Education in China

By Yifu Dong

When I write about education, be it the few times I wrote for The New York Times Chinese website or the random fragments saved on my laptop, I often vow to never write about education again. Writing, or simply thinking, about education is a somewhat painful experience, for education seems to be at the heart of the desperation of Chinese society today. Amid the growing anxieties and insecurities among the people, education, supposedly a beacon of hope, has not lived up to its promise.

Despite the helplessness that frequently sweeps over me, I pick up the subject simply because it is too important to be ignored. I often feel that people must start conversations on this topic as the first step to confronting the crisis in education. Although education is such a hot topic today and we are bombarded with stories and reports on the subject, we sometimes have trouble understanding and interpreting what we see and hear.

I hope to explore the problems in the education system by analyzing everyday occurrences. For this, we need specialized knowledge in subjects such as psychology and sociology, but more importantly, I believe, we need sound reasoning and common sense.

In my series of blogs, I will discuss Chinese education, as well as the comparison between Chinese and American education. I will base my perspective on my experience: I spent 11 out of 12 years of pre-college education in Beijing, with the exception of my 6th grade year, when I studied in Cambridge, MA.

Because the education system is an integral part of Chinese society, analyzing education involves dissecting multiple aspects. First and foremost, politics play a crucial role in determining the nature of the education system, for it has the ultimate potential to improve the system and benefit the people. Second, the individuals—students, parents and teachers—are worth talking about. Their mentalities and behaviors shape the environment and influence the outcome of education. Also important are the subjects offered in schools, as well as how students learn, how teachers teach and how parents worry. Another pressing concern is the inequality in Chinese education, including the inequality between urban schools and, above all, the wide urban-rural divide.

A Chinese School: Courtesy of Yifu Dong
A Chinese School: Courtesy of Yifu Dong

Unfortunately, all these issues face severe challenges at the moment, but I don’t think anyone should ever claim to have ready solutions for these complex problems. Nonetheless, I hope to start asking the right questions about pressing concerns such as rote learning and inequality.

Education is part of the foundation of every society. When the education system falters, it can have immeasurable consequences; and so we invest the most hope in education. This is perhaps why after thinking of throwing in the towel so many times, I will devote a series of my writing to this subject.

Yifu Dong ’17 is in Branford College. Contact him at