A Contextual Examination of School Physics in China

School physics was transplanted from the west to China by the end of the 19th century. At the initial stage, traditional Chinese schools were filled with Confucian classics, and the classic Chinese language was too awkward to translate physics concepts from the west. Yet, physics, as a basic subject related to the defense industry, gradually enhanced its importance in Chinese schools in the first half of the 20th century. This evolution was achieved under the pressure of endless warfare, and through the abandonment of Confucian schools and a complete reform of classic Chinese. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the physics curriculum was totally under the government control, which further facilitated nomenclature of physics in Chinese. The structure of school physics also experienced substantial adjustment to reflect policy changes from the Mao Tsedong to Deng Xiaoping eras. In addition, the current curriculum was heavily influenced by Chinese social competition in the national college entrance examination. The lack of educational funding, particularly in the area of teacher training and lab equipment, has further enlarged the inequity of physics education between key and general schools. In-depth discussions about the current situation, ongoing experiments, and existing problems of school physics are presented in this article in terms of the historical, cultural, political, and social contexts in China.


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