China may still be committed to providing nine years of free education for its children - but it is now common practice for local authorities to levy a wide range of school fees.
In some areas families are believed to be paying up to 12 types of fees, and such practices are not confined to the poorest regions, according to researchers at the City University of Hong Kong.
The well-developed regions of the Pearl River Delta are experimenting with an "Educational Reserves" model which requires parents to pay for their children's tuition in advance and contribute towards the cost of developing facilities. And some private schools in Guangdon, south China, are now asking for large sums of money or charging high fees.
"Instead of relying on the state for educational services, as was the case in the Mao era, people nowadays rely more on themselves and the market ," say Dr David Chan and Dr Ka-ho Mok of the City University of Hong Kong.
Market forces are also being felt in higher education. "Public universities run businesses, charge tuition fees and develop courses for newly emerging work sectors," the Hong Kong academics say. "Universities are now more concerned with producing graduates to suit the employers' demands.
"However, unlike Hong Kong, where the 'marketisation of education' has shifted to a 'corporate management' approach, the Chinese experience can be seen as the government's attempt to use market forces to create more learning opportunities, instead of a fundamental shift to managerial ideology and practices."
Correspondence: Dr Ka-ho Mok e-mail Sakaho@city.edu.hk.