More than 9m students sat the gaokao on June 7th and 8th this year. For many, the exam comes as the culmination of months of cramming, years of tutoring and abnegated personal lives.
The notoriously tough National Higher Education Entrance Examination, or gaokao for short, is a milestone for young Chinese people. Since it was established in 1952 (excepting an interruption by the Cultural Revolution) the two-day exam has been meant to elevate those who will benefit most from higher education while allocating places in a way that is fair to all. University admissions departments focus almost exclusively on the gaokao score. The result is colossal pressure on the test-taking students.
At the gates of Shanghai Beijiao, Ms Yu wishes she had made her son Pan Ziren work harder. Though young Mr Pan has been rising at 5.30am and studying until 1am for the past six months, Ms Yu thinks he has wasted his years in school. He was addicted to kung-fu novels, she says. "I'd find him reading with a torch, deep in the night. Maybe it is my fault for going on about the importance of the gaokao. It caused his rebellious attitude."
Though each year more students go to university (the admission rate is up 3% this year) spots at elite institutions are oversubscribed. Less than 0.2% of gaokao takers will get into China's top five universities. Graduate opportunities for students who attend a top university are dramatically different to those who don't, says Jeffrey Lehman, vice-chancellor of New York University's branch campus in Shanghai.
Peng Cheng, an 18-year-old student from Hunan province, has much to lose. "Studying is the only way to get out of my hometown", he says. Mr Peng was one of only three students from his province, which has a population of 65m, selected for a special scheme at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Mr Peng gets an additional 30 points on his gaokao score, as well as guaranteed admission.
Mr Peng's handicap is part of an attempt by the university to redress a greater imbalance in Chinese education. Students sit the gaokao in the place they are registered in the hukou system, which has the effect of putting students from rural areas at a steep disadvantage. Close proximity of a test-taker's registration to an institution raises the chance of admission; it is 16 times easier for a Bejiing student to get a place at Tsinghua than it is for a student from Hunan, where there are few first-rate options. Many urban students are registered in the countryside, so they return to the village for the exam. Last October a group of leading scholars submitted a petition to Wen Jiabao, China's president, calling for the abolishment of the hukou restrictions.
Mr He, a law professor at Tsinghua University and one of the petitioners, sees a further flaw in the gaokao system. It promotes the survival of the fittest, he says, but not of the best. The students are trained exclusively for the studying and answering of test papers. But the majority lack the skills to join in classroom discussion. Independence of thought is subordinated to the demands of rote learning. The students who emerge from this system often find it difficult to make basic social engagement, let alone intellectual collaboration.
This was true for Mr Peng. Because he was star pupil, he was kept away from boys in class who could distract him. He has no friends, he says, and turns to internet cafes to ward off loneliness. But, gaokao score permitting, Mr Peng is now looking forward to his move to the big city. He hopes to find time for a girlfriend, and for other distractions besides. He fell in love with a girl at his high school. "But I knew a relationship would ruin my dream of getting out. So I never told her."
The Cruddy Bug 4 mins ago
I think many western commenters and eastern commenters are not at all on the same page. Many Chinese commenters saying the GaoKao is necessary are saying this from the realities and framework of the Chinese system, not thinking outside of that system. The western commenters are speaking in terms of a system that is not the Chinese system. Neither is wrong, but it is my inclination to highly oppose the 高考GaoKao and all it stands for.
The point of education is not to "get a job" and "make money", the point of an education is to better one's skills generally and in a certain field so one can better society as a whole, indirectly helping themselves. The point of life, and more narrowly economics, is not to "compete", it is to do what you do best and help yourself by helping others. Happiness does not come from scores and a salary. This is the system we must break.
