership: Concerned About Students and Teachers

When asked “how to be a good principal,” one principal gave the following answer:
I feel that, in order to be a good principal, one must first of all have a passion or at least a
sense of responsibility for that position. Second, a good principal must represent the moral
standards to be followed by the school. This is even more important than his ability. Third,
a good principal should always care for his students and fellow teachers. Fourth, a good
principal should be forward-looking and innovative in order to guide students and teachers
to adapt to social needs. (personal communication, November 30, 2015)

We may conclude from the above that a good principal must be learned and
follow high moral standards. Such requirements conform to principles in traditional
Chinese culture. As stated in the Confucian Analects, “He who exercises govern-
ment by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps
its place and all the stars turn towards it.” As the school is a stronghold of moral
education, its leader is naturally mandated to set the moral benchmark, which is
consistent with the core concept expressed by Thomas J. Sergiovanni in Moral
Leadership: Getting to the Heart of School Improvement: “We are driven by moral,
emotional and social deeds which constitute the assumptions behind the moral
leadership” (2003, p. 30). Chinese principals have rich experience in moral
As shown by the questionnaire survey, 50% of the principals believe that
principals should be educationists, while 31.8% of the principals hold that princi-
pals should be teaching leaders. Such results aptly capture how principals perceive
their roles. Among the six roles, educationist can best reflect the moral dimension of
the principal’s role. Surprisingly, as respondents were required to make a single
choice from the six roles, only one out of 440 principals opted for the role of an
ordinary teacher (see Table 12.3). Such a result is probably typical of China.
In addition, we also asked principals to evaluate their actual roles. One hundred
and thirty eight principals (42.4%) classified themselves as administrative leaders,
while 87 principals (20%) described themselves as ordinary managers. This dis-
crepancy reveals the gap between the recognized due roles and actual roles of
principals in China.
216 12 Principal Selection

Table 12.3 Due role of a Role Number Percentage (%)

Educationist 220 50
Teaching leader 140 31.8
Administrative leader 38 8.6
Ordinary manager 26 5.9
Scholar 15 3.4
Ordinary teacher 1 0.002
Total 440 100

12.1.3 Opportunities

In addition to necessary experience, as well as teaching and administrative com-

petencies, opportunities are also essential for one to become a principal. In general,
opportunities arise from a nationwide scarcity of qualified personnel and appreci-
ation by school leaders. Scarcity of Qualified Personnel

Principal Lin from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province attributed his promotion to the
principal’s position to the specific national conditions in China:
In the 1990s, teachers and principals in Rui’an were generally not well-prepared profes-
sionals. The standard of nine-year compulsory education was not implemented until 1996.
Such a change necessitated the creation of many schools and the capacity-building of
teachers and school managers. Therefore, we were sent by the local education commission
to study for an M.A. degree in education management at Hangzhou University. (personal
communication, December 4, 2015)

At that time, very few principals had earned an MA degree in education man-
agement. The above decision of the local education commission to train backbone
staff reflects strategic considerations. So far, the principal concerned has success-
fully worked in the current position for nearly 20 years. Interpersonal Relationships: Appreciation by Leaders

In order to become a principal, a candidate should rely on a host of factors, par-

ticularly appreciation by the existing principal. For instance, a principal explained
I was then a deputy principal in charge of teaching, but there was no sure way for me to get
a promotion. I maintained a quite candid or brotherly relationship with the principal. My
ability was then recognized, though I was not strongly motivated to be the principal.
(personal communication, December 4, 2015)
12.1 What Are the General Profiles of Principals? 217

Principal Chen from Rui’an, Zhejiang province said,

“Personal mentoring by predecessors explains why principals in China are generally
selected from the teaching faculty. Interpersonal relationships have deep roots in China, and
this makes it difficult to create a standardized selection system.” (personal communication,
December 5, 2015)

In addition to personal mentoring, the predecessor’s recommendation can

sometimes be accepted even when the local education commission has a different
opinion on the candidature. One principal said,
My predecessor recommended me to be the next principal, but the leader of the education
bureau disagreed. In his opinion, I was too young and there were several more senior and
competent candidates at my school. I still remember clearly how he questioned my ability
during his talk with me. He challenged me by saying: could you lead the school into better
development? Could you keep the school’s leading position in the district in terms of exam
results? Could you ensure that the school will not be derailed by any unexpected incidents?
(personal communication, Novermber 30, 2015)

Such a selection mechanism is deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture and

intricately linked with the operations of a “gentry society.” In his book China’s
Gentry, Fei Xiaotong (2011) defines the gentry as the intelligentsia with respected
status and roles in traditional Chinese society (p. 97). This respect for the outgoing
principal’s opinion shows that the education authority hopes to maintain operational
and cultural consistency at the school level. Regarding the principal selection in
China, Professor Wu Kangning (2015) made the following comments, “whether a
person could be a principal of a public school is determined by the governmental
department, rather than the consideration of this person’s courage, competence and
morality, or the will of the whole faculty and staff of the school.” Our survey,
however, has shown that in some schools, recommendations by the former prin-
cipals for their potential successors play a critical role. The respect for the opinions
of the former principal may also imply the educational department’s respect for the
existing school operational order. This practice for principal selection, to a certain
degree, could enhance the coherence of the original culture of the school.

12.2 How Have They Become Principals?

12.2.1 Policy Changes

Over the past three decades or so, policies regarding the selection of principals have
evolved from administrative appointment to competency-based employment. Such
a transition is shown in Table 12.4.
The above table generally reflects the trend of emphasizing professional school
management and separating principals from the government system. In this regard,
principals have a lot to say.
218 12 Principal Selection

Table 12.4 Policy documents related to principal selection

Year Reform or policy document Key point
1985 Reform of the salary system of public Integration of principals into the civil servant
institutions system
1992 Opinions on strengthening the Lifelong tenure extended tenure to maintain the
building of principals’ teams stability of principals
1999 Decision on promoting quality- Trial employment of principals as professional
oriented education through continued school managers through competitive selection
reform and encouragement of competent principals to
work at weak schools
2010 The outline Formulation of eligibility criteria for principals
to improve school management and separate
principals from the government system
2013 Professional standards for principals Employment of professional principals through
responsible for compulsory education competitive selection
Source. Shun Net-Jinan Times. (2012). 中小学校长或将不再有行政级别 [The administrative
title of primary and secondary principals may will be diminished] Retrieved July 15, 2016, from; Opinions on Strengthening the
Nationwide Building of Principals’ Teams, Management of Elementary and Middle Schools, 1995,
pp. 34–35; MOE. (1999). 中共中央国务院关于深化教育改革 全面推进素质教育的决定.
[Decision on Promoting Quality-Oriented Education through Continued Reform] Retrieved July
15, 2016, from 200407/
2478.html; MOE. (2010). 国家中长期教育改革和发展规划纲要 (2010–2020 年) [Outline for
China’s Mediwn to Long-Term Educational Reform and Development planning (2010-2020)].
Retrieved July 15, 2016, from
838/201008/93704.html; MOE. (2013). 义务教育学校校长专业标准 [Professional Standards
for Principals Responsible for Compulsory Education]. Retrieved July 15, 2016, from http://www. Challenging the Competitive Selection

Principal Hu from Fangshan District, Beijing said,

I don’t think there is any perfect system or model. Is competitive selection perfect? It’s not,
because some candidates are better performers on the stage. Is the appointment system free
from defects? Once again it’s not, because it can result in cronyism. There is no such a thing
as a perfect system. (personal communication, November 30, 2015)

A professor from Beijing Normal University said,

China is a highly hierarchical and bureaucratic country. Principals in one district were
separated from the government system and lost their administrative ranking. However,
when a district-level meeting was held, it was arranged for principals to all sit at the very
back of the room, because seating was arranged according to administrative rankings, and
so principals felt they were not respected. (personal communication, December 21, 2015)

The above opinions show that some principals and educators are quite reserved
about the merits of employment through competitive selection. Grass-roots
12.2 How Have They Become Principals? 219

principals in China do not have a strong voice in national policy making.

A principal questioned the new system by saying,
Is winning 100% of the votes better than winning 98%? Not necessarily. Internal election
may easily hold back reform initiatives, because it is possible for the principal to threaten
the interest of some people through reforms. Sometimes a principal has a good reputation,
but he may still face huge resistance to reforms. Actually, principals in Western countries
are not elected, they are appointed by the Board. (personal communication, December 5,
2015) Supporting the Appointment and Lifelong Tenure System

Principals generally agreed on the following viewpoint,

The current appointment system is quite good, because the education authority knows the
ideal candidate well. The candidate has usually worked as a head teacher or in a middle
manager’s position for many years, and can gradually improve their competencies through
training. You feel secure when you entrust a school to a reliable person. I’m such an
example. (personal communication, November 30, 2015)

Principal Lin from Zhejiang province said,

The lifelong tenure system has its own advantages. First, the principal feels like they are a
part of the school. Second, the principal can develop a deep understanding of the school,
including its history and culture. If you don’t stay at a school long enough, you probably
won’t know its history and culture well. (personal communication, December 5, 2015)

It seems that principals generally support the appointment system, as most of

them have been appointed to their current position by the local education authority.
In addition, those who are ambitious and plan to exert long-term influence on a
school do not like reforms to the lifelong tenure system. Stressing School Autonomy

Regarding the reform of the selection system, principals mostly focused on the
separation from the government system and the improvement of school autonomy.
As mentioned earlier, separation from the government system was proposed and
experimented with in 1993. However, such a reform has not generated convincing
results over the past two decades or so. Some scholars argue that in order to truly
remove principals from the government system, the principal’s performance should
be evaluated by the students and teachers (Sohu 2014). Principal Lin from
Wenzhou also mentioned in the interview that:
In order to run a school well, school autonomy is needed, in addition to a competent
principal. Without autonomy, a principal can only maintain what is already there and can
hardly change anything, even though he may have brilliant ideas. (personal communication,
December 4, 2015)
220 12 Principal Selection

Principal Qian from Wenzhou also mentioned that:

Principals in Wenzhou generally don’t serve in their position for long. A good principal can
make a good school, much in the same way as a terrible principal can ruin a school.
Currently, principals in Wenzhou are not given sufficient autonomy and face a lot of
external intervention. (personal communication, December 5, 2015)

12.2.2 Diversified Selection Procedures

In spite of guidelines at the national level, the procedures for selecting principals
vary considerably across provinces and municipalities. Selection of Principals

Innovative measures have been tried out in some provinces and municipalities in
China. For instance, principals in Tianjin were all required to resign from their posts
in 2008 and enter a competitive selection process. This resulted in some competent
teachers or sector chiefs being selected as school principals.
Some principals hope that the current selection mechanism can be made to be
more democratic by incorporating a public opinion poll. Neither pure appointment
nor free election is good enough. To compensate for the weakness of administrative
appointment, public evaluation based on sound and measureable criteria should be
introduced. For public evaluation, the support rate should be high enough, although
not necessarily reaching 95% or even 100%. If the support rate is lower than 75%,
there must be some problems with the candidate.
However, such a mechanism has not yet been adopted in most parts of China.
Principle Chen from Wenzhou city also proposed the possibility of introducing a
third-party evaluation mechanism, where the criteria can be formulated by the third
party and approved by the education bureau, and the evaluation results are sub-
mitted to the education bureau for decision-making.
We learned from our interviews that many principals did not think that the
current selection mechanism was sufficiently democratic. According to survey
(Table 12.5), internal promotion was chosen by 44.1% of the respondents as the
way in which they became principals, followed by open selection and lateral
transfer, and 16.1% of the respondents became principals through democratic
election. Such a diversified structure is reflected in Table 12.5. Training of Principals

A principal’s training consists of pre-service training and on-the-job training.

