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Topic: Exams determine fate in China
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Exams determine fate in China
Posted: Jul 13, 2000 11:35 AM
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From the Chicago Tribune, Sunday, July 9, 2000, Section 1, p. 15

In China, exams determine fate

By Michael Dorgan

BEIJING - According to Chinese mythology, the dragon gate stood in
the middle of the Yellow River. Carp that succeeded in leaping over
the gate were transformed into dragons and ascended into heaven.
Those that failed remained fish, doomed to end up on someone's dinner

That myth may be fresh on the minds of many high school seniors and
parents on this, the weekend of the marathon three-day college
entrance exam that for many takers will determine the course of their

"Chinese people have a tradition of changing their lives through
exams," said education author He Jianming. "For many, it has been the
only way of changing their fate."

Ever since imperial exams were instituted 1,800 years ago, giving
those of lowly birth a chance at an elevated station, exams have been
among the pivotal moments in Chinese life.

While college aptitude tests are stressful in many countries, they
have extraordinary weight in China, where there are millions of good
students but only a handful of good universities, and admission is
determined almost exclusively by a single test.

For rural youths especially, the college entrance exam can be the one
chance to escape poverty.

"I don't have a chance to go to college. I grew up during the
Cultural Revolution and got sent to the countryside," said Hou
Hongsheng, 44 , as he paced outside a Beijing high school where his
son and about 1,000 other hopefuls were taking the test. "That's why
I really want him to go to the university."

Hou was one of about 100 parents holding vigil outside the