Envied by the West
During the 1990s, Shanghai was the first city to experiment with non-selective education at secondary level.
According to Professor Cheng Kai-ming, this was done without sacrificing the higher standards of the old grammar-type schools, and he puts this down to China's strong educational culture.
"There is a culture in China which favours education in its formal sense. The idea of playing down innate ability and emphasising students' efforts is part of the traditional ethos."
While maintaining the ethos for hard work, teachers also pay more attention to students' individual needs, working with them after school if necessary. It is normal for teachers to make regular home visits also.
Discipline and moral education remain important. In Guangzhou, teacher Ms Zhang Ling said her colleagues did not have the discipline problems she saw during a school visit to Canada.
Pupils take for granted school rules such as not being allowed relationships that could interfere with studies and having their hair cut short. Vandalism and graffiti are unheard of.