Education in Mao’s China

Advancement in China’s school system was highly competitive, and the odds of reaching the top of the educational ladder were very steep.  Of the 32.9 million children who entered primary school in 1965, only 9 percent could expect to enter junior high school.  Only 15 percent of junior high school entrants, in turn, could expect to graduate and enter high school.  Among the highly selected groups that graduated from academic high schools, only 36 percent could expect to enroll in a university.  Of those who entered primary school in 1965, only 1.3 percent could expect to attend an academic high school, and only one-half of 1 percent could expect to attend university.

Of course the Caplanian point is that China managed a lot of post-1979 economic growth with what was fundamentally a not very educated generation.

That excerpt is from Andrew G. Walder’s China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed, my previous post on this excellent book is here.


Why no comments yet on this important post?

The graduation rate reminds me of those ancient Chinese Confucian scholar tests where only 1 out of X thousand passed the first stage, then so on and on in subsequent stages until the final candidates were one in a million candidates. The Chinese chess system works the same way today: an army of chess players are windowed at each stage until only the finest compete internationally.

Because it is Friday night/ Saturday morning?

You are basically right though, the point is that failed candidates were even in the time of Confucius a major source of instability, and that was before exams were even invented.

@RoyL- thanks. Its Saturday afternoon here in the Philippines, sunny and hot! Food for thought: why are 'exams invented', and 'inventions invented' but scientific laws are 'discovered' (and you are not allowed to patent these laws, only applications of these laws)? Because there's an anti-intellectual property bias in society. A bias that retards society from advancing quickly to the next level. Instead, science proceeds 'exogenous' to an economy, Deus Ex Machina style, from Good Samaritan inventors (or 'discoverers' of existing laws--hahaha if you believe that fiction) who largely invent for nothing (e.g., pretty much every Nobel Prize in Science candidate, who typically is anti-IP and pretty much anti-money as well, no surprise there). I myself have a half dozen good ideas but I will not bother patenting them--patents are not easy to procure, even for me who is familiar with them, and their term of protection so limited that it's not worth the bother unless you are a corporation, who largely practices 'industrial design protection' and mostly does not patent fundamental research. That said, if I had a concrete realization of my ideas I would patent them, so I could sue competitors, but that's not the kind of patent protection that really advances society in a Great Leap Forward style. Even Mao might understand these points, though for obvious ideological reasons would not admit it, anymore than AlexT would. Most people don't believe inventing can be engineered, that's their a priori assumption.

There is actually a pretty decent literature on academic competition and the formation of Red Guard brigades. They are timed very closely to promotional examinations

One thing to keep in mind is that those statistics are national, for individuals the conditions of their own class were paramount. The main Red Guard formation was among students at elite middle schools in major urban areas, in satellite areas the entire conflict was just a down step replica, and so forth. In Beijing there was a much higher number of promoted students than in other places, even though the system was designed to have completely parallel academic hierarchies in each province, uneven development led to this

For example, what happened in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang, would be replicated in provincial cities but at a lower level, and then in small cities at a level below that, and in county towns below that. So Beida (Beijing) or Fudan (Shanghai) students would rise and then be imitated by local high schools, it would spread to Tianjin or around Shanghai, but there it would be more dominated by high school students, and then as it moved on to places like Shenyang and Nanjing, then out across the country to provincial capitals. As it spread it moved down the educational hierarchy. In many places the local Red Guards were functionally what would be called Jr High students.

what was the competition about? political power? comradeship?

Same as in capitalism: best jobs, go to the best (theoretically, of course... we know that is not quite like that both in EU/US and in China...), and given that a large % population was very poor, i can only imagine how intense this competition must have been....

In early 1960s China technical talent was in such short supply that a qualification guaranteed a leadership position, connections, who you knew, etc... were secondary, partly this was because after the failure of the Great Leap Forward but this had been the way of it since the completion of the earliest purges and the beginning of the First Five Year Plan. Of course bad political status could really hurt but that just prevented gaining the qualification, but until the cultural revolution technical qualification trumped by background.

This situation was the chief focus of the Cultural Revolution.

What a waste. There might have been a million research scientists in that lost generation.

"China managed a lot of post-1979 economic growth" starting from a very, very low base.
I'm sympathetic to immigration, but not open borders. Friedman had the last word on that.

"point is that China managed a lot of post-1979 economic growth with what was fundamentally a not very educated generation."

Rather the point is that government/public school "education" is highly over-rated.

The "market" education system is very overrated as well. Extremely. What means "educated"? There is no such thing.

There is a view that the educational system is highly resilient over the very long term due to long term cultural influences such as Confucianism. It is written about some in the early pages of the Dwight Perkins new book The Economic Transformation of China (World Scientific).

In the USSR all education, even in the hard sciences, included Marxist-Leninist dialectic. Perhaps such education in China would have been more harmful than helpful at managing growth, On the other hand, the primacy of engineers over lawyers in the top echelons of Chinese government helped.

Do you imagine that this population was much less capable than the hordes of diploma holders here?

Re Tyler comment: " Of course the Caplanian point is that China managed a lot of post-1979 economic growth with what was fundamentally a not very educated generation."

Really? The book says that China failed to industrialize during the period of Mao's rule. Agreed.

What Tyler misses is that after the opening up in the 80's, US, Tawinese and foreign companies transferred technology, transferred managers and built factories in China.

What Tyler's statement ASSUMES is that the mix of talent in both periods was the same, when in fact after the opening up, it was a different mix of talent, supplemented by foreign talent.

Manufacturing as a percentage of GDP in China peaked in 1978. As a percentage of employment, in 1995.

Well, if you have inefficient steel mills, and a small GDP, you can say anything with percentages, can't you. What was the GDP in 1978? As to the manufacturing percentages, depends also what you consider three guys tying rope to make hemp rope manufacturing, when there is a machine which does the same thing without using human beings? Which is more advanced...the three person operation or the machine operation. Which has more employment as a percent of total employment?

Actually China industrialized sporadically over the 20th century and during the Maoist boom periods. Not to the level of the west, but better than any other time in their history.

That is the paradox of Asiatic Communism. It wanted to bring modernism and mass production to Asia, but also return the classic traditionalist Asian societal structure which had become unhinged from liberalism. This paradox was not lost on capitalists who knew they could get a nice long profit baring fight in Vietnam thus they "invent" South Vietnam and trigger a hot war with the Gulf of Tonkin incident against a general 'conservative' peasantry.

You can always employ more people if you do not modernize to world standards. Peasantry employs many people, as does employment in an inefficient steel mill.

And that doesn't include the 31 steps to the top of the communist party...

Maoism like all Asiatic Communism was very anti-modernist/conservative in nature and product. Education was not considered necessary for the masses as a whole.

Education is a modernist and liberal theology. The fantasy of turning the common peasant into the Weishaupt-ian superman.

I was awed by a 9 yo Chinese boy who can serially solved in front of audience 8 rubic cubes while blindfolded.

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