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In the US, there is this thing called the "five paragraph essay" consisting of an introduction (1 paragraph), a body (3 paragraphs), and a conclusion (1 paragraph). Basically, you say what you are going to say in the introduction. Then you elaborate on why you said it in the body. And finally you say it again in the conclusion. Of course when you say the same thing in these different sections, you must say it in different ways.

What sorts of essays do school-age children (and test-takers, generally) in China have to write?

The 5 paragraph essay is a curious thing because school children hardly ever read anything that looks like it (English class makes you read some novels, maybe some poetry, maybe some short non-fiction...), yet are expected to write them in school. I'm guessing it comes from some Western rhetoric tradition (Latin? Greek?). Are Chinese writing assignments similarly structured?

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Only Mainland. Nowadays, children won't write in formation.Letter? That is not the case I know.

But in history, we do.

骈文 Sentences must be paired. Characters must be carefully chose. After two big man of letters claimed that they shouln't write 骈文 anymore, cause it is only highfalutin, 骈文 was dead.

This is the most famous 骈文 quote from <<滕王阁序>>, almost all educated Chinese can recite it.

落霞與孤鶩齊飛,秋水共長天一色。

If we take close look at the sentence, these word are pairing.

落霞(sunset glow) vs 秋水(water in autumn)

與: (with, simplified is 与) vs 共(and)

孤鶩(single wild duck, simplified is 鹜) vs 長天(wide sky, simplified is 长)

齊飛(fly at the same time, simplified is 齐飞) vs 一色 (one color, same color)

I can imagine a picture, in autumn, a wild duck fly above a lake or river, its background is sunset glow, the sky has same color with water surface, that's beautiful.

八股文 八股文 is a strict article. It must consist of 8 parts,

破题: two sentences, interprets the topic.

承题: 4 or 5 sentences, talk about the key of 破题.

起讲: multiple sentences, descript the overall topic.

起股: 4,5 or 8, 9 sentences, start discussing.

中股: pairing sentences, the essential part of the whole article

后股: pairing sentence, mention what you have not talkled about

束股: 2 lines, 3,4 or 4,5 per line, pairing, restate your views, make conclusion

大结: multiple sentences, finale

The structure of 八股文 is very good at argumentative writing, later people found it limits your thinking, cause 八股文 also limits the topic which is from confucianism book. In hundreds years, all the topics you can find from <<论语>> and <<孟子>> had been used, they begin to mess things up, grab one sentence from 论语, grab one from 孟子, combinate to one, ask students to write about it.

八股文 is deprecated after the Qing dynasty.

That is the status of two main structured article in China. Other structured texts: 格律诗, 对联.

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  • Correct. There is no given formate in children's language education. I personally think it is a miss. I was never taught how to construct a passage in a proper way in schools. Our assignment on writing mostly focuses on storytelling instead of argument or critical thinking. The lack of training is strange given 八股文 was a very good and traditional structure for argument essays. 八股 is a negative word in Modern Chinese. It means "restricted minds" and "lack of freedom". I guess people want to avoid it as much as possible. – River Aug 2 at 19:41

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