Principle Cheng from Haidian district, Beijing (also a university professor) who has
12.2 How Have They Become Principals? 221

Table 12.5 Modes of Mode of selection Numbers Percentage

selecting principals and their (%)
percentages (multiple choice)
Internal promotion 194 44.1
Open selection 149 33.9
Lateral transfer 77 17.5
Democratic election 71 16.1
Recommendation by 69 15.7
Temporary assignment 26 6
Others 13 3

a deep understanding of principals’ training in China said, “Principals generally

receive much training. Prior to their assumption of office, they need to get the
necessary credentials. Even in exceptional cases where the principal doesn’t have
the required credentials, he or she has received training in various forms.”
Compared with on-the-job training, pre-service training is better developed for
principals in China. As Principal Fang from Wenzhou said,
We don’t have long-term training programs for principals, but we have pre-service training,
because principals must be certified through such certification training. In addition, it is
mandatory for principals in Wenzhou to attend the training program organized at Beijing
Normal University. In some provinces and municipalities, the on-the-job training system is
the same for principals as it is for teachers. The only difference is that principals can choose
some management courses. Usually, I would have a mixture of both my specialty, which is
physical education, and management. We’re required to complete 360 hours of training in
five years. There’s no distance learning, it’s all done face-to-face. (personal communication,
December 21, 2015)

The above shows that principals in China receive on-the-job training based on
their interests, and the training program is not tailored to meet the needs of pro-
fessional development. It is argued by some scholars that in order to meet chal-
lenges today, the principals’ training model should be studied and remodeled based
on the following four components: (1) understanding of the need for profession-
alization; (2) professional competencies and their development; (3) a professional
training system; and (4) professional training and certification.1 In this regard, there
is still a long way to go.

Project team on the research of theory and practice regarding the training of leading cadres in
elementary and middle schools during the 10th Five-Year Plan period in Beijing: Theoretical
Study on the Development and Successful Training of Principals, Chongqing University Press,
2005, p. 71.
222 12 Principal Selection Investigation Before Appointment

The education authority follows a cautious approach in selecting principals, which

can be reflected to some extent by the investigation before appointment:
When selecting a principal, the education bureau would collect information about the
candidate from various sources. The investigation process is quite complex and lasts for at
least half a month. After a careful review of the candidate’s background, the education
bureau would organize meetings with teachers from that school to collect feedback about
the candidate’s performance in a comprehensive way. (personal communication, December
4, 2015)

Principal Cheng from Haidian district, Beijing (also a professor from Beijing
Normal University) commented on the investigation before appointment as below:
The candidate should have an adequate professional background, say, at least a middle
manager at a decent school. The appointment can only be made after all-round investi-
gation. The current selection system is quite structured, but is designed to meet the needs of
principal rotation among different schools as well. (personal communication, December 21,

Principals selected through such a process can generally lead the school well,
based on their rich school experience, reliable professional competencies and sound
interpersonal relationships.

12.3 Professional Standards for the Principal

12.3.1 Eligibility Criteria as the Initial Form of Professional

Standards Issuance of Eligibility Criteria and Post Requirements

As early as 1991, the then State Education Commission of China (1999), which was
the precursor of the current Ministry of Education, issued the Eligibility Criteria
and Post Requirements for Principals in China (for trial implementation), which
served as the basis for the selection, appointment, evaluation and training of
This policy document defines the basic eligibility criteria and key responsibilities
of the principal and makes the pre-service certification training mandatory. The
eligibility criteria later evolved into the official professional standards for principals
in China.
12.3 Professional Standards for the Principal 223 Major Deficiency of the Eligibility Criteria and Post


While prescribing the eligibility criteria for the appointment of a principal, the
policy document does not provide pragmatic guidance on the principal’s work.
A principal questioned the document by saying,
There must be measurable indicators for evaluating the principal’s performance. It would be
unacceptable if a principal makes no progress at all during his or her term of office. Those
indicators should just be personal preferences for a leader. Nowadays, there is a strange
phenomenon of reverse elimination, which means that a poorly performing principal may
even be transferred to work as the principal of a better school. This serves as a terrible role
precedent. (personal communication, December 5, 2015)

The problem mentioned above is deeply seated. When a principal selected

according to the eligibility criteria and post requirements cannot perform to the
expected standard, there is not an adequate system of evaluation, resulting in the
strange phenomenon of reverse evaluation. Further Improvements to Eligibility Criteria and Post


With the deepening of education reforms and the evolvement of the principal’s role,
principals are expected to meet higher standards. As pointed out in the Outline,
“The eligibility criteria and appointment of principals should be improved.” In this
context, Chinese scholars worked to update professional standards for principals.

12.3.2 Official Professional Standards for Principals

of Schools for Compulsory Education Two Directions: Administrator or Scholar

Two directions are visible in the policy for principal selection: (1) Treating prin-
cipals as civil servants on a career path for administrative promotion from the
grass-roots level to the highest possible director-general level (some university
presidents can reach the rank of deputy minister); (2) Treating principals as pro-
fessional leaders in education on a career path associated with professional title
advancement. In recent years, policy makers in China have tried to weaken the
administrative path, and principals were quick to see such a change. Principal Fang
from Wenzhou, Zhejiang said, “To my observation, few of the principals in our
region are academically oriented, which is quite different from the situation in
Shanghai. Personally I feel that it is a necessity for principals or leaders in charge of
educational affairs of schools to have strong academic competence.” Regarding the
224 12 Principal Selection

professional standards for principals, Principal Hu from Fangshan district, Beijing

said, “One of such standards stresses lifelong learning. This is essential because
lifelong learning could update the educational ideology. If the educational ideology
fails to be updated, schools would lose in competition.” These remarks have
reflected the keen awareness of principals in strengthening their own academic
competence. Interpretation of the Professional Standards

On February 16, 2013, the MoE issued the Professional Standards for Principals of
Schools for Compulsory Education, which has since provided a key basis for setting
eligibility criteria, designing training programs and carrying out evaluation. The
document covers six areas: (1) planning school development; (2) building school
culture; (3) leading teaching activities; (4) promoting teachers’ development;
(5) improving internal management; and (6) optimizing the external environment.
Since the issuance of the Professional Standards, Chinese scholars have offered
more detailed interpretations, which are summarized in the Table 12.6:
Table 12.6 reveals some unique challenges for Chinese principals. For instance,
Chinese principals are required to coordinate national, local and school-based
curricula, highlighting the need for autonomy to some extent. In terms of opti-
mizing the external environment, the principal should properly conduct public
relations with the government, community and parents so as to lay a solid foun-
dation for school development.

Table 12.6 Principals’ professional standards and their detailed interpretations

Professional standards Detailed interpretations
Planning school Diagnose existing problems, make development plans, implement
development the plans, and make the necessary readjustments based on
Building school culture Take proactive measures to develop school culture, organize festival
and celebration activities, and guard against negative influences
Leading teaching Coordinate the national, local and school-based curricula, reduce
activities unduly heavy teaching and burdens, guide based on extensive class
observations, and conduct teaching research and reform
Promoting teachers’ Establish the teachers’ research and training system, set teachers’
development moral standards and safeguard teachers’ legal rights and interests
Improving internal Strengthen team building, promote democratic decision making,
management improve organizational management, and ensure campus safety
Optimizing external Exploit external resources, listen to suggestions, guide the
environment school-family cooperation, and get involved in social services
Source 教育部义务教育学校校长专业标准课题研制组. [Ministry of Education Research Team
on Professional Standards for Principals of Schools for Compulsory Education] (2015). 校长的十
二项专业历练 [Testing of principals]. 北京, 中国: 北京师范大学出版集团 [Beijing, China,
Beijing Normal University Publishing Group], p. 5
12.3 Professional Standards for the Principal 225 Principals’ Suggestions Regarding Professional Standards

In the interviews, the principals offered the following feasible suggestions regarding
professional standards:
Principals have not yet paid much attention to those professional standards. There is little
awareness, little organized study and little discussion. We just learn from the internet that
such standards are available. But such standards are really necessary, because many
principals don’t know what should be done and what being a qualified principal means.
These standards send the right message to principals, especially those fresh hands, so that
they can tell what is acceptable and what is excellent. (personal communication, October
19, 2015)

Principal Liu from Tianjin offered similar observations. He said, “The standards
should be more detailed in such a way that we can tell the difference between a
qualified principal and an excellent one. There should be more specific guidance
after the framework is given.”
We can learn from the interviews that most principals recognize the need for
professional standards, despite the fact that many principals are not very familiar
with these standards.
In summary, we have briefly described, in this chapter, a selection mechanism in
which the education authority plays a dominant role, with due respect given to the
opinions of the previous principal. Such a mechanism has driven principals to pay
more attention to their relationship with the education authority.


Fei, X. T. (2011). 中国士绅 [China’s Gentry]. 北京, 中国: 外语教学与研究出版社 [Beijing,

China: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press].
Modern Education. (2015). 京郊中学来了位教授校长 [A professor principal at Jingjiao middle
school]. Modern Education. Retrieved June 4, 2015, from
MOE. (2010). 国家中长期教育改革和发展规划纲要 (2010–2020 年) [Outline for China’s
medium to long-term educational reform and development planning (2010–2020)]. Retrieved
July 15, 2016, from
MOE. (2013). 义务教育学校校长专业标准 [Professional standards for principals of schools for
compulsory education]. Retrieved July 15, 2016, from
Project team on the research of theory and practice regarding the training of leading cadres in
elementary and middle schools during the 10th Five-year Plan period in Beijing. (2005).
[Theoretical study on the development and successful training of principals]. 重庆, 中国: 重庆
大学出版社 [Chongqing, China: Chongqing University Press].
Sergiovanni, T. J. (2003). 道德领导抵及学校改善的核心 [Moral leadership: Getting to the heart
of school improvement]. Feng, D. M. trans. 上海, 中国: 上海教育出版社 [Shanghai, China:
Shanghai Education Press].
226 12 Principal Selection

Sohu. (2014). 校长职级制度改革: “官帽”难摘的现实困境 [Separating principals from the

government system: A hard reality]. Retrieved June 4, 2015, from
State Education Commission of China. (1991). 全国中小学校长任职条件和岗位要求 (试行)
[Eligibility criteria and post requirements for principals in China (for trial implementation)].
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京, 中国:南京师范大学出版社 [Nanjing, China: Nanjing Normal University Press].
Yu, Y. H. (1987). 传统蒙学丛书: 千字文 [Traditional preschool book serial: Thousand
character text]. 长沙, 中国: 岳麓书社 [Changsha, China: Yuelu Press].
Chapter 13
The Innovative Leadership of China’s
Excellent Principals

In “Zi Han,” Analects of Confucius, it is said that “The wise are not puzzled, the
benevolent are not worried, and the courageous are not afraid.” The wisdom,
benevolence and courage advocated by Confucius are also the characteristics that
excellent principals should have. They are expected to know state of the art
information regarding management, be benevolent towards other people, and have
the courage to make decisions at critical moments.
Currently, along with economic development and urbanization, there has also
been an increase in demand for quality distinctive education. The intensive com-
petition for survival and success has provided both challenges and opportunities to
the principals of educational institutions. In this context, excellent principals should
show their leadership and innovation qualities externally and internally.

