The large amount of memorization required of students in China has been a point of controversy on and off for the past century. The structural importance of testing in the education system, the number of characters that must be memorized to write Chinese, a moral culture that emphasizes the emulation of models from the past (including the memorization of sayings (chengyü) and poems), and a political system that is more comfortable with students regurgitating pre-approved statements than questioning have all been described as reasons behind this over-reliance on memorization.
During the 1990s, educational reformers again focused their critical attention on the pitfalls of too much memorization. They argued that it stifled students’ capacities for creativity and self-organization, and lamented that China would inevitably fall behind other nations economically if reforms were not implemented. Embracing parts of this critique, in 1999 the State Council announced that ‘quality education’ principles (suzhi jiaoyu, sometimes also translated as ‘competence education’) should serve as guides for all levels of education in the twenty-first century.
How these principles will change the place of memorization in Chinese education remains to be seen.
Kipnis, A. (2001). ‘The Disturbing Educational Discipline of “Peasants”’. The China Journal 46:1–24.
Unger, J. (1982). Education Under Mao: Class and Competition in Canton Schools, 1960–1980. New York: Columbia University Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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