Key Word of the Month: jianfu

I’m hearing the word 减负 (jiǎn fù) nonstop these days. Of course, it’s largely because I’m a parent with two kids in the Shanghai primary school system, but it’s still a big topic with huge implications for all of Chinese society.

减负 (jiǎn fù) is actually short for 减轻负担 (jiǎnqīng fùdān), literally, “lighten the burden.” It refers to students’ burden of schoolwork. You sometimes hear the term 双减 (shuāng jiǎn), literally, “double reduction,” because recent policies reduce both students’ homework and their after-school extra-curricular studies.

Major Changes in Education

Last month a new law suddenly greatly limited what extra-curricular classes in math, Chinese, and English were allowed to be offered by private companies. These topics are now to be covered solely by the school system.

Yesterday the school semester started, and elementary students’ homework has been drastically reduced, supposedly to 30 minutes or less. First and second graders should have no homework at all.

Is this possible? Is this even China??

Already I’m seeing some interesting responses:

  1. My daughter came home yesterday with instructions from her teacher for the parents, telling us to be sure to fill out “0-30 minutes” as the amount of homework she did in the official questionnaire all parents have to do daily through WeChat.
  2. On day one of the new semester, there is already talk in the classroom about students not having to take final exams this semester, if they get high enough grades. But can they even get high enough grades with so little homework? Is there subtle hinting going on here?


It would be nice if the only reason this was being done was the well-being of the students. But of course there are other motivations.

The main motivation I keep hearing is to encourage the population to have more children. Simply changing from a One Child Policy to a Two Child Policy (and then a Three Child Policy) does not achieve the desired results anywhere near quickly enough, and the population is aging rapidly. More has to be done to reduce the social momentum of the One Child Policy.

The cost of education is one of the major reasons it’s so expensive to raise a child in China, but if all the extracurricular class costs are cut out, the financial burden on parents is drastically reduced. At the same time, the parents’ burden to hound their children every day, all evening to finish homework is also drastically reduced.

Of course there are other theories… theories which some parents I talk to have labeled “conspiracy theories.” Stuff like reducing dependence on outside sources of education also reduces exposure to non-Chinese, non-party-approved channels of information. It’s a step closer to total control of the education system (and thus the minds of the new generation). Crazy?? Hmmm…


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. When first hearing about the new school policies, I was struggling to understand how it would lead to having more children. I candidly wondered how this would possibly give more time for parents to … actually engage in making children. I get it now, it’s reducing the cost of raising children that’s instead supposed to be the limit!

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