13.1 External Assistance

13.1.1 Innovation in Policy-Guided Strategic Developments

During every developmental period, policy documents are issued to specifically

illustrate the national guidelines and governmental overall planning. In order to
maximize the effect thereof with minimum efforts in the exploration of an inno-
vative model for strategic development, school principals are expected to integrate
the national guidance with the actual need for school development.
Principal Song of a primary school in Beijing’s Haidian district has been very
successful in the strategic development of his school. Previously, he seized the
opportunity to transform this ordinary rural primary school into a famous school in
the local area, and later in the whole country.
Recently, under the national guidance, he has been undertaking a pioneering
practice to be the first in developing a primary school into a 9-year compulsory

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 227
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_13
228 13 The Innovative Leadership of China’s …

education school, providing primary education and 3-year junior middle school
education. This bold attempt is a typical case for policy-guided innovation in school
On one hand, the principal has properly seized this opportunity brought about by
the national and political guidelines. For balanced and quality development of
compulsory education, it is reiterated to create new mechanisms to link different
learning stages of the whole educational system. In doing so, schools with 9-year
compulsory education have been established in many areas of China. The school of
Principal Song is a success story of educational conglomeration in the restructuring
of regional educational resources.
On the other hand, Principal Song has applied his educational ideology to the
strategic development of his school. Based on his previous research on the psy-
chological development of children throughout their 6-year primary education,
Principal Song attempted to expand his research in the context of the 3-year junior
middle school education.

13.1.2 Brand Building and Social Recognition

As regards social recognition, legitimate educational management and competi-

tiveness, principals utilize various measures for brand building, e.g., developing a
unique educational philosophy and launching diverse and distinctive activities for
The innovative leadership of Principal Song is mainly manifested as such: His
distinctive educational philosophy has become the highlight of his school, guiding
the civilization of the inner environment and winning high recognition and social
impact. Gradually his school has grown from an unknown primary school into a
success story.
Focusing on the main social and educational issues, his constant exploration of
the essence of children and the core values of childhood has led to an innovated
educational philosophy and successful transformation of his school. He advocates
the necessity of creating a school environment for children to grow up naturally.
Ever since 2008, I have been exploring the culture and the philosophy of schools. In reality,
childhood flies away and never returns. It is not an unusual phenomenon for children to
tend to act like adults. The core values of childhood are far beyond our imagination. How
can we protect the valuable nature of children? How can we keep their innocence and care,
their love of knowledge and curiosity? What can schools do to address these issues
pragmatically? How can we lead the lost children back onto the right track of natural
growth through our school education, classroom teaching and educational reforms? (per-
sonal communication, December 4, 2015)

The practice of adding junior middle schooling into a primary school with strong
competitiveness may imply the need for building a new brand for the junior middle
schooling. Competing against those existing famous junior middle schools, the
primary school is faced with the challenges of how to win as much social
13.1 External Assistance 229

recognition as possible. Principal Song’s practice is as such: In order to win

recognition from parents and society, efforts should be made to explore how to
apply the original educational philosophy to junior middle schooling. Systematic
educational management should be explicitly illustrated with definite educational
targets and pathways of realization.
As the point of departure, Principal Song has led his working teams to analyze the
existing problems in the current practices of the 9-year consecutive education,
including the lack of interactions between the primary educational module and the
junior educational module, and the lack of coordination in management, course
design and personnel cultivation. Based on their research, they have discussed “the
very nature of the 9-year consecutive education for the comprehensive development
of students” and have developed a student growth model for the 9-year consecutive
education. The advantage of this practice is to ensure the consistency of the culti-
vation chain in terms of educational philosophy, educational targets, personal cul-
tivation and course design, and to coordinate between this cultivation chain and the
school’s support system so as to provide a driving force for students’ development.
Principal Zuo is from a primary school in the Tongzhou district of Beijing. His
school was once very weak and small, but survived the renovation of the city
because it had a very long history and the committee and the government of the
local district intended to develop it into a distinctive school with the local culture.
Principal Zuo stressed the importance of “using external conditions to build up a
platform for development.” She maintained that as one of the important methods for
improving school quality, proactive interactions with the local administrative
departments and experts could guide school management and promote the school
image. Projects and propaganda could jointly enrich the school resources and
upgrade its brand building.
In interview, Principal Zuo said,
It is important for a school to engage itself in propaganda through various channels. One of
these channels is to effectively use the school’s own events. Using the ancient opening
ceremony and the Pan-Pond ceremony,1 we perfectly integrated the ancient with the pre-
sent, causing a stir and winning high appraisal from the leaders of the district.Most of the
time, we organize events for the district and municipal board of educational and research
centers, which is also a very good publicity for our school. During the process of brand
building, especially for emerging schools, the top priority should be given to letting the
public get to know us. In doing so, we need to be proactive and effective in getting
information, communicating with leaders and seizing opportunities. Organizing big events
could facilitate our publicity. (personal communication, January 6, 2016)

Principal Zuo’s school has fully utilized the historical value of her school and
Chinese traditional culture. They introduced historical and cultural elements to the
school’s opening ceremony. The new students followed the procedure of

The Pan-Pond ceremony was an ancient custom for Confucius’s students. In the courtyard of the
Confucius Temple, there is a half-moon shaped pond called the Pan Pond. Students must go across
the bridge over the pond to reach the teacher. It later became a tradition for students to cross the
pond before starting school.
230 13 The Innovative Leadership of China’s …

registration just like that of those performing the Pan-Pond ceremony in ancient
times. This unique experience has left deep impressions on those who were invited
to attend the opening ceremony and become the highlight of the school.

13.1.3 Parental Engagement and Family–School


Parents are one of the clients of the education service. They themselves, however,
are very huge resources that can play an important role in school development,
because they are very much concerned about the school and their children. Thus,
principals should realize the reliance on parents and the importance of
family-school cooperation.
Principal Qian is from a primary school in the Jinshan district of Shanghai. She
values parents as an important resource. She has established a three-tiered parents
committee at the school, grade and class levels, inviting parents to join in with the
school management.
Biweekly Tuesdays are Parents’ Days when parents feel free to join the campus
life. They are allowed to attend classes, eat in the dining hall, observe and even
supervise the school management.
The school values parents’ opinions, as is explained by the teachers: “The praise
of parents weigh even more than golden trophies.” Usually, the school would
survey regarding the satisfaction of the parents once a year and teachers getting a
satisfaction score of less than 80% would leave their original class. Meanwhile,
parents are invited to give lectures to students, thus sharing their skills and social
experience with the children. Now the school has established a network of parents
which offer advice and guidance related to 19 professions of the parents, including
banking, auctioneers, firemen, postal service workers and the police. Moreover,
courses on parental volunteer work and family–school interactions are given.
E-communication is applied to promote interactions between the school and the
The school has also established a mechanism to strengthen the interactions
between the parents and their children. Both the parents and the children are invited
to join the school management.
The parents can voluntarily take up the task of maintaining campus security. When the
students arrive at school and leave school, these parent volunteers stand at the entrance of
the school to maintain the traffic order. There is an increase in the number of parents who
have shown their interest in doing this job. Good students or students who have made
progress recently are also selected to maintain the order at the entrance to the school. This
job has given both the parents and the students a sense of pride. (personal communication,
December 24, 2015)

All these initiatives have enhanced the family relationships and the
family-school interactions, which have promoted the positive development of the
13.1 External Assistance 231

school. In this way, all the stakeholders have been benefited, enabling school
education and family education to co-exist in a harmonious way.

13.2 Structural Optimization and Incentives Mechanism

Externally, principals interact well with all the related parties. Internally, they weigh
heavily on the optimization of the school organizational structure, institute, edu-
cational objectives and interpersonal relations for the most efficient school man-
agement and the strongest competitiveness.

13.2.1 Adjusting the Organizational Structure

Against the new educational situation, educational ideology and educational tasks,
principals may restructure the school management for a higher working efficiency.
Many schools establish an independent center to complete tedious and trivial
administrative tasks so that the faculties can focus on their teaching tasks. Some
schools set up a curriculum center to integrate the teaching research and teaching
practices. Principal C from Hefei, Anhui province built up an independent center
for teaching and research. It consisted of the directors and key teachers, and was
aimed at collecting data, carrying out research and giving teaching suggestions.
This center assists with decision making and planning in terms of school man-
agement (Zhao, 2015, pp. 96–97).
Principal Chen is from a middle school in the Haidian district of Beijing. His
school offers both junior and senior middle school education on the same campus.
These two types of education have fundamental differences. The reforms to the
curriculum have deepened the complexity of school management. In this context,
the principal restructured the school structure.
On the one hand, the leader team previously managed both the junior and the
senior middle school education. Now, the vice principal for teaching affairs is
assigned to manage the junior middle school education, and the vice principal for
morality affairs is assigned to manage the senior middle school education.
On the other hand, five centers have been established. Working for curriculum
development are the art and education center, the physical education and healthcare
center, and the IT center. The center for teacher’s career development and the center
for curriculum design are aimed at supporting the curriculum design.
Compared with the gradual adjustments carried out within individual depart-
ments, the organizational restructuring is revolutionary and immediately felt. The
changes in human resources and working modes could stimulate the dramatic
changes in ideology and school culture.
232 13 The Innovative Leadership of China’s …

We got used to administration-oriented teaching. Now all the teaching arrangements are
student-oriented. In the past, our work reports were based on academic teaching and
morality education. Now we base our work reports on the junior middle school education
and the senior middle school education. Our work focuses on the characteristics and the
needs of our students. As a result, the curriculum design for both sectors becomes dis-
tinctive. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

The organizational restructuring goes with the changing needs of school man-
agement. In the interview, Principal Chen also expressed his outlook for the school
management. His school has teaching units and grade units. Currently, the grade
units are predominant in assigning the teaching tasks to individual teaching units.
Given that the reform in senior middle school education requires the removal of
barriers among the grades, it is planned that the power of the grade units will be
reduced and that teaching affairs will be based on the teaching units, the head of
which will be given more authority in teaching and research.

13.2.2 Strengthening the School Institution

The school institution is vital in passing on the administrative requirements, reg-

ulating behaviors and safeguarding the operation of the school. Principal Zhang
from Hengshui of Hebei province has adopted a unique approach in the develop-
ment and implementation of the school institute.
His school was a senior middle school located in an underdeveloped area.
However, it was renowned in China for its strict administration and overwhelming
gaokao performance. For 16 consecutive years, his school has ranked the first in
terms of the admission rate of gaokao in the local province. Quantitative man-
agement with military administration has contributed to the maximum yield.
With numbers as indicators, the school manages everything with regard to
numbers, follows scientific management methods, designs a standardized man-
agement procedure to relate all actions to quantitative criteria, and base the
teachers’ and students’ rewards on same. The quantitative management was sub-
tilized to an extent beyond description, as can be manifested by typical time
From running at 5:30 am every morning until bedtime at 10 pm every night,
every minute has been managed carefully. The school also has regulations about
students’ life and study by subtly arranging teaching tasks to avoid ineffective
behaviors, such as absent-mindedness and being in a trance (Wang and Wang 2015,
p. 8).
Students should get up at 5:30 in the morning, and leave their dormitory by 5:45 to gather
their books and assemble at the playground for running. After morning running, students of
every class must go upstairs for morning reading. At 6:38 am, more than 80 students rush
out of the classroom in just a second, because they want to eat breakfast before having to
get back for morning self-study by 7 am. If they are late, say by being caught in the hallway
13.2 Structural Optimization and Incentives Mechanism 233

for five minutes, queuing for five minutes, and spending seven minutes getting to the dining
hall and getting back, they would only have three minutes for breakfast at most. (Sohu,

This extreme quantitative management has aroused heated debate in the aca-
demic circle and in society. However, we cannot deny that this kind of management
system is efficient, and has, to some extent, “considered the reasonable time allo-
cation and students’ tolerance,” (Wang and Wang 2015, p. 9), and it has also
enabled students in underdeveloped areas to achieve social mobility by way of the
Mr. Cui, a principal in Liaocheng, Shandong province, guarantees education
reform by establishing and implementing institutions. At first his groundbreaking
curriculum teaching model was challenged. The success of the reforms and the
school depend on the determination and courage of the principal.
He established a series of corresponding teaching and management institutes. In
order to apply his model to school management, he expressed his determination for
reform and gave an administrative order for implementation.
A three-lesson mechanism was built, involving demonstration lessons by school
leaders, lessons by all the teachers being inspected, and follow-up lessons by
problematic teachers. Leaders are required to set an example in promoting the new
educational institute. The overall educational quality and the teaching quality of
problematic teachers are of great concern.
A mechanism of “one talk, two warnings and three suspensions” is practiced for
monthly teaching inspections. A talk is arranged for teachers who fail to reach the
appropriate standard the first time; a public warning is given to teachers who fail
twice; and teachers who fail thrice will stop teaching for a week and will be under
one-on-one supervision by specialists.
A mechanism for cooperation and reflection is established to guide the teachers
to explore and accept new teaching concepts (Cui, Qiu, & Xie).

