Handbook on Class and Social Stratification in China
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Handbook on Class and Social Stratification in China

Edited by Yingjie Guo

This comprehensive, interdisciplinary Handbook illustrates the patterns of class transformation in China since 1949, situating them in their historical context. Presenting detailed case studies of social stratification and class formation in a wide range of settings, the expert contributors provide valuable insights into multiple aspects of China’s economy, polity and society. The Handbook on Class and Social Stratification in China explores largely neglected contemporary topics such as women’s social mobility in relation to marriage and the high school entrance exam as a class sorter, placing it at the forefront of progressive literature.
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Chapter 8: Education, social stratification and class in China

Liang Du


The role of education in social stratification is probably more salient in China historically than in any other major countries. It is well known that China’s civil service examination was one of the most important social institutions for centuries, and that the examination system, which powerfully shaped education in dynastic China since its establishment in the sixth century, played a prominent role in social mobility and stratification in late imperial China (Ho 1962; Elman 2000; Zong and Wu 2007). While scholars emphasize the degree of social mobility that such an examination system permitted in a pre-modern China, it is also noted that ‘classical examinations were an effective intellectual, social, and political construction that met the needs of the state bureaucracy while simultaneously supporting late imperial class structure’ (Elman 1991: 9). Furthermore, the examination is widely regarded as a major factor that contributes to an age-old tradition in Chinese societies of strong motivation and aspiration towards education. In contemporary China, education continues to play a significant role in social stratification, as is the case in other modern societies. However, certain characteristics of the educational system in China mean that the ways in which education is related to social stratification in China might be distinct from those in many other societies. One of its distinctive characteristics is the extent to which the educational institutions are themselves stratified. Most of the Chinese institutions of primary, secondary and higher education are publicly funded.

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