ABSTRACT

China’s first post-Cultural Revolution generation came through school in a period of rapid social change. Reforms in the economy promoted increases in standards of living, reductions in poverty, and increases in community wealth available to support education. However, the same reforms brought new disparities. Income inequality grew substantially, particularly between the urban and coastal areas, on the one hand, and the rural interior areas, on the other. Within education, academic meritocracy was again being touted as the criterion for academic advancement, but the ability to pay increasingly served as an important element of children’s educational progress. Funding was decentralized, increasing the disparity of resources available to education (see Chapters 1 and 2 of this volume and Adams and Hannum 2005). Davis (1989: 581) characterized China’s educational structures in the late 1980s as “more fragmented, less egalitarian, and more stratified than (at any point) since the late 1950s.” The stratifying trend was also significant beyond the school system, as social disparities in the educational attainment of students passing through education in this period established the foundation for current and future economic inequalities.