13.2.3 Reform Curriculums and Pedagogy

Curriculum design and classroom teaching are the cores of school development.
They are also the key issues that principals should focus on to achieve innovative
Many explorations have been carried out to enhance the links between cur-
riculum and classroom teaching. Curriculum design integrates the courses required
at the national level and the ones at local levels so that the students can get access to
diverse and individualized courses across disciplines. Classroom teaching is
student-oriented, giving more space and freedom to develop their creativity.
Teamwork is adopted for cooperative learning, exploration learning and flipped
classes. The practices set up by Principal Li and Principal Cui have set a good
example in China’s educational circle.
234 13 The Innovative Leadership of China’s …

Principal Li pointed out that “curriculum reform is the key to school transfor-
mation, and in some senses, determines the fundamental changes in school man-
agement” (Li 2014, p. 32). In his case, the curriculum reform led to comprehensive
transformation of the whole school.
In his case, Principal Li realized the gap between the national curriculum and the
needs for the students’ individual development. The reform on the curriculum for
senior middle school education since 2004 had not solved the problems caused by
this gap. Principal Li started to integrate the existing courses and “formed a set of
systematic curricula and realized localization of the national courses” (Li 2014,
p. 36). The main strategies adopted in his practice are as follows:
(1) Based on the needs of the students and the characteristics of subjects, the
restructuring of the curriculum reduces compulsory courses and adds selective
courses. The new curriculum is built through stratification, classification,
integration and specialization (see Table 13.1).
This system is diverse and selective, including 265 courses in nine fields.
• Courses for stratification: Based on individual differences in the study of math
and science, the courses are stratified into five layers;
• Courses for classification: For language subjects, the school provides not only
compulsory courses, but also selective courses for weak students and for
average students respectively. A second language course is also offered; For
humanities subjects, the school offers two types of courses for students who
need to sit the gaokao and those who do not; For technology and PE subjects, 14
and 22 modules are set up for students to choose from;
• Courses for integration: For art subjects, 24 modules are set up, breaking the
separation between music and art; a comprehensive curriculum system is built
which stresses both generalization and individuality. Thirty people-oriented
courses are offered in four fields, involving the themes of “ambition,” “honesty,”
“integrity” and “flexibility.” These courses are selective and assessed by a set of
evaluation mechanisms;
• Courses for specialization: The courses for classical learning stress individuality
and target students who have special skills, great potential, special gifts or an
excellent academic performance. Diversified assessment mechanisms and the

Table 13.1 Layering, categorized, comprehensive and specially required courses

Types Subjects
Courses for stratification Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology
Courses for classification Chinese, English, History, Geography, Politics, PE, Technology
Courses for integration Art, high-end science experiments, comprehensive practice,
traveling and learning
Courses for specialization Academy courses, special-aid courses, special sport
13.2 Structural Optimization and Incentives Mechanism 235

elastic length of learning are adopted. The courses for aiding target weak students
who need to do make up work for their regular learning (Li 2014, pp. 36–52).
(2) Practice learning periods of different lengths.
Aligned to the diverse and selective curriculum system, the 20-week semester, in
general, is divided into two long learning periods (9 weeks) and one short learning
period (2 weeks). For senior middle school education, the long learning periods
adopt collective learning of the common courses. The short learning period is
practiced more flexibly. Selective courses are offered to meet the needs of indi-
vidual students, either for doing make up work for regular learning, improving an
average academic performance or further expanding the advanced learning (Li
2014, p. 59).

(3) Fully implement the system of selective courses across classes.

Given the diversity of selective courses, the students are allowed to take courses in
other classes. This breaks the traditional teaching arrangement and enables the
students to be educated using combined teaching resources (Li 2014, pp. 64–72).
In addition, efforts have been made to elaborate on curriculum standards, build
diversified teaching resources and build up the IT-based course evaluation mech-
anism. The main aims are to stimulate thorough interactions between the teachers
and the students and to integrate the teaching resources into the learning
In Principal Li’s school, due to the diversified and premium educational
resources, a curriculum system of 265 courses have been established. In Principal
Cui’s school, he has adopted another method for successful curriculum reform.
In 1997, when he started to become the principal, the school was only a
marginalized rural school. After 8 years of reform and restructuring, it has become
a famous school nationally. The highlight of his educational reform was his rev-
olution in classroom teaching. The classroom observations had found that
teacher-oriented classroom teaching was inefficient and boring to the students.
Thus, in order to address this teaching problem, the principal decided to change
both the teaching and learning environment.
In 1999, he formulated the Evaluation Guidelines for Classroom Teaching. The
aim of this was to change classroom teaching from being teacher-oriented to being
student-oriented in that teaching time is limited and the students are given more
time for classroom activities and self-expression.
When a student told him, “we could teach better than the teachers,” Principal Cui suddenly
realized that he should not have sought a solution from the perspective of the teachers.
What really mattered was not the teachers’ lack of dedication, but their failure in motivating
the students.The situation was such that it was difficult to change the fact that the quality of
the teachers wasn’t very high. Moreover, the teachers’ role exceeded their limits, while the
students were not given any chances to be active and tap into their potential. The only
remedy was to go for a reform which would enable the students to be predominant and thus
productive during classroom teaching (Chen 2011, pp. 226–227).
236 13 The Innovative Leadership of China’s …

In 2000, Principal Cui launched the “10 + 35” model, which stated that in each
45-min class, less than 10 min were for the teacher to introduce knowledge. The
remaining 35 min were for automatic learning by the students.
The purpose was to stimulate the students’ interest in study, improve their
overall quality and build up their confidence.
This innovative educational reform on classroom teaching had successfully
transformed the school. The main reason for this was that it focused on solving the
specific educational problems and practiced the educational ideology of “being
original, innovative and localized.”
This educational ideology was coincidently aligned with educational develop-
ment across the globe. The traditional methods of classroom teaching, which was
teacher-oriented by cramming in teaching and undermining classroom practices,
were given up. A “3-3-6” model for automatic learning was adopted, which could
engage the students in diversified classroom activities.
In the application of this model to classroom teaching, group cooperation as the
main organizational form had three features: being multidimensional, quantitative
and highly efficient. Three learning modules for classroom teaching were built, i.e.,
previewing, presentation and feedback. Six learning phases were practiced, i.e.,
preview/discussion, identification of learning goals, group cooperation, presentation
for improvement, consolidation through practices, and assessment of performance.
• Preview/discussion (5 min) and identification of learning goals (2 min): First,
students exchange their previews with each other. Then, the teachers organize
curriculum-based classroom discussions to make the learning goals of the lesson
explicit. Such discussions could help to generate new learning goals;
• Group cooperation (8 min): the teacher orally assigns learning tasks to study
groups, usually one task per group. After completion of the given task, each group
furthers their automatic learning by working out the best solution to the task;
• Presentation for improvement (15–18 min): Each study group presents the result
of their group discussion on the given learning task;
• Consolidation through practices (5 min): Each group summarizes their own
presentation performance, learns from other groups and generates better solu-
tions; these activities enrich the content of classroom teaching;
• Assessment of performance (5 min): The assessment of performance aims at
evaluating the scheduled learning objectives and focuses on helping weak students
to do make up work for regular learning (Cui et al. 2011; Cui and Xie 2009).
The classroom environment had also changed. A classroom for teaching had
become one of learning. A total of six blackboards were set inside and outside of
classrooms to be used by the students for discussions and presentations. The tea-
cher’s platform was removed to break away the barriers between the teacher and the
students for equal discussion and joint growth. The seats were arranged based on
the group unit, so that all the group members can sit around facing each other.
There are usually six to eight students in one group. All the students feel free to
form their own groups and to express themselves during classroom learning.
13.2 Structural Optimization and Incentives Mechanism 237

These external changes in the classroom environment had reflected the inner
transformation in the educational ideology on the roles of teachers and students. It
was believed that efforts should be made to “believe in the students, rely on the
students, free the students and help the students to grow.” Based on these
achievements on classroom teaching/learning, the school furthered its exploration
on assessment standards for classroom teaching/learning and innovation for group
In the case study of Principal Cui, against the lack of premium educational
resources, Principal Cui worked out the “10 + 35” model for classroom teaching to
maximum the use of the existing educational resources for efficient and quality
teaching. In the case study of Principal Li, he fully exploited his rich premium
educational resources to stress the diversity and individuality of the curriculum
system to satisfy the specific needs of individual students. Both of these two
educational models stress student orientation from different perspectives, and have
had a far-reaching impact on China’s education.

13.2.4 Incentives for School Faculty

Among the important issues for school management, such as the organizational
structure, school institution and core educational tasks, the issue of incentives for
faculty is another major factor for the principals to give serious consideration to.
Chinese culture emphasizes harmony and professionalism. Therefore, principals
generally adopt emotion-based communication and career-development-driven
incentives to motivate the faculty. This is the case with Principal Chen.
In the past, we used salary and benefits to keep and motivate our teachers. Material
incentives, however, have their limitations. Once this practice is institutionalized and fails
to safeguard a proportionate increase, it will become a cause for the faculty to be dis-
couraged. Now, the spiritual or culture-oriented incentives have turned out to be more
efficient and motivate the faculty with vision, career development, sense of honor and
emotion. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)

Principal Zuo has adopted the stratification strategy for performance-based

Our faculty mainly consists of middle-aged and senior teachers whose educational ideol-
ogy, teaching competencies and understanding of the world are far from satisfaction. The
school cannot change or dismiss them. Therefore, the school reiterates that the young
teachers should be proactive; the senior teachers should complete their teaching tasks, and
that the young teachers should take the initiative during the school’ s educational reform
and thus gradually create an impact on the senior teachers. (personal communication,
January 6, 2016)

Principal Qian has his own method of incentives for the school faculty and
administrative staff. Her school mainly consists of young and middle-aged teachers
and middle-aged minor executives. Internships for administrative competencies are
238 13 The Innovative Leadership of China’s …

practiced in such a way that the young teachers with 5 years of working experience
are selected for a 2-year internship for administrative competencies. This compet-
itive mechanism has improved human resources management by efficiently moti-
vating the young teachers and pushing the middle-aged and senior teachers to work
In addition, a competent teacher is selected to work with one young teacher
during the internship for administrative competencies, assisting with the solution as
a personal think tank and allowing them to grow more mature in their career
Principal Zhang’s school is famous for quantitative management and incentives
for the students. With the school motto of “pursuit of excellence,” the blueprint for
personal development has been made explicit to the students, encouraging them to
shoulder the responsibilities of family and society.
The school has stressed self-assurance and self-motivation, asking students to
give themselves positive psychological hints through shouting out slogans and
putting up slogans. In this way, students have realized the value of their own class.
“Our educational ideology focuses on individual development, parental expecta-
tions and the nation’s destination.” (Ye 2015, p. 2) To strengthen the students’
sense of responsibility and mission and self-esteem, shouting out and putting up
slogans is the traditional method to energize the students in the pursuit of their study
goals. (Wang and Wang 2015, p. 9)
Under the restrictions of society, national educational policies and the existing
educational institution, principals need to base school management on Chinese
culture, stressing the dialectical balance in management.
On one hand, principals are expected to appropriately tackle the complex rela-
tionships in the school and society, the implementation of educational tasks, sta-
bility and innovation in the social development, practice and publicity. On the other
hand, they need to seek opportunities for growth and breakthroughs.
Excellent principals are expected to have a very strong sense of responsibility,
cognitive competence, cultural awareness and innovative spirit. They need to
understand that the ultimate purpose of innovation is to solve specific educational
problems and address the distinctive development of the local schools.
In this chapter, we have presented the innovative leadership of excellent prin-
cipals. We pay tribute to them as pioneers in educational reform. We are also
looking forward to them surpassing these achievements for China’s future


