Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 May 2010
Under China's market reforms of the past quarter century, the process of becoming educated has changed in dramatic ways. China's new wealth and new inequalities are part of the story. However, educational opportunities and attainment are also affected by changes in educational policy. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s, leaders have moved educational policies away from a radical socialist agenda. Three particularly important changes have occurred. First, reform-era educational policies have sought to improve quality to make schooling better serve the needs of the labor market, stimulate the economy, and promote China's global competitiveness. Second, reform-era educational policies have placed a new priority on efficient use of resources, including private resources, to support education. Third, reform-era educational policies display anew tolerance for disparities within the system in pursuit of quality and efficiency, but this trend has been tempered recently by significant efforts to guarantee basic access and quality in rural areas.
To illustrate these points, this chapter begins by outlining the state of education prior to market transition, under the radical educational policies of the Cultural Revolution. Next, we discuss key reform-era changes in the provision of education, including educational policy, finance, and quality. Finally, we consider the “outcomes” of these shifts, in the form of indicators of educational attainment, participation, and inequality.