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The emphasis on English education in China only emerged after 1979 when the Cultural Revolution ended, China adopted the Open Door Policy, and the United States and China established strong diplomatic ties. An estimate of the number of English speakers in China is over 200 million and rising, with 50 million secondary schoolchildren now studying the language.
In China, most schoolchildren are taught their first English lesson in third grade in primary school. Despite the early learning of English, there exist criticism of the teaching and learning of the language. This causes teaching to be geared towards the skills tested. Therefore, skills such as learning grammar rules become more focused on memorization. However, creative skills such as writing are still an important part of English education in China. The methods, which focus on testing students' memorization of grammar rules and vocabulary, have been criticized by Western educationalists and linguists as fundamentally flawed. Furthermore, students are seldom able to put newly learned English words into use. This problem arises because Mandarin is the official and dominant language in China, while on the other hand English is perceived to be of little use in the country. This problem is further reinforced through the national Band 4 examination, where 80% of the test is the writing component, 20% of the test is listening, and speaking was only required for the English major student. However, Guangdong Province has started requiring all students to take the English speaking exam for the National College Entrance Examination as of 2010. According to a national survey, only half of the teachers consider that vocabulary should be learned through conversation or communication. A far smaller percentage support activities such as role playing or vocabulary games.
China's first contact with the English language occurred between Chinese and English traders, and the first missionary schools to teach English were established in Macau in the 1630s. After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Russian was originally the primary foreign language. English began to transition into the education system during the 1960s as a result of the Sino-Soviet split. Because of the condemnation of the English language during the Cultural Revolution, English education did not return until Richard Nixon visited China in 1971. The only textbooks for English instructions were translations of Mao Zedong's works until the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, and the Gaokao was restored in 1978. Like mentioned in the above section, once China established the open door policy under Deng Xiaoping, the popularity of English and other languages began to thrive. English became extremely popular between the late 1970s to 1990s in areas that dealt with trading and tourism
The College English Test (CET) is the primary English language test in China. As of 2011, employers have made scores in the CET 4 and CET 6 requirements for employment, and The Lowdown on China's Higher Education stated that in China "CET 4 and CET 6 National English examinations have become the symbol of English proficiency in reading and writing."
There is also the Public English Test System (PETS).