Chen, H. (2011). 名校与名校长的诞生: 中国近代 “校长群落” 研究 [Birth of famous schools

and their principals: Research on modern Chinese “group of principals”]. 上海, 中国: 华东
师范大学出版社 [Shanghai, China: East China Normal University Press].
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Dulangkou High School]. 北京, 中国: 首都师范大学出版社 [Beijing, China: Capital Normal
University Press].
Cui, Q. S. & Xie, J. G. (2009). 走进杜郎口自主学习教学模式 [About the teaching mode of
independent study in Dulangkou High School]. 北京, 中国: 中国林业出版社 [Beijing, China:
China Forestry Publishing House].
Li, X. G. (2014). 学校转型: 北京十一学校创新育人模式的探索 [School transformation:
Exploration of innovating the educational mode in Beijing National Day School]. 北京, 中国:
教育科学出版社 [Beijing, China: Educational Science Publishing House].
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military management in Hengshui School: 3 minutes for defecating and 1 minute for
urination]. Retrieved July 14, 2016, from n411608531.shtml.
Wang, J., & Wang, Y. (2015). 衡水中学教育模式值得深思 [The education mode of Hengshui
High School deserves our attention]. 中国教育学刊 [Journal of Chinese Society of Education],
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Zhao, Z. H. (2015). 小学优秀校长行动逻辑研究: 以T小学C校长为例 [Research on the logic of
actions of outstanding primary school principals: Take principal C of T primary school as an
example]. 北京, 中国: 北京师范大学出版社 [Beijing, China: Beijing Normal University
Part V
School Organization in China

Schools were called “xiao,” “xu,” and “xiang” in Xia dynasty,

Yin dynasty, and Zhou dynasty, respectively. Despite the
different names, what they taught was the same, that is,
understanding of human relationships.
“Teng Wen Gong, Part I,” Mencius

It has been the fine tradition of the Chinese nation to attach great importance to the
development of school education over the past 3000 years and more. The concept
of school first originated in the Xia dynasty (2146BCE–1675 BCE).

1. Management and Types of School Organization

in China

Most scholars in China distinguish between educational administration which is

done by government, and school management which is done by the schools
themselves. The school may have different internal organizational structures, such
as linear organization, functional organization, linear-functional organization,
committee-type organization and matrix organization. The linear structure is most
suitable for small schools, where there is no independent functional department, and
the principal directly leads the entire faculty. For relatively bigger schools, the
functional structure is adopted where the principal directly leads all the functional
departments. The matrix structure is mainly adopted for large schools due to the
prominent and complex vertical and horizontal differences in their institutional
At present, the principal responsibility system is practiced in most Chinese
elementary and middle schools where faculty trade unions are set up to enable the
faculty to take part in school management. School administration committee
meetings are held regularly to study the key issues with school development.
Functional management departments including the student affairs office, the
teaching affairs office, office of teaching and scientific research, office of general
services, and headmaster’s office are set up with the principal as the core of
242 Part V: School Organization in China

leadership to implement decisions. Departments at each level work together for the
daily management of the school.
Based on the existing educational management system and scope of work, the
school system in China can generally be divided into four parts, namely schools of
basic education, vocational schools, general institutions of higher learning, and
schools of adult education.

2. New Development Trend of Schools in China

Since the rural school restructuring in the 1990s, rural schools in China have
gradually been on the decline while the scale of urban schools has been expanding,
resulting in many “mega schools.” In some cases, a key senior middle school runs
about 30–60 classes, with 3000–5000 and even 10,000 students.
Generally speaking, at least the following six elements have contributed to this
First, increasing financial pressure for governments at the county level and
below. Since the mid-1990s, with the abolishment of extra charges for rural edu-
cation and fund-raising for running school, the fiscal revenue of county-level and
town-level governments has been on the decline, leading to the merger of rural
primary and middle schools to relieve financial pressure (Wan and Bai 2010).
Second, imbalanced rural–urban educational development. The obvious urban–
rural duality in China has led to imbalances in rural–urban educational development
with generally poor teaching hardware and teaching quality in rural schools. The
issue of educational fairness has drawn extensive attention.
Third, shrinking school-age population in rural areas. Since reform and opening
up began, China has promoted economic development with an increasingly higher
urbanization rate. Many rural laborers have moved to urban areas, and the fertility
rate in rural areas has significantly dropped, resulting in a shortage of school-age
children to fill primary and middle schools.
Fourth, public demands for high-quality educational resources. With social and
economic development, schools in China have grown “from scale expansion to
quality improvement” to meet pressing social demands.
Fifth, government policies have made “giant schools” legitimate (Zhang 2007).
The policy documents issued by the Ministry of Education have set “the expansion
of enrollment and educational scale for senior middle schools” as an initial target.
For example, the Decision of CPC Central Committee and the State Council on
Deepening Educational Reform and Comprehensively Improving Education for
Students’ All-round Development in 1999 proposed to expand the educational scale
of senior middle schools. The Decision of the State Council on the Reform and
Development of Basic Education in 2001 set the target of enrollment rate for senior
middle schools at 60% during the 10th five-year plan period. To reach this goal, the
State Council decided to “give full play to the potential of existing schools and
encourage the separation of junior middle schools from senior middle schools and
Part V: School Organization in China 243

expand the scale of senior middle schools.” Later, a number of “giant schools” were
set up by the local governments with scales far surpassing the national standard.
Sixth, prestigious schools can grab more economic benefits and resources. After
expanding the scale, prestigious schools can charge an alarmingly high amount of
various fees including school choice fees and sponsorship fees. This tremendous
economic benefit has accelerated the formation and development of “giant schools.”
The “giant school” phenomenon has, to a certain extent, improved the distri-
bution of educational resources, school-running condition, and teaching environ-
ment for rural areas and played a positive role in promoting the quality of
compulsory education. However, the ensuing problems deserve our attention. This
part mainly studies the methods, approaches, and experiences of the improvement
of school organization in China.


Wan, M. G., & Bai, L. (2010). “规模效益”抑或“公平正义”: 农村学校布局调整中“巨型学校”

现象思考 [“Scale Benefit” or “Justice and Equity”: Reflection on the giant school
Phenomenon in adjusting the layout of rural schools]. 教育研究 [Educational Research], 4,
Zhang, X. P. (2007). 巨型学校的成因, 问题及治理 [On the reasons, problems and governance of
giant schools]. 教育发展研究 [Research in Educational Development], 1A, 5–11.
Chapter 14
High Quality Schools in China:
Demonstration Senior Middle Schools

In the early years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese
government proposed to build up a number of “key schools” with the pooling of
resources in order to cultivate more talents at a faster speed. In June 1953, the MOE
held the second national work conference on education in Beijing with the intro-
duction of the Opinions on Setting up Some Key Middle Schools and Normal
Schools, which was the first policy document on key schools. In 1978, the MOE
introduced a Trial Scheme on Setting up Key Primary and Middle Schools, which
highlighted the importance of promoting educational quality and facilitating talent
cultivation. Key schools then embraced an era of fast development.
During this period, China built up a number of key middle schools with con-
centrated resources, which turned out many talents and made a great contribution to
China’s economic development. In addition, key middle schools acted as pioneers
for exploring new ideas and models of education. But with unbalanced distribution
of resources, key schools were developed at the cost of other schools. Key schools
paid excessive attention to academic performance, which was detrimental to stu-
dents’ overall development. Therefore, the “key school” policy was gradually
replaced by a “demonstration senior middle school” policy.

14.1 Introduction of the “Demonstration Senior

Middle School” Policy

In 1995, the State Education Commission of China released two documents,

namely Notice on the Assessment of 1,000 Demonstration Senior Middle Schools
(hereinafter referred to as the Notice) and Standard on the Assessment of
Demonstration Senior Middle Schools (For Trial Implementation) (hereinafter
referred to as the Standard). The Notice, while recognizing the positive results of

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 245
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_14
246 14 High Quality Schools in China …

strengthening key schools since 1980, explains the goal and procedures of selecting
“demonstration senior middle schools.” The Standard, on the other hand, lists the
“eligibility conditions for the selection of demonstration senior middle schools” in

14.1.1 Goal of the “Demonstration Senior Middle School”


According to the Notice, demonstration senior middle schools are expected to

facilitate talent cultivation, promote the development of middle school education
and enhance national educational quality. This means that governments and edu-
cational administration departments at each level were tasked with increasing inputs
and deepening educational reform to enable demonstration senior middle schools to
play their due role in enhancing education quality (State Education Commission
1995a). In addition, it was stated that,
The demonstration senior middle schools selected by the State Education Commission
should fully follow the educational policies, laws and regulations. They should strengthen
the moral education and initiate the educational and teaching reform. They should have
sound school management and enjoy a good reputation in and out of the province (au-
tonomous region or municipality) in terms of teacher quality and students’ all-round
development. (State Education Commission 1995a)

As we can see, the selection of demonstrational middle schools has highlighted

their cutting edge approach to the philosophy of teaching, improving the learning
environment and developing faculty strength. The training of students should aim at
all-round development, rather than just academic results. In addition, demonstration
senior middle schools were encouraged to develop their distinctive features.

14.1.2 Selection Standards for Demonstration Senior

Middle Schools

The Standard offers guidelines for selecting demonstration senior middle schools,
allowing adjustments at the local level. It prescribes assessment in terms of policy
compliance, academic performance, education philosophy, moral education,
teaching reform, teacher quality, all-round student development and school hard-
ware, among other aspects.
14.1 Introduction of the “Demonstration Senior Middle School” Policy 247 All-Round Student Development in Morality, Intellect,

Physical Fitness, Aesthetics, and Labor

Unlike the standards set for previous “key middle schools,” academic performance
was no longer taken as the most important standard for the selection of demon-
stration senior middle schools. Instead, whether the school could offer students
all-round education became very important. According to the Standard, moral
education should be integrated into the teaching of all disciplines and all school
work, and should yield significant results. In terms of physical education, schools
should actively organize various sports activities to ensure the physical fitness of
students and control the incidence of nearsightedness. In terms of art education,
schools should be equipped with dedicated equipment and classrooms for art
teaching and be encouraged to organize various artistic activities to train students’
abilities in artistic appreciation and expression. As for labor education, schools
should offer labor skill courses and be equipped with corresponding teaching
materials, teachers and classrooms. Detailed Requirements on Campus Development

The State Education Commission made very detailed requirements for the selection
standards of demonstration senior middle schools, including campus space, number
of classes, and number of students per class. For instance, the campus space of
urban schools should be no less than 25 m2 per student while that of rural schools
should be no less than 30 m2 per student. The sports fields, facilities and instru-
ments should be proportional to the school’s scale. There were even detailed
requirements laid out on the number of seats in reading rooms and collections of
books in school libraries. The number of seats in teachers’ reference room and
students’ reading room should be no less than 40% and 20% of the total number of
teachers and students respectively. The collection of books should be more than 50
volumes per student with over 150 types of newspapers and more than 300 types of
reference books and teaching reference books (State Education Commission
1995b). These detailed and comprehensive requirements have improved the hard-
ware conditions of schools and provided a more comfortable learning environment
for students. Strict Supervision and Management Mechanism

To standardize the development of demonstrational middle schools, strict super-

vision and control have been exercised. According to the Notice, there is no
“lifelong guarantee” for the status of a demonstrational middle school. Schools with
serious problems will lose their title.
In response to the Standard, corresponding rules were released at local level to
strengthen the supervision and control over demonstration senior middle schools.
248 14 High Quality Schools in China …

For example, according to the new rules in Hunan province, each of the demon-
stration senior middle schools within the province should be assessed each year
online, instead of every 6 years as required in the old rules. In addition, on-the-spot
assessment should be carried out in selected schools to ensure the reputation of
“demonstration senior middle schools.” Promotion of Balanced Distribution of Educational Resources

Demonstration senior middle schools should be used to narrow, rather than widen,
the gap in unfair distribution of educational resources. For example, the Education
Commission of Beijing requires the distribution of part of the enrollment quota of
demonstration senior middle schools to lower-quality junior middle schools, which
enables more average students to get access to excellent demonstration schools. Playing a “Demonstrative” Role

Demonstration schools are meant to lead, inspire and help other schools. According
to the Standard, demonstration schools are required to support other schools
through the provision of competent teachers, equipment and sites as well as the
establishment of partnership. In addition, demonstration schools should lead in
conceptual innovation and spread new ideas to other schools.

