In recent years general education in Chinese universities has gone through rapid growth, which has led scholars to reflect on the motivations which underpin its current and future development. This paper establishes a framework based on the size of the universities together with whether the motivation is idealism or empiricism. This framework forms three typologies of general education in China, particularly from the perspective of curriculum design and student involvement. Three cases that each represent one of the three typologies are analyzed to depict the detailed characteristics. The main conclusion of the paper is that general education in its essence is an idealistic pursuit of a permanent goal, while in reality it is resource-dependent and rooted in historical conditions. China’s case studies provide a vivid example that general education reform starts with practical approaches of offering selective courses or building pilot zones and then by moderately increasing its scale and coverage, moving towards idealism across the spectrum. The key principals during the long journey are to avoid conformism, encourage innovations and maintain diversity.
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