Homeschool's New Day in China by HomeschoolMagazine


									Homeschool’s New Day in China

By Rachel Terry

Last summer our family stayed on a university campus in Xi’an, China, for three weeks.
Everywhere we went, people wanted to touch our children’s blonde hair and pinch their
cheeks. When people found out we homeschooled, their jaws dropped, and we soon found
ourselves on a television talk show.

From our visit to a Montessori kindergarten on the campus of Northwestern Polytechnic
University, we understood that education is paramount in China. Very young children
spend long hours perfecting their handwriting, and teachers and administrators are
rightfully proud of the beautiful educational environments present in their schools. And yet,
everyone we spoke with about education had one name on their lips: Zheng Yuanjie.

Well-known children’s author Zheng Yuanjie homeschooled his now-grown son, Zheng Qiya,
and the son’s success has validated the father’s efforts. Parents all over China look at Zheng
Yaqi’s success—he’s opened bookstores, started magazines, and set up photography
studios—and wonder if maybe homeschooling has contributed to his successful creative

Growing Interest in Homeschooling

Zheng Qiya has succeeded in areas that many Chinese students find mystifying: the arts
and entrepreneurship. Traditional Chinese education has been based on rote memory and
repetition, and while this method has produced many students who calculate and
regurgitate facts at the speed of light, some parents are beginning to question its wisdom.

In 2005, China Daily published an interview with a teacher at Guangzhou Baiyun
Institute who was teaching his 9-year-old daughter at home. The father, Wei Yuan, said
that he decided to homeschool because the school’s teaching methods were “stultifying.
Kids have to do sums again and again and they are not allowed to openly express
themselves in compositions.”2

Now-famous Han Han can relate. His parents allowed him to “quit” senior middle school,
which in China is much more rigorous than American high school. Schools weren’t sure what
to do with Han. During his first year of senior middle school he won first prize in China’s
nationwide New Concept Writing Competition, but he failed seven subjects in his final
examinations that year.3

After he left school, Han Han began writing with a fury. His first novel, Triple Door, sold
over two million copies and is China’s best-selling literary work in the last twenty years.
Another novel has been made into a Hollywood film. With his newfound freedom, Han
became a race car driver, started a blog that has the largest online following in China (more
than 300 million viewers), and released an album of self-composed songs.4 Clearly, Han
Han is thriving without a traditional Chinese education, which has people talking. And

In China, the One-Child Policy ensures that almost all couples have just one child. 5 That
precious child becomes the focus of his parents’ and grandparents’ ambition and dreams. In
a country with such a large population, competition for college entrance is very stiff, and no
parent wants to take risks that may result in lost opportunities for her child. And yet, the
success of China’s well-known homeschoolers is increasingly alluring.

Obstacles to Homeschooling

Article 11 of China’s Compulsory Education Law states: “When children have reached school
age, their parents or guardians shall send them to school to receive compulsory education
for the prescribed number of years. If, on account of illness or other special circumstances,
school-age children or adolescents need to postpone or be exempted from schooling, their
parents or guardians shall submit an application to that effect to the local people’s
government for approval.”6

This law has been tested in Chinese courts of law several times, with diverse results. In one
case, a father who homeschooled his daughter was sued by his ex-wife, the girl’s mother.
The court ruled against the homeschooling father. He replied by saying he would never send
the girl to school, and authorities have not pursued the case further or forced the girl to
attend public school.7

Cases such as this test the waters in China, and parents are feeling bolder since authorities
rarely force homeschoolers to return to school. For instance, in 2006, a 7-year-old boy was
ordered by the court to go back to school, but an official involved with the case stated: “A
punishment . . . wasn’t written in because the punishment may be difficult to implement.
But home education is absolutely not advocated.”8 Perhaps the larger obstacle is the risk

In China, entrance to a good university is considered the pinnacle of a successful childhood.
Since competition is so steep, a college education all but ensures a good career and stable
future. Unlike in the United States, children are expected to help support their aging
parents, so taking a risk that may affect a child’s future career has implications for the
whole family. Homeschoolers may not have an opportunity to take standard high school
examinations, and without compulsory exams, university admissions crews don’t know how
to evaluate a student’s potential.9

Also, unlike in the United States, where people can go back to college at any age, it’s
unheard of in China for older students to be admitted to traditional universities. During our
visit in China, when the talk show producers found out that my husband was working on a
graduate degree in his late 30s, they scheduled another talk show with us because they
found his situation so unusual. New technological advancements have led to online courses
and evening adult education classes in China, but these adult education courses don’t hold
the same prestige as university degrees.10

Cracks in Educational Traditions

Despite these obstacles, homeschooling in China is gaining momentum. With over a billion
people in China who have mostly all received the same rigid, memorization-based
education, there is great opportunity for young people who have creative skills and freedom
to pursue their interests, students like Han Han and Zheng Qiya. These young men have
found that their creativity has boosted them to the forefront of their cultures. Their free-
thinking and analytic skills have allowed them to be cultural leaders in a place where many
traditional ways are being questioned by the youth.
Perhaps homeschooling is not as big a gamble as many Chinese parents think. When they
look at the success of homeschooled students who are now adults, they see that in many
ways, homeschooling gives children an edge.

While our family visited with university students in China, we often heard statements like “I
joined the Communist party, even though I didn’t want to” or “I would never join the
Communist party.” Young people seem more and more willing to assert their individuality
and express their personal opinions. Maybe they’re taking their cues from the government.

The Chinese government seems to be vacillating about how much personal freedom to give
its people. For instance, although the government requires that churches follow certain
guidelines and officially register, state leaders rarely interfere with unregistered churches
and congregations. Human rights group China Aid estimates that there are currently 80
million to 130 active Christians in China and that 60 percent of them regularly attend
unregistered churches.11

The state also seems to be wavering about how much personal economic freedom to give its
people. Since the 1980s, China has slowly lifted restrictions regarding private property, and
this gradual lift has helped with their overall economic boom.12 However, the government
still confiscates property it wants without compensating citizens,13 and entrepreneurs know
their success partially depends on the whims of a less-than-transparent authority.

With the government going back and forth on so many important freedoms, it’s natural that
students and parents are looking to new educational options like homeschooling. Many
Chinese homeschoolers believe that a good home education will produce happier children
who enjoy learning, although many recognize that only the wealthy in China can currently
afford to homeschool. Most Chinese families rely on two incomes, and sacrificing one income
while trying to buy educational materials seems insurmountable for many families in China.
As the success stories mount, however, it becomes clear that homeschool is seeing a new
day in China.

02-08 , accessed February 15, 2012.
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4., accessed
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5., accessed February
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6., accessed February 15, 2012.
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8., accessed
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exams, accessed February 15, 2012.
11., accessed February
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0315china.4927191.html?pagewanted=all, accessed February 15, 2012.
on-the-rise-23411.html, accessed February 15, 2012.

Rachel Terry lives in Colorado with her husband Ben and three children. In addition to
teaching her children, she loves reading, writing, and spending time in the outdoors with
her family. You can reach her at

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in
the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine.
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