14.2 Motivations for Becoming a Demonstration Senior

Middle School

Let’s take ES Middle School (apseudonymous school) as an example to examine

the implementation of the demonstration senior middle school policy. In the past,
the school was by no means a top performer. But it responded to the policy with
great enthusiasm and finally became a demonstration senior middle school after 3
years of hard work. Since then, ES has stepped into a golden era of development.

14.2.1 Unprecedented Development Opportunities

ES embraced the initiation of the “demonstration senior middle schools” project

with great excitement. Since the school was not a key school, ES regarded the
14.2 Motivations for Becoming a Demonstration Senior Middle School 249

project as an excellent opportunity to prove itself and get recognition for its
improvement. During that period, to succeed in the selection was the common
aspiration for everyone in ES. ES took part in the annual selection for three con-
secutive years and school leaders felt that the bar was raised each year. To rise to
the challenge, the school increased its own standards and mobilized all of its
resources. According to the principal of ES, “it is just like bidding for the Olympic
During the application process, it was only too common for school leaders and
teachers to work overtime. They came to the school even on weekends to study
lessons, teaching materials and teaching plans. After making a teaching plan,
teachers would invite comments from their colleagues. Despite the tough process,
everyone was fully motivated and engaged without complaint.

14.2.2 Expectation for Recognition

Why was the school so motivated to become a demonstration senior middle school?
First, the school wanted to gain recognition with the title of “demonstration senior
middle school.” In the past, outstanding middle schools were almost synonymous
with those key schools at the district or city level. In fact, those schools were
selected to be “demonstration senior middle schools” in the first year. However, a
number of other schools had also achieved encouraging progress and hoped to win
social recognition. The ES principal said, “I hope all the teachers and faculty
members can be proud of our school.” Such recognition can effectively stimulate a
sense of belonging and honor.

14.2.3 Expectations for Additional Benefits

As for the school, the title of “demonstrational middle school” can bring additional
benefits. Since the title is granted by the government, it represents an official
recognition of education quality. In addition, a demonstration school is much more
attractive to outstanding students.
It is also believed that a demonstration school can enjoy some preferential
policies and get more financial support. According to the ES principal,
We assumed we could get more funding if our school became a demonstration one. If so,
there would be more funds for school development and teachers’ salaries could also go up a
little bit. We could even recruit more excellent teachers and ease our burden. This is another
motivation for our effort in this regard. (personal communication, December 15, 2015)
250 14 High Quality Schools in China …

14.3 Selection Process

According to the MOE standards, the selection process is very rigorous and sci-
entific. A school must experience various levels of screening in terms of its hard-
ware and software conditions. Moreover, the assessment is done by a team from
different perspectives over a long process to ensure the reputation of demonstra-
tional middle schools.

14.3.1 Process of Screening

The selection process for demonstration senior middle schools is strict and com-
plicated. Take Beijing as an example. The process begins with the application by a
school, followed by the self-assessment of the school and then several rounds of
review at district and municipal levels. ES applied for the title in 1999 since the
project of demonstration senior middle schools was first launched. It failed during
the first 2 years and finally succeeded in November 2003.
First, the application for demonstrational middle school status is based on the
free choice of the school. Schools ready to apply should first get approval from the
district’s Education Commission, as there is a certain restriction on the quota for
each district. In terms of the preparation, the principal should make a compre-
hensive report, including a description of the school’s educational philosophy and
profile. Then, the director of the Education Commission and sometimes even the
head and deputy head of the district government will visit the school to investigate
the hardware facilities, funding sources, organizational structure and faculty
strength. If, for instance, the campus area fails to meet the standard, the school
concerned might be advised to enlarge the campus area by setting up a branch
school. Some schools may not be fully equipped with the facilities and equipment
and the district government may grant support through some projects.
After ensuring the basic standards are met, a city-level investigation follows.
Investigators conduct an overall evaluation of the school via methods such as
questionnaires, classroom observations and interviews. The evaluation will check if
the actual situation of the school is consistent with the comprehensive report. The
government will have a detailed review of the school’s faculty and their education
background and teaching level. An expert team will observe lessons systematically
at the school and rate the school in an all-round way. The expert team will also
convene a meeting with the school leaders to know about the school’s philosophy
and core ideas so as to see if the school is qualified for the title. After
self-assessment and reviews at the district and city levels, the qualified schools may
be selected as demonstration senior middle schools.
14.3 Selection Process 251

After all the assessments, the school will receive a feedback report from the
Municipal Education Commission, which provides recommendations for
improvement. Therefore, the assessment is not only a process of selection, but more
importantly offers access to measures regarding school improvement.

14.3.2 Typical Problems

The typical problems identified in the assessment process include the following. Lack of Hardware Facilities

Detailed requirements are formulated for prospective demonstration senior middle

schools. According to Mr. Chen, principal of ES in Haidian district, Beijing,
At that time, our school had a quite good hardware environment, with a campus area of
about 80 mu (13 acres), which is quite big for an urban school. We have met all the
hardware requirements except for the lack of a gymnasium. (personal communication,
December 15, 2015)

To fill this gap, the local government promised to demolish some old residential
quarters to make space for the gymnasium. Such problems are quite common and
are hard to resolve for many schools. In this case, local governments will offer some
financial support. In this way, the hardware facilities can reach the standard and the
schools will be in a better shape. Backward Teaching Philosophy

To reach the standard, schools must refresh their teaching philosophy. At the time,
ES had a serious problem in this regard. Therefore, the school made improvements
by inviting experts to observe lessons. By shifting to a student-oriented approach,
the school enhanced classroom interaction. To address problems in classroom
teaching, the school conducted full-scale assessment of teaching activities and
organized lesson observations among teachers themselves as well as by school
leaders and external experts. Unqualified Teaching Staff

The quality of teachers was also a serious shortcoming of ES. In the 1980s, a large
number of teachers graduated from secondary normal schools and many even began
252 14 High Quality Schools in China …

teaching in the middle schools where they studied right after their graduation. To
meet the requirements, the school made some adjustments to its teaching staff.
Some teachers were arranged to pursue further studies while others were simply
transferred to non-teaching posts. In addition, the school also recruited some young
teachers with a sound educational background, including some graduate students.
Thanks to these hard efforts, the school finally reached the standard to become a
demonstration senior middle school.

14.4 Positive Influence

14.4.1 Improved Hardware Facilities

The improvement in hardware conditions is very obvious for schools during their
assessment. With detailed requirements for hardware facilities listed in the
Standard, schools are required to improve their hardware facilities in terms of
teaching buildings, playgrounds, laboratories and relevant instruments. Apart from
the school’s effort, the local government will also grant some necessary assistance.
For example, Haidian district of Beijing introduced a “Demonstration Senior
Middle School Construction Project,” which aimed to fully improve the hardware
facilities of various schools in the district.

14.4.2 Preferential Policy for Teachers

ES once envisioned preferential policies after its selection as a demonstration

school. However Principal Chen said, “There is no preferential policy for us. In
fact, most of the policies remain the same and there is no additional financial
support. The students’ tuitions are charged according to the original standard.” But
one change had a positive impact on the school, namely the percentage of teachers
with senior professional titles was higher than for ordinary middle schools. Primary
and middle school teachers in China are classified into five levels, namely
professor-level senior teachers, senior teachers, first-level teachers, second-level
teachers, and third-level teachers. At the same time, each school also has strict
restrictions on the percentage of professional titles at each level. So this policy can
provide teachers in demonstration senior middle schools with more opportunities
for higher professional titles, which is a great stimulus for teachers. According to
Principal Chen, “The preferential policy in teachers’ professional titles can improve
the overall quality of teachers in demonstration senior middle schools. This can
stabilize and incentivize our teachers’ team.”
14.4 Positive Influence 253

14.4.3 Improved Source of Students

Becoming a demonstration school had a direct impact on student enrollment. Since

the provincial or city-level unified senior middle school entrance examinations,
students have had the opportunity to choose the school where they want to study
and naturally turn their eye to demonstration schools. This certainly results in better
student quality.

14.4.4 Morale Enhancement

In a demonstration school, teachers feel confident and tend to set higher standards
for themselves. Meanwhile, they face strong competitive pressure from other
demonstration schools, especially traditionally outstanding schools. All of these
will contribute to a morale-enhancing environment.

14.4.5 Increased Sense of Happiness for Teachers

In spite of stronger pressure, teachers at a demonstration school are generally

happier about their work. As the principal of ES said, “Our teachers are not afraid of
hard work. They crave for recognition, which is a great source of satisfaction for
them.” Winning the title through hard work served that purpose exactly.

14.4.6 Support to Other Schools

An important task of a demonstration school is to play a “demonstrative” role and

provide support to schools in surrounding or even remote areas. The assistance
mainly comes in the form of teacher exchange. For instance, ES regularly assigns
experienced teachers to do demo teaching or share their experience of working at
target schools.
Moreover, ES also appoints teachers to work for partner schools in remote areas,
such as Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Qinghai provinces. Such educational
support can be viewed as a reallocation of educational resources and those
appointed teachers can disseminate more up-to-date teaching concepts by providing
training to and having exchanges with local teachers. For such supportive activities,
the demonstration school can receive government funding to cover related expen-
ses. If the government funding is not enough, the demonstration school will allocate
funding from its own source. As Principal Chen said, “We have been trying our best
254 14 High Quality Schools in China …

to help those schools, including the exchange of teachers. We will also explore new
models in the future to better play the role of demonstration school.”
The Chinese government pays great attention to the development of high quality
schools. The transition from key middle schools to demonstration senior middle
schools has shown however that the standards for judging a good school have
changed. It is fair to say that the demonstration school project has facilitated the
improvement of hardware facilities and school management, motivated teachers and
other staff members, and supported the development of weaker schools. Relevant
government policies have maximized the function of demonstrational middle
schools by promoting the fair distribution of educational resources. Therefore, the
policy of demonstration senior middle schools has played a significant role in
China’s school development.