This concrete way of thinking: scores, labels, good, bad - it's all wonky. It creates kids who can't think abstractly to save their lives, and can only think of the world as black and white, winning or losing. It's all a big competition. I'm rambling, but this crap bothers the hell out of me. Happiness does not come from this rivalry. Friendly competition is great, if you're friends, but the way kids study for the GaoKao (I live in Taiwan, so I have a vague idea) is anything BUT friendly. They're cutthroat about it. It's evil.
slkchina 1 hour 4 mins ago
I have been fascinated by the gaokao since I came to China five years ago after a lifetime in American public schools. Not only do the Chinese seniors go to school six days a week from 7:20 to 9:30, they also study for 20 days of their Chinese New Year holiday. Before the exam day, all the student's relatives call them and tell them how important it is that they do a good job on the exam. Parents rent hotel rooms near the exam site so their child can save time and anxiety in getting to the test center. Hoteliers even charge extra for rooms that were occupied by a high scoring person the previous year. Last year, a girl caught in a traffic jam was taken to the test center on the back of a police motorcycle. This year, a boy's mother was killed in a traffic accident 12 days before the exam and the boy wasn't told until after the exam was over.
To prepare for the exam, students take sample exams over and over to get an idea of where their score will fall and then they look at possible colleges that would accept that score. They chose a colleges that they would like to attend if they got their high score, a middle range score, and finally, a fall-back score. The day after the exam is finished, students return to their high schools and go over the exam answers with their teachers. Interestingly, students are allowed to write their answers on a large eraser that they may bring to the exam. They recreate the essay parts of the exam and the teacher helps them determine their likely score. At that point, students apply for college. Amazingly, the test is scored within a three week period and students find out which college they are able to attend. Most students never visit their college before applying for it.
Another indicator of the impact of this exam is that students know they are attending a lower-level university. When I told my students about American students wearing sweatshirts and sports clothes depicting their college, I suggested that we start a business of printing clothing with our university's name on it. My students said no one would buy it because everyone is a little ashamed to be attending a lower-level university.
China Daily ran a large article about the ranking of Chinese universities based on four factors: 1) Number of graduates in high party position; 2) Number of graduates being members of the Association of Natural Sciences; 3) Number of graduates being members of the Association of Social Sciences; and 4) Number of graduates who are billionaires. Of course, the rankings follow the test score cutoff mark: Peking University, Tsingua University, Renmin University, Fudan University, and Nanjing University. Peking University has 456 billionaires and the other four have 292, 222, 210, and 142 respectively. (cuaa.net) Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy!
EastWestObserver in reply to slkchina 52 mins ago
I think the GaoKao is highly perverted...with those shocking stories.
jeune1 1 hour 57 mins ago
As a chinese,i deeply understand the importance of gaokao,which is almost the only way we can surpass childrens from wealth and officals' family.Gaokao in china is almost the fairest way for the majority people to compete. It is acknowledged known that corruption and authority are superior,so as to gaokao is so necessary for the majority people to get acess.
methil 2 hours 32 mins ago
Nowhere in the world is there a perfect system for University entrance.There is the Urban-Rural divide,the rich-poor problem and also ivy league-nondescript school difference.The rush for University education is probably due to preference for white collar jobs.Perhaps making vocational training more attractive in remuneration(e.g.Australia)and prestige for blue collar jobs, will halt the mass attempts to gain admission into Universities.
5JimBob in reply to methil 10 mins ago
True enough, I had the pleasure of working with a number of Chinese field geologists in remote parts of the country and they all told me that they suffered a lack of prestige and opportunity for advancement because their jobs were outdoors and in far-flung areas. They stayed in the field because they loved what they did (pretty much the motivation of every field oriented geologist) but in at least one case it cost a chance to marry.
guest-iswwowl 2 hours 54 mins ago
Gaokao is not the best way,but it is the fittest way for all youngs to get educated in the university. IN the ancient time , there is no opportunity for the poor to change their life way. keju provides their the only hope. Gaokao inherits the tradition. but in respecting all the citizens, respecting the equal humanrights, gaokao should abolish the hukou rules.
EastWestObserver in reply to guest-iswwowl 1 hour 9 mins ago
A dilemma of the harsh reality of uprooting oneself from a low social economic background Vs the devils of "keju" - studying for the sake of scoring in exam hence defeating the purpose of education. A dilemma of long term national development goals Vs the short term immediate gains of citizens. When you are in it, you can't help it. Sad but true. Hope the Chinese people has the courage and wisdom to break this loop.
