How does the Chinese Education System Work Anyway?

The bulk of my career in China has been spent in the field of education.  My first job was as an English teacher at a provincial level College of Education (Teachers College) way back in 1984.  In the 90's I studied Chinese at a major Normal University (Teachers University), and stayed on there to direct a program for Americans studying Chinese. The past ten years, while not directly teaching in a Chinese university, I have been helping to train Americans to teach in Chinese universities. 

You will understand my interest, then, in a blog post I stumbled across today titled 25 Surprising Facts About China's Education System.  Facts 1 and 3 are particularly interesting:

Before 1949, 80% of the Chinese population was illiterate: Before the People’s Republic of China was founded, nearly 80% of the
500 million people living in China were illiterate.

Chinese youth have a 99% literacy rate. UNICEF reports that from 2000-2007, Chinese youth ages 15-24 years old enjoyed a 99% literacy rate.

That's really quite amazing.