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Table 1 A Summary of the Evolution of ECE Policy in China over Time

From: From ‘Cinderella’ to ‘Beloved Princess’: The Evolution of Early Childhood Education Policy in China

Period/year Event Impact/implication
Qing dynasty
 1903 The first kindergarten was established in Wuhan, Hubei, China (Zhu and Wang 2005) The birth of kindergarten was an indicator of the establishment of a modern school system in China
 1904–1911 Kindergartens became popular in the major cities of China The system, program, curriculum, pedagogy, and even teachers were ‘imported’ from Japan
The Republic of China (ROC)
 1912–1948 Kindergartens were more accessible to the public. Chinese scholars led social movements to establish kindergartens for children residing in factories and rural areas There were about 1300 kindergartens in China, with an enrollment of 130,000 children in 1949 (Tang and Zhong 1993)
The People’s Republic of China (PRC)
 1949–1957 Soviet Union ECE experts were posted to China to help plan and establish the new socialism ECE system (Zhu and Wang 2005)
A rapid expansion of ECE was observed
The 1st ‘Golden Era’ of ECE in China. The new socialist regime encouraged women to join the workforce, and rapidly developed public kindergartens and nurseries in urban and rural areas
 1958–1977 The ‘Great Leap Forward’ and the ‘Cultural Revolution’ period. Kindergartens were closed down Children were sent home and teachers were sent to rural or remote areas for re-education through laboring (Li and Wang 2008) The 1st ‘Dark Age’ of ECE in China. The political turbulence stopped the development of ECE
 1978–1993 The ‘Open door’ policy, market-economy reform, and the one-child policy were launched. A series of regulations and guidelines were issued to ‘restore order’ and develop ECE in China. The number of kindergartens, kindergarteners, and kindergarten teachers increased dramatically (Zhu and Wang 2005) The 2nd ‘Golden Era’ of ECE in China. Better regulation and development of ECE. Focus of kindergartens changed from custodial childcare to an integration of both care and education
 1994–2009 The ‘government retreats but private sector advances’ and ‘walking with two legs’ policies were implemented. The government organizations (‘one leg’) and the non-governmental organizations (‘the other leg’) work (‘walk’) together to develop ECE in China (Pan and Liu 2008). The phenomenon of privatization and commercialization of ECE was subsequently observed. Public kindergartens had to be closed down, suspended, merged, transformed, and sold The 2nd ‘Dark Age’ of ECE in China. It became ‘Cinderella’, working hard and whose outcry being neglected. The quantity and quality of ECE declined significantly
 2010 Two important documents (the milestone and cornerstone) were issued to thoroughly reform the ECE system and to speed up the development of ECE: (1) National Education Reform and Development of Long-Term Planning Programs (20102020); (2) Several Views on the Development of Preschool Education The 3rd ‘Golden Era’ of ECE in China. Important regulations and actions were put into place, such as funding and planning ECE at different levels and developing public kindergartens in needy areas. Now ECE has emerged as the ‘beloved princess’, embraced by both the government and the public