V. The Right of Citizens to Education

China has put forward the principle of invigorating the nation by relying on science and education, making the best use of its limited financial resources to provide Chinese citizens as much as possible with a steadily increased right to education. An educational system based on a basically rational structure and with a quite complete range of subjects has initially taken shape. Under this system, basic education, vocational education, adult education and higher education are interconnected and developing in a coordinated way. By 1994 the country had altogether 683,000 primary schools with 128.2 million pupils, an increase of 4.7 percent over the 1990 figure; 82,000 regular middle schools with 49.817 million students, an 8.6 percent increase over the 1990 figure; 1,080 universities and colleges with 2.799 million students, a 35.7 percent increase over the 1990 figure; 1,172 schools of higher learning for adults with 2.352 million students, an increase of 41.1 percent over the 1990 figure; 18,700 secondary vocational schools of various grades and types with 9.125 million students, a 39.8 percent increase over the 1990 figure.

To better protect citizens' right to receiving an education, China in recent years has formulated and put into effect the Law on Compulsory Education, Regulations for the Work of Eliminating Illiteracy, Regulations of Education for the Disabled and other educational regulations. In March 1995 the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress adopted the Law of Education of the People's Republic of China. It prescribes in a comprehensive way citizens' right to education and restates the basic principle that "all citizens enjoy an equal right to education according to law, regardless of ethnic status, race, sex, occupation, property status and religious belief." It also stipulates that the state will help develop education in areas inhabited by China's ethnic minorities, assist remote border regions and poor areas to develop education, and support and develop education for the disabled.

The Chinese government has always attached great importance to the development of basic education, which has developed at a comparatively rapid pace since the beginning of China's reform and opening to the outside world. By the end of 1994 China had popularized five-year or six-year primary school education in areas inhabited by over 90 percent of its population. The primary school enrollment rate among children of school age reached 98.7 percent in 1994, an increase of 0.9 percentage point over the 1990 figure, and 86.6 percent of primary school graduates entered junior middle schools, an increase of 12 percentage points over the 1990 figure. Nine-year compulsory education has basically been popularized in large and medium-sized cities and some economically developed regions.

In order to ensure that all citizens enjoy an equal right to education, regardless of sex, ethnic status and the economic conditions of their respective regions, the Chinese government has since 1990 adopted effective measures to steadily narrow the gap between them in receiving an education. According to the statistics of the State Education Commission, the difference in the enrollment rate between girls and boys dropped from 2.9 percentage points in 1991 to 1.3 percentage points in 1994; the difference in the enrollment rate between rural children and city children dropped from 2.5 percentage points in 1990 to 0.9 percentage point in 1994. With regard to the five ethnic minority autonomous regions of Guangxi, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Ningxia and the three provinces of Qinghai, Yunnan and Guizhou which have a comparatively large number of ethnic minorities, the difference in the average enrollment rate between their children and children of the country as a whole dropped from 2.5 percentage points in 1990 to 1 percentage point in 1994.

Owing to the uneven development of the economy and other historical reasons, China has long had a large number of illiterates. According to statistics, illiterates totalled 320 million in 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded, with the illiteracy rate as high as 80 percent. Since then, the Chinese government has been making great efforts to carry out activities for the elimination of illiteracy, providing illiterates with all kinds of free literacy education. As a result, the total number of illiterates and the illiteracy rate have dropped greatly. By 1990 the number of illiterates among people above the age of 15 came down to 180 million, and the illiteracy rate dropped to 22.2 percent. In 1994 the number of China's total illiterates dropped to 150 million, and the illiteracy rate dropped to 17 percent; the number of young and middle-aged illiterates decreased from 60 million to 35 million, Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai and the provinces of Jilin, Heilongjiang, Liaoning and Guangdong have basically wiped out illiteracy among young and middle-aged people. Currently the Chinese government is taking all possible measures to basically popularize nine-year compulsory education throughout the country and eliminate illiteracy among young and middle-aged people by the end of this century.

The Chinese government has paid great attention to assisting poor areas to develop education. In 1991 the Chinese government established a help-the-poor education foundation, allocating every year since then 200 million yuan from state finances specially for the development of education in poor areas. In addition, 30 to 40 million yuan in education fees paid by enterprises directly under the central government are used exclusively for educational development in poor areas. Also devoted to the development of the nine-year compulsory education in 225 counties (banners) of 12 provinces (autonomous regions) are loans to the tune of US$ 200 million from the World Bank. To make up for the insufficiency in state educational appropriations, the Chinese government has called on and organized the whole society to give support to the poor areas in developing their education; this endeavor is generally called the Hope Project. By the end of 1994 donations amounting to 350 million yuan had been collected, a back-to-school fund had been established for children in poor areas who had discontinued schooling, 749 Hope Primary Schools had been set up, and over one million children who had been forced to leave school because their families were too poor to support them had resumed their education. The success of China's Hope Project has won extensive praise from people in all circles both at home and abroad.

Over the past few years, while introducing a university admission charge system, the Chinese government has also taken various measures to provide university students from poor families with financial aid. In 1994 alone the government allocated 217 million yuan to be used exclusively for helping students with financial difficulties receive a higher education.

In order to help peasants in poor areas raise their scientific and cultural level, the Ministry of Culture in 1993 set up a cultural help-the-poor committee, which has initiated a Libraries for Villages Project. Since then 20,000 villages have been helped to build their own little libraries, with books of at least 100 types for each. The committee has also built about 100 satellite television receiving and rebroadcasting stations in the poor areas.