• education;
  • medical/*organisation & administration/history/trends;
  • China;
  • clinical medicine/*education/history/trends;
  • *medicine;
  • Chinese traditional history/trends;
  • curriculum;
  • learning;
  • history of medicine;
  • teaching/*methods/history;
  • culture

Context  China has a long tradition of education and medicine. However, limited economic conditions and a huge population mean that further development of medical education in China must be tailored to meet the country's needs.

Objectives  The aim of this paper is to describe current medical education practice in China with reference to the general and historical purposes of education in China and how they have affected and continue to affect student learning. Reference is also made to both Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine.

Methods  It is argued that traditional educational practices in China have encouraged rote learning and that creativity is not cultivated. This affects the way many Chinese students learn medicine. Since 1949, the Chinese medical education system has developed according to its own needs. The current system for training medical students is complex, with medical school curricula lasting 3−8 years. However, medical education reform is taking place and new teaching methods are being introduced in some schools.

Discussion  Medical education is important to China's large population. The undergraduate medical education system is being streamlined and national standards are being established. Innovations in medical education have recently been encouraged and supported, including the adoption of problem-based learning. It is important that the momentum is kept up so that the health care of a fifth of the world's population is assured.