Formal education has shaped Chinese tradition for some 2,000 years since civil service examinations tested the knowledge of candidates applying for bureaucratic positions. Laws governing how education was administered for a growing general public, however, did not come in effect until the 1980s. Broad in scope at first, these laws are being amended as China works to improve its education system on all levels and to collaborate with private and international institutions.
The People’s Republic of China 中华人民共和国 has the largest education system in the world, with 260 million students receiving kindergarten, elementary, secondary, and higher education as of 2010 (MOE 2011). Understanding the tradition and long history that shaped this vast system, as well as the set of laws that governs its provision in the twenty-first century, is essential to understanding China itself.