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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Educating Competitive Students for a Competitive Nation: Why and How Has the Chinese Discourse of Competition in Education Rapidly Changed Within Three Decades?

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In the late 1980s, the Chinese government instituted massive educational reforms to promote competition between schools and between students. By the late 1990s, however, educational reforms shifted to regulating and reducing competition in primary and secondary education. Why did a rapid policy swing occur? What was the rationale for the policy change? This article examines the Chinese discourse of competition in education by presenting a textual analysis of 101 commentary articles published by Chinese educators between 1986 and 2014. It reports two different views of competition among Chinese educators, one of which strongly prevailed throughout the 28 years. It also documents historical change in the authors’ perceptions of competition: in the late 1980s, as a powerful solution to the educational and social problems facing China, and, by the late 1990s, as a major educational problem itself.

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