这是一个【使自己摆脱低下的社会经济地位的严酷现实】 VS 【"科举"恶魔——为了考试成绩而学习，失去了教育的目的】的左右为难的困境。这是一个【国家长期发展目标】VS【短期公民即时收益】的左右为难的困境。当你身处其中时，你无可奈何。很悲哀，但是事实。希望中国人民有勇气和智慧打破这个循环。
EastWestObserver 3 hours 18 mins ago
"It promotes the survival of the fittest, he says, but not of the best. The students are trained exclusively for the studying and answering of test papers. But the majority lack the skills to join in classroom discussion. Independence of thought is subordinated to the demands of rote learning. The students who emerge from this system often find it difficult to make basic social engagement, let alone intellectual collaboration."
How true and how sad. In fact this is a common phenomenon found in Chinese or Confucian based East Asian countries, Singapore, Japan, Korean, Taiwan...all stems from the Confucians system of learning for office and formalized by the imperial rulers in the imperial examination system (KeJu) to pick the good and virtue to support the imperial system. The sad truth is the system produce more "smart" people who are good in exam than real abled and good people. And these people eventually rose in society to take up key position that will influence and shape the nation main stream values and culture. How do you expect this system to produce free thinking and innovative ideas that is the key to open up China and compete in a globalization age. Time to revise the system.
ganggang96 3 hours 20 mins ago
Straying a bit from the topic:
Why 第xxx考場 (xxxth testing site)in the photo 場 is in Traditional Chinese? It is very strange since in mainland China the simplified Chinese has been the official language for decades, especially in educational institutes, not to mention in such a specially "official" occasion.
Admittedly it is not explicitly noted where and when the photo was taken but it should be taken for the scenario the news talking about.
Was it taken in Taiwan instead?
Actually I am a proponent for Traditional Characters and I have not any objection to using it. It just looks very strange.
Chinese ScarbroghReef in reply to ganggang96 2 hours 37 mins ago
I feel strange too..
PL123 in reply to ganggang96 3 mins ago
It is not surprise at all. The western media were often used fault materials/info/picutres/video for their propaganda!
They used picture/video of Nepali police hitting Tibetans protesters in Nepal, and their caption was written as Chinese People Army were hitting Tibetans! LOL
realgoldace 3 hours 21 mins ago
As a student in rural area, I found out that Gao kao is the only way to get off the underclass since the Chinese society has somehow been prerogative. We poor student have no way to compete with the so called "gao fu shuai" but to study hard and to attend a top univercity. But when I become a college student , I realised that the education could not promise me a bright future, I could not even find a good job as I wish. I feel somehow comfused, what is the ture value of the high school education? Most people do not want to be scientist, they only want to make more money. Should we go to vocational colleges instead of univercity?
9FKzhzv7ia 3 hours 27 mins ago
More poor students will be the losesr in the exams when competing with the rich if there is no such a Gaokao currently.
guest-isioloe in reply to 9FKzhzv7ia 1 hour 8 mins ago
This is so True..This is what happens in India also
9FKzhzv7ia 3 hours 27 mins ago
More poor student will be the loser in the exams when competing with the rich if there is no such a Gaokao currently.
AlexXYT 3 hours 46 mins ago
Well, the truth is many students who did fairly well in gaokao have rather low GPA in universities. Probably they are made to work to hard in their high school years. And some of them may even develop mental diseases.
I got into university through an exam led by PKU, HKU and BUAA. So I think I may not hate gaokao as much as some of my fellows...
lizst in reply to AlexXYT 3 hours 39 mins ago
A friend of my friend said she spent more than 14 hours learning in high school but after she got into a rather good Univ. she even cut school. It's natural that people get so much more relaxed after a long time high pressure that they stop hard-working afterwards. In China, a good university entrance score does not earn you good career or good life. I also see many students working hard in universities and trying to making friends and joining in social activities. In universities, only if you work as hard as you did in high school (but maybe in different ways), you will not be washed out.
lizst 3 hours 51 mins ago
Stay a few months with students who sat the gaokao test and then write the gaokao artical. In this way, you may depict another different picture. Most people only say it is unfair blablabla... but few people know how to make an even better system to replace gaokao. Actually, gaokao has its flaws but it is evidently the most equal way to compete a bright future. Please stop yelling that gaokao should be cancelled, since we better find out ways to improve this system.
guest-isieele June 14th, 02:08
Gao kao is not fair ,due to the stupid policy .
