Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to provide an understanding of principal preparation and training in China by providing a background discussion of principal preparation in a number of countries. As an illustration, it provides an overview of the curriculum used in the initial preparation of school principals at Beijing Normal University.-----Design/methodology/approach: The paper draws mainly on writing and research from China, Australia and the USA to explore principal preparation and training in China.-----Findings: In addition to providing a rich description of principal preparation in China, the paper's main findings comprise seven key challenges that confront China as it endeavours to provide quality principal preparation. These challenges include China's diversity and uneven social, cultural and educational development; limited resources in some regions throughout China; the place and importance of study tours for principal preparation; the teaching approach used to train principals; the process used for assessing principal learning during their training programs; the limited transfer of learning from the classroom to the school environment; and the timing of training for principals.-----Practical implications: Each of the challenges arising here raises important practical implications for developers of principal training programs.-----Originality/value: The paper paints a picture of principal preparation in China and raises a number of issues and challenges with which it continues to grapple. Of note is that China is not alone in facing some of these ongoing concerns
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