State Education Commission. (1995a). 关于评估验收1000所左右示范性普通高级中学的通知

[Notice on the Assessment of 1,000 Demonstration Senior Middle Schools].
State Education Commission. (1995b). 示范性普通高级中学评估验收标准 (试行) [Standards
on the Assessment of Demonstration Senior Middle Schools] (For trial implementation).
Chapter 15
Conglomeration as an Organizational
Innovation in China’s School Education

Since the opening up and reform period began in the early 1980s, “key schools”
were gradually replaced by “demonstration senior middle schools,” which became a
policy in 1995. This has reflected a shift in national educational principles from
efficiency over justice to equal weight to efficiency and justice.
At the beginning of the 21st century, to promote high quality, just and balanced
development in basic education, reforms have been carried out in China. Among
them is the representative developmental model, i.e., conglomeration in the edu-
cation of the primary and middle schools.
In the following sections, the educational conglomeration in China will be
illustrated in terms of its background, targets, major innovative measures and

15.1 The Background: The Need of the Times

Educational conglomeration refers to innovative school management in China’s

basic education in which branch campuses of demonstration schools are built or
ordinary schools are merged in an effort to promote high quality, just, and balanced
development of education in the area.
The reform of educational conglomeration started in the developed coastal area
of Zhejiang province, marked by the establishment of Hangzhou Qiushi Education
Group in 2002. Now, educational conglomeration has been established in Beijing,
Chengdu and other cities.

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. and Higher Education Press 2017 255
M. Gu et al., Portraits of Chinese Schools, Perspectives on Rethinking
and Reforming Education, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-4011-5_15
256 15 Conglomeration as an Organizational Innovation …

15.1.1 The Social Need: A Lack of Premium Educational


Rapid economic growth has led to dramatic changes in education. Previously

China’s basic education positioned itself as popularizing education so as to assure
the right of education for every person. Through phases of reform, it has now
positioned itself as just and quality education so as to assure premium educational
resources for every person.
However, the scarcity and imbalance in premium educational resources have led
to increasing conflicts between demand and supply, affecting the fairness of China’s
basic education.
China has now realized nine-year compulsory education for all. With an
increasing demand for quality basic education, three transformations have taken
place, i.e., from standardized hardware construction to organic development, from
the enlargement of schools to the improvement of educational quality, from pri-
oritizing key schools to quality and balanced educational development.
China’s basic education has two strategic stages of development: First, let some
schools develop into high quality schools. Second, let these high quality schools
drive the development of low-performing schools.
Now China’s basic education has entered the second stage which has witnessed
increasing conflicts of demand over supply in local education. This has led to a
bottleneck in terms of quality, balanced and sustainable development of regional

15.1.2 Macro Policy: Balanced Development of China’s

Basic Education

In the Outline issued in 2010, it explicitly points out that in the context of
imbalanced educational development among regions, we should gradually provide
equal basic public education services to narrow regional gap and realize more
balanced regional development. Since balanced development is a strategic task of
compulsory education, a safeguard mechanism should be established and improved.
Regarding the school institution, with the principle of public welfare, the
stakeholders should be diversified with the guidance of the government, the
engagement of the society and the organization of the educational providers. There
are also diversified forms of school management.
Non-governmental sectors including businesses and companies should be
encouraged to run schools. Premium educational resources should be expanded for
higher yields of China’s education.
15.1 The Background: The Need of the Times 257

In 2010, the MOE launched Opinions on Implementing the Scientific Outlook on

Development and Further Promoting Balanced Development of Compulsory
Education, which explicitly pointed out the “promotion of balanced development of
compulsory education through quality education and organic development.”
In 2012, in the Opinion on Promoting Balanced Development of Compulsory
Education, the State Council pointed out that “to exploit the radiating effect of
quality schools, the school alliance is encouraged to be built for the model of
educational conglomeration and thus improve the overall educational quality in
In 2013, In the Opinion on Deepening the Comprehensive Educational Reform
in 2013, the Ministry of Education stressed the role of reform as “promoting the
quality, fair and dynamic development of China’s education.”
These national policies on educational reform have offered national guidance
and political conditions for deepened educational reform. They have clearly
answered the critical questions of, “What is the basic education reform about? In
which direction are we heading? How will the reform be carried out?”
The national policies on educational conglomeration in the reform of primary
and secondary schools have been taken as guidelines in Zhejiang, Beijing, Shanghai
and Chongqing.

15.1.3 Success Stories: Conglomeration in Vocational

and Basic Education

Since reform and opening up, educational conglomeration has been carried out in
vocational education, non-government funded education and public basic
In vocational education, conglomeration first started in China more than two
decades ago to promote cooperation between vocational education, industry and
enterprises. At first, conglomerates were co-established by industry, enterprises and
With the development of non-government funded education, conglomeration
was organized in two forms: (1) An organizer set up various schools within the
region or in different regions and managed them in the form of a group; (2) An
organizer set up schools in different stages and categories from preschool education
to higher education or from general education to vocational education and managed
them in the form of a group.
In the process of promoting balanced compulsory education, conglomeration
was practiced in some local areas. Now, educational conglomeration has entered a
new era in which it is adopted to promote the balanced development of basic
education and to ease the “school choice craze” (Tao 2014, p. 59). It thus can be
seen that educational conglomeration is feasible and applicable.
258 15 Conglomeration as an Organizational Innovation …

15.1.4 Practice and Exploration: Pilot Reform

in the Developed Regions Before National Promotion

In 2002, Zhejiang Qiushi Education Group, the first conglomeration in public

education, was established. Over more than 10 years, the Hangzhou model and the
Chengdu model have been developed.
More than 20 years’ of reform of educational conglomeration have resulted in
two basic rules: First, the practice and exploration of basic education serves as the
driving force. Second, such reform has mainly been made in the educationally and
economically developed regions.
To reduce polarization resulting in imbalanced development of regional edu-
cation, local governments have merged local famous schools with nearby weak
ones. This practice was first initiated in Hangzhou, China and proved successful.
This has shown that educational development is closely related to socioeco-
nomic development. Moreover, almost all the educational issues are related to
institutional issues in that the adjustment of the educational system is determined by
the administrative institution.
Especially at a time of social transition, a successful reform is one which can not
only break down the existing model but also offer a framework for reconstruction
(Shi and Wang 2006).

15.2 The Mission of Improving Regional Education

The purpose of conglomeration in basic education is to meet people’s demand for

high quality educational resources. Its core value is using demonstration schools to
improve the quality of weak schools and thus balance out a region’s education
To be more specific, such reform targets the quality, balance, and justice of basic
education development and the modern governance of regional education.

15.2.1 Promoting the Basic Education

Conglomeration in China’s basic education aims at addressing problems related to

school selection, arbitrary charges and imbalanced development in local areas.
School choice results from imbalanced premium educational resources. Parents
will try every means possible to enable their children to enter quality schools for
better education. School choice has had a negative impact on society, educational
order and families.
15.2 The Mission of Improving Regional Education 259

In the process of school choice, the phenomena of “privileged students”1 and

high school choice charges have arisen. These in fact reflect the trade of power and
money and undermine educational fairness. Moreover, educational corruption may
result from the inappropriate financial management of high charges for school
At the initial stage of China’s reform and opening up, due to a shortage of
premium educational resources, a batch of key schools were established to produce
talents more quickly. These key schools enjoyed premium educational resources
and contributed to China’s educational development.
In China, for historical reasons, urban superiority over rural status and elitism
have long affected parents’ selection of schools for their children. Although the
government advocates the principle of study at a nearby school, the phenomenon of
school selection and the related high charges has intensified.
To address such phenomena, as the staff at the Education Bureau of Haidian
district in Beijing suggested, “Conglomeration, in essence, aims at sharing more
premium educational qualities, efficient managerial competence, and school culture,
improving overall basic education for fair, quality and balanced development.”
Take the educational collectivization reform in Beijing as an example. In 2014,
Beijing initiated a comprehensive reform of basic education, addressing problems
including school choice and heavy study load. In the principle of growth in both
quantity and quality, efforts had been made to restructure and integrate existing
premium educational resources into a Beijing model (Beijing Education
Commission 2015).

15.2.2 Modern Governance of Regional Education

In addition to promoting balanced educational development, conglomeration also

aims at improving modern governance of regional education.
Modern governance of regional education is “a process in which the regional
education has developed from being power-centralized and government-oriented to
the engagement of diverse stakeholders and the cooperative administration” (Yang
2015, p. 131).
Modern governance of regional education serves as an important pathway to
basic education reform, while conglomeration adopts the model of using the
managerial experience of quality schools to strengthen weak schools. By means of

Privileged student refers to those students who get access to fine schools because their parents use
special social relations or background to exercise some “rules” and authority to issue “notes” for
their children’s access to satisfactory schools in the process of school choice in the field of basic
education in China. The result of the middle school entrance examination in a certain sense has
actually become the final battle of each family, which is unfair for students. Various items in the
middle school entrance examination such as the recommendation of excellent students are all
aimed at privileged students.
260 15 Conglomeration as an Organizational Innovation …

establishing school alliances in a region, local educational resources have been

integrated for better sharing. This practice has inputted “new elements” into edu-
cational governance and lays a good foundation for future follow-up work and
version upgrades (Yang 2014).

15.3 Organizational and Administrative Innovation

in Educational Conglomeration

The educational conglomeration highlights innovation in organization and admin-

istration. The following section illustrates practices and lessons in terms of orga-
nizational integration, administrative institution and operational mechanisms.

15.3.1 Organizational Innovation

In Beijing, as an example, educational conglomeration differs between district and

county levels in terms of regional distribution, array modes and phases of study. As
for regional distribution, members of some education groups are within the same
administrative district while others are in different administrative districts.
As for the array mode, some are established branch schools of famous schools
while others merge or join hands with low-performing schools.
As for the phases of study, some share resources in the same phase of studying
of famous and common schools while other middle schools work with primary
schools to offer all the phases of compulsory education.
Overall speaking, in the dimensions of phase of study and distribution, educa-
tional conglomeration could be classified into two types: one with the same phase
of study but in different regions; and the one with different phases of study in the
same region. The Educational Group with the Same Phase of Study

but in Different Regions

This mode of conglomeration shows features of “famous school + branch school,

famous school’s support for the weak school, merger of weak schools and famous
At the middle school stage, for example, Capital Normal University (hereinafter
referred to as CNU) Middle School Education Group covers five districts including
Haidian, Daxing and Mentougou districts and consists of nine member schools
including No. 1 Branch of CNU Middle School, Second Middle School Attached to
CNU, and Southern Daxing Campus of CNU Middle school.
15.3 Organizational and Administrative Innovation … 261

At the stage of primary school, the Beijing Primary School Education Group is
made up of five schools and one kindergarten. Among them are Hongshan Branch
School and Guangwai Branch School which are newly built schools. The Day
School2 department results from the merger of three primary schools, i.e.,
Beixiange Elementary School, Guangyijie Elementary School and Xibianmen
Elementary School. Tianningsi Campus results from a merger with the former
Tianningsi Elementary School. The Education Group with Different Phases of Study

in the Same Region

This mode of conglomeration mainly focuses on member schools located in the

same district. Efforts are made to break down the barriers among kindergarten,
primary school and/or middle school.
Take Xicheng district of Beijing as an example. Most education groups there
have adopted the mode of conglomeration by using famous schools to lead the
development of ordinary schools and share educational resources in the same
phases of study.

15.3.2 Administrative Innovation Mode of Governance

In the promotion of China’s compulsory education, to expand the sharing of pre-

mium educational resources on a large scale, efforts have been made to explore
innovative governance of regional education.
In the case of Beijing Primary and Middle School Education Group, a variety of
governance modes have been practiced, including a management committee,
director committee, council, council and trusteeship. In the process of conglom-
eration, communication and decision-making are carried out through conferences,
discussion, collective teaching and research and joint activities.
(1) The System of Management Committee. Beijing Shijia Primary School
Education Group has set up the management committee, including party sec-
retary, principal, and deputy principal of Shijia Primary School, and executive
principals of the merged schools.

