Just as China has struggled with bringing an expanding economy to a country with large areas of economic underdevelopment, the Chinese health care system is experiencing tension between tradition and modernization. Because of this tension, health care in the Peoples' Republic of China has been undergoing significant reform since the beginning of the 1980s. Experiments in market-based health systems have been unsuccessful and have exacerbated disparities. New reforms, announced in 2006, stress the role of family physicians in leading the health care system. This paper discusses the history of the developments that led up to the new reforms and the educational challenges of training sufficient numbers of family physicians to meet the requirements of the new system.