1)household registration system ,make i feel unfair ,same points if i is Beijing Or Shanghai Citizen,i can go to better school than Henan ,Shandong .
2)policy towards nationalities,Han need more points go to same school than othernationality.
3).If you have much money ,all right ,you can find a people replace you as a
examiner in Gaokao ,people will help you get a high points .
How is fair ?
hoolee June 14th, 02:05
In most unfair things,the gaokao is the most fair unfair thing in China.
vinayaksathe June 14th, 02:04
These exams and hard work makes sense. They get admission in a good university, their life is made. Job is assured - for life at least today. At a lower level, trade schools also prepare students for jobs for life. Kapil Sibal is trying to introduce a similar common entrance exam for IITs. But IIT faculty is objecting - they fear that their autonomy is trampled on. No wonder China beats India in Education and everything that is achieved by good education.
他们被好的大学录取了，他们的命运就改变了。工作肯定有，至少能保证生活所需。在较低的等级，贸易学校也为学生准备了谋生的工作。 Kapil Sibal 也试着为IITs（印度理工学院？）引进一个类似的公共考试
ELFe4JF8fj June 14th, 01:48
It's tough for these kids to go through the studying, competing, and extreme ways of obtaining a goal based on "scores". From an adolscent health development aspect, these kids barely get any nature development on fitness which is very important during puberty periods.
And also the social environment is very ill, the super competitiveness often go beyond mere studying among the students, and most information they regurgitate are not useful in the real world. It really kills the creativity among these teenagers who are China's future. Some of them could've been the next Mark Zuckerberg, Jay Z, or even Michael Jordan in China.
社会环境也是病态的，在学生当中，超级竞争超越了单纯的学习，并且有很多他们反复学习的信息对于真实世界是没有用途的。他扼杀了中国的未来——这些青少年的创造力。在中国他们永远不会成为 下一个 Mark Zuckerberg, Jay Z, 或者甚至 Michael Jordan 。
The insane Asian way of learning starts from the 1st grade in China at least. In short, it's all about the exams and all about the grades. Nothing else matters. And I don't know if any one mentioned this, Shanghai Beijiao Middle School actually means Shanghai Beijiao High School. All in all, I'm really glad I escaped the Chinese education, they have an old saying in China "The studying is so hard and intense that it will make you shred a layer of your skin."
疯狂的亚洲学习方式，在中国从一年级就开始了，总之，所有都是关于考试，所有都是关于成绩，其他的所有事情都不重要，我不知道有人注意到没有，上海北郊中级 实际上是 上海北郊高级中学。总之，我很高兴我躲过了中国的教育，在中国他们有句古语："学习是如此的艰难和激烈，它会使你脱层皮"。
guest-ienaslw June 14th, 01:47
Why the words in the picture are of traditional Chinese instead of simplified Chinese?
guest-iwwssmj June 14th, 01:30
i do not think intravenous injection is necessary for the gaokao attendees, since they are already highly pressured
tarocakett June 14th, 01:27
it is the only way to offer equal opportunities in China
jberne June 14th, 01:08
Gaokao is the only fair way for child form rural areas to go into the upper class of society and to compete with child from urban areas.
cup with vapor in reply to jberne June 14th, 01:40
hyuangx in reply to jberne June 14th, 01:43
Yes, this is true. I agree with you. In the recent situation, Gaokao might be the most fair competition in China, it depends on the score and nothing.
The persons do not have a resonable score are not able to go to University, but if they are rich ,they can go abroad. If a poor people get a high score, he can get finacial surpport from govement to change his life, he could be a exlllent doctor in several years. It's really fair.
In China, we are seeking the better way to do this , but ,not found. Is there a better way to select huge amount of students than holding a massive exam?
Remember, everything in China is massive. Same poeple criticize it ,in most case , they criticize the content of exam, but not the system. Since the exams are extremly hard, requires the students a very high standard, push them to a horrible grade 3.