Day school means that the school does not provide dormitories for students who have to go home
for accommodation each day after school. The opposite of day school is boarding school, which
means that the school provides dormitories for students who do not have to go home for board and
lodge. Beijing Elementary School Education Group sets up the boarding school and day school to
facilitate the management of different students based on the school’s situation.
262 15 Conglomeration as an Organizational Innovation …

Its function is to carry out discussions and decision-making, management and

coordination of the overall development of the education group.
(2) The Director Committee System. Beijing Primary School Education Group is
made up of five schools and one kindergarten across various districts.
All the branch schools have the same legal representative and their own
executive principals. The director committee is made up of the legal person of
the lead school and executive principals of branch schools, who will study the
development plans of the group together, decide on the operation system of the
group and ensure its normal operation.
(3) The Council System. The university-administration-school (U-A-S)
school-running system is adopted by Fengtai Experimental School Attached to
Beijing Institute of Education.
The principal responsibility system is practiced under the leadership of the
council. While serving as principals, these council members work together to
discuss official businesses and solve difficult problems. The council is led by
the Institute and the Educational Administration Department of Fengtai district
and is made up of principals and parent representatives.
(4) Trusteeship. The trusteeship is an institutional arrangement for mandatory
administration. In the spirit of legal contract, a trusteeship agreement is signed
between the core schools (a demonstrational middle school or a famous school)
and the ordinary schools for internship.
The core schools are entrusted for integrated management of the ordinary
schools’ affairs involving school administration, curriculum design, cultural
development, teaching and research. Major Measures of Systematic Innovation

(1) The Regional Institution for School Operation. For their own development and
historical and social responsibility, education groups have actively adopted the
mode of “famous school+,” i.e., based on the famous school, efforts are made to
set up branch schools, merger of the famous school with the private school,
merger of the famous school and the weak school.
The main purpose is to expand the sharing of premium educational resources
through brand value, advanced management, quality teaching staff and neces-
sary educational capital.
(2) Sharing of the Educational Resources. Educational conglomeration has acti-
vated educational resources. That is, the premium educational resources pos-
sessed by famous schools can then become social wealth shared by individuals,
especially parents and students.
As popularized and inexpensive educational resources for the public, these
premium educational resources are allocated to different students, schools and
regions to gradually realize maximum effect.
15.3 Organizational and Administrative Innovation … 263

(3) The Administrative Institution. To expand the sharing of educational resources,

the administrative institution of an education group has four characteristics:
First, flat management is adopted which has a large span of management, and
high management efficiency by means of fewer management hierarchies,
streamlining administration and institute decentralization, unified command,
and elimination of internal frictions.
Second, to carry out network-based management. Third, overall quality man-
agement. Each famous educational group has set up a series of management
standards and systems to achieve professional, modern, standard, and system-
atic internal management of the group. Fourth, evaluation and incentive
mechanisms. Fifth, the governance of the group should be integrated into the
system of school law. The school laws in China should provide a legal basis for
conglomeration among middle schools and primary schools as well as the
governance of the educational groups.

15.4 Three Main Characteristics of the Educational

Conglome—Ration Reform

The innovative conglomeration aims at quantitative and qualitative expansion,

innovative institution of governance and organizational integration. It focuses on
the supply side reform for providing premium educational resources. With attempts
to make breakthroughs by modern governance institution in regional education, it
has adopted diversified integration to fit the specific situations.

15.4.1 The Focus on the Supply of Premium Educational


Taking Beijing as an example, the New Map of Education in Beijing has shown that
all the districts and counties have given their top priority to the supply of high
quality education.
Measures have been taken to “increase the number of schools while activating
the existing schools.” To be more specific, on one hand, schools have been built,
renovated or expanded; on the other hand, weak schools are integrated into the
school management of famous universities for sharing resources. Many districts and
counties have directly set “offering quality enrolment” as an important measure of
264 15 Conglomeration as an Organizational Innovation …

15.4.2 Breakthroughs in the Institutional Modernization

of Regional Governance

The supply of premium educational resources relies on not only quantity but also on
quality. To assure the sustainable supply, a modernized educational governance
system and the governance competence are a key. In doing so, among the suppliers
of educational resources including government, school and society, it is necessary
to clarify responsibilities and rights and to stimulate innovation in the system of
educational governance.
To take Beijing as an example, breaking the restrictions of the original institution
releases vitality for school development. Beijing proposed that the government
could purchase the social service of education. This may mean changes to the roles
of the government, the market and the school. In other words, the government has
limited its original responsibility while the market has played a decisive role in
resource allocation. This has given more autonomy to the school in attracting more
social resources for maximum use and enabling both teachers and students to
choose from more premium educational resources.
In this context, public educational services should leverage the role of the market
to break down the traditional mindset for innovation and improvement of their
governance competence.

15.4.3 The Multi-integration Mode as a Pathway

In Beijing, the process of educational conglomeration has seen the city proactively
explore a multi-integration mode including three representative forms: trusteeship
by famous schools, branch schools by famous schools, and mergers by famous
First, trusteeship by famous schools. To break the administrative barriers in
regional education, a trusteeship agreement on jointly developing an education
group is signed between a famous school and an ordinary school with the super-
vision of their related authorities. It is agreed that the famous school is responsible
for the management of the ordinary school. The principal of the famous school
serves as the legal representative of the ordinary school and an executive principal
is appointed to the ordinary school for its daily management. This trusteeship
furthers the in-depth integration of the management system, the curriculum
resources and the teaching and research.
Second, branch schools by famous schools. As in Fengtai district and
Shijingshan district, branch schools take different forms: A famous school may be
invited to set up its own branch school. An urban school and a rural school may be
merged. A famous school may be invited to jointly develop a branch school.
15.4 Three Main Characteristics of the Educational … 265

This mode has become a quick solution for the rapidly expanded supply of
premium educational resources. It has played a vital role in the quick appreciation
of high quality resources.
Third, merger by famous schools. Famous schools merge with ordinary schools
to form a new educational group. Through integrating middle school and primary
school or integrating schools of the same type, a new mode of resource-sharing and
faculty collaboration is formed in the local region.

15.5 Case Study of Reform on Educational


Three cases of successful educational conglomeration will be presented in this

Among them are the Second Middle School Attached to CNU which has
achieved obvious progress in little more than one year through the trusteeship to an
educational group, Beijing Primary School Education Group, which has success-
fully expanded the supply of premium educational resources, and Beijing
No. 18 High School Education Group which has successfully integrated the primary
school education and the middle school education.

15.5.1 Case 1: The Trusteeship of Famous Schools

CNU Middle School Education Group is a compact education group which has one
school and nine campuses, covering four districts of Beijing.
The Middle School Attached to CNU is the lead school responsible for the nine
member schools, one of which is the Second Middle School Attached to CNU. In
the trusteeship, the principal of the lead school is the only legal representative of the
education group. An executive principal is appointed by the lead school to the
Second Middle School Attached to CNU for its daily management. History

Established in 1964, the Second Middle School Attached to CNU offers a six-year
education program in Beijing’s Haidian district. In March 2014, entrusted by the
Education Commission of Haidian, the school was taken in by CNU Middle School
Education Group with the principal of the group serving as its principal. The group
appointed one of its vice principals to serve as the executive principal. After offi-
cially becoming a member school of CNU Middle School Education Group, it
developed fast.
266 15 Conglomeration as an Organizational Innovation …

One year later, the school has gained a good momentum in integrity and
innovation. As a result, it has raised its social reputation and recognition. Dilemma

Before joining the education group, this school had a very poor reputation among
the parents in the local district. One parent joked to his child, “If you don’t study
well, you could only go to the Second Middle School Attached to CNU.”
This school was also confronted by a loss of school value. Serious problems
existed in school administration. Discrepancies and conflicts among executives had
created sluggishness and inefficiency in the administrative offices, resulting in
mistrust between the faculty and the administrative staff. The faculty lacked
enthusiasm for teaching. At 5 pm when students were dismissed from school, no
faculty members wanted to stay one more minute in the office.
The loss of school value among administrative staff and the faculty affected their
sense of responsibility for their own work and the social recognition and reputation
of this school, making educational conglomeration a feasible solution. Achievements

After over one year of educational collectivization reform, the Second Middle
School Attached to CNU has achieved gratifying achievements in terms of stu-
dents’ academic records, social reputation, learning behaviors of students and the
professional development of teachers.
(1) A Model in Educational Conglomeration in Haidian District. “Only a bit more
than one year after the reform, our school has developed rapidly and become a
model of educational conglomeration in Haidian District, even in Beijing,” said
the executive principal of Second Middle School Attached to CNU.
In the 2015 entrance examination to senior middle school and the 2015 gaokao,
this previously ordinary school performed amazingly well.
With unchanged student sources for the entrance examination to senior middle
school, the average score of this school has increased by 51.1 points compared with
2013. Its ranking in Haidian district has surpassed seven other schools.
In 2014, the admission threshold of the senior sector of this school was raised by
28 points, surpassing two schools of Haidian district. In 2015, this admission
threshold was raised by 10 points, surpassing one school.
In the 2015 gaokao, this school got its best record for over a decade. Among 185
candidates, the number of students getting over 600 points for the exam was twice
as many as the previous year. The admission rate for university reached 100%,
among which over 60% was for the first batch of universities and over 90% for the
second batch of universities.
15.5 Case Study of Reform on Educational Conglomeration 267

(2) Trust from the Parents. When speaking of changes of the school after it joined
the education group, one parent said,
Now I feel relieved to send my child to this school. My child is an introvert and doesn’t like
to communicate with others. When she studied here for a semester, the head teacher
appointed her to be the monitor. She then became more confident and cheerful. Her aca-
demic ranking has raised from somewhere near 20th right up to the top three in the class.
This school offers opportunities for cross-school. That is, good students will be dispatched
to the lead school of the educational group to study for three years. I’m very happy that my
child is studying here. (personal communication, December 30, 2015)

There have been dramatic changes in the views of the school from parents and
society. An increasing number of people have come to the school for the Open Day
or for consultation. As one head teacher Song said,
After the school joined the education group, people who live nearby are increasingly
concerned about our school. Now it has become difficult to enroll in our school. Previously
most of the students would be enrolled once they made the application, but since the reform
it has not been that easy. In the 2014 enrolment, parents lined up at the school gates since 7
am for consultation. In 2015, on the Open Day for Enrollment, nearly 1000 parents visited
the school for orientation and consultation. This has never happened in our school’s history.
(personal communication, December 30, 2015)

(3) Appreciation from the Partner School. In 2016, this school organized a New
Year Exchange Party for Partner Schools. The students of this school per-
formed a drama Red Crag on the basis of their textbook. Their performance
impressed a principal from the partner school, a renowned primary school in the
same district. “Today’s performance has totally changed my views of this
school. I never dreamed this school could make such a dramatic progress. Their
performance was so impressive.” (News report from the website of Second
Middle School Attached to CNU 2015)
(4) Appreciation from Students. Xiaohua just won first prize in the 2015 Beijing
Chemistry Competition of Middle School Students. He said,
I benefited a lot since my school joined the educational group. For example, this year when
I was preparing for that chemistry competition, I got the training opportunity at the lead
school. That really helped me to learn it. (personal communication, December 30, 2015)

Xiaohua is not the only one to benefit from the shared premium educational
resources of the education group. The cross-school student exchange is an inno-
vative practice in which students with excellent academic records at the grade level
will be exchanged to the lead school to study.3

As a famous school within the school district, the CNU Middle School is the core school of CNU
Middle School Education Group with high quality educational resources and high admission
scores. It is generally hard to get admitted by this school.
268 15 Conglomeration as an Organizational Innovation …

(5) Appreciation from the Faculty. One of the members of faculty Zhang said,
Ever since our school joined the educational group, the hardware and software have been
greatly renovated. We have built an auditorium. The school is becoming more and more
beautiful. Teachers of these two partner schools have opportunities for teacher exchange
and collaboration in teaching and research. We can get access to shared educational