In recent years, the main concern of the Chinese Ministry of Education has been the quality of education. Principals are expected to play a key role in guiding the developmental direction of their schools, in guaranteeing the implementation of curriculum reform and in facilitating school-based teacher development. The aim of the study referred to in this article was to investigate the characteristics of principals' educational leadership through a case study of two secondary schools in Beijing. The study employed a qualitative research method to investigate educational leadership in two secondary schools in Beijing. The observations of our study indicate a strong tendency for principals to implement the traditional top-down instructional type of leadership promoted by the District Education Bureau. At one of our sample schools, the principal employed a paternalistic leadership style, and teachers at both schools emphasized the paternalistic role of the principal, including in engaging in various aspects of their personal lives. At our second sample school, the principal was attempting to delegate certain levels of authority and responsibility to ordinary teachers. However, we found that her efforts were being hindered by middle managers.