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I.  Constitutional Provision on the Right to Education

The 1982 Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) declares that a citizen has not only the right, but also the obligation to receive an education.  Specifically, article 46 of the Chinese Constitution states as follows:

[c]itizens of the People’s Republic of China have the duty as well as the right to receive education.

The State promotes the all-round development of children and young people, morally, intellectually, and physically.[1]

Article 46, however, does not explicitly provide for a fair and equal right to education.  Equality is provided by paragraph 2 of article 33 of the Chinese Constitution, which states that “[a]ll citizens are equal before the law.”

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II.  Impact on Legislation

The PRC Law on Education (Education Law) was promulgated in accordance with the Constitution.[2]  In addition to repeating the constitutional declaration of the right to education, article 9 of the Education Law explicitly provides for the equal right to education:

Citizens of the People’s Republic of China shall have the right and obligation to receive education.

All citizens, regardless of ethnic group, race, sex, occupation, property status, or religious belief, shall enjoy equal opportunities for education according to law.[3]

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III.  Court Decision

Although in practice the implementation of the equal right to education as provided by the Constitution and the Education Law may still be problematic, a historic court ruling issued in 2001 specifically affirmed the constitutional right to education. 

In 1990, the plaintiff, Qi Yuling, passed the entrance examination and was admitted by a specialized secondary professions school in Shandong Province.  The defendant, a classmate of Qi who failed the examination, stole Qi’s admission letter and, with the help of other defendants including her father, studied under Qi’s name and went on to take a good job in a bank upon graduation.  Qi did not find this out until a decade later, during which time she was not able to find a good job due to her lack of a technical education.[4]  The first-trial court ordered emotional damages caused by the infringement of Qi’s right to her name, which is protected by civil law, but declined to provide a remedy for the alleged violation of her right to education protected by article 46 of the Constitution. 

On appeal, the Shandong High Court requested a judicial interpretation from the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).  The SPC held in a reply issued in 2001 that the plaintiff’s “basic right to education as provided by the Constitution” was violated.  The Shandong High Court went on to order higher damages based on the defendants’ infringement of the plaintiff’s constitutional right to education.[5]

The Qi Yuling case is called China’s “first constitutional case” inasmuch as, in recognizing the constitutional right to education, the SPC explicitly cited a constitutional provision as the legal ground for a judicial decision or interpretation for what is believed to be the first time.[6]  However, it appears there have not been any subsequent cases decided on constitutional grounds following the Qi Yuling case.  In fact, in December 2008, the SPC under a new president issued a document that officially voided the aforementioned judicial interpretation.[7]

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Prepared by Laney Zhang
Foreign Law Specialist
May 2016

[1] 宪法 [Constitution] art. 46, § 2 (1982, as amended Mar. 14, 2004), Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Falü Fagui Huibian: Xianfa Juan [Laws and Regulations of the People’s Republic of China (PRC Laws and Regulations): Constitutional Law] 1–35.

[2] 教育法 [Education Law] (adopted by the National People’s Congress, Mar. 18, 1995, last amended Dec. 27, 2015, effective June 1, 2016), art. 1, PRC Laws and Regulations: Administrative Law 1181–97.

[3] Id. art. 9.

[4] Zhang Qianfan, The Constitution of China: A Contextual Analysis 173 (2012).

[5] Id. at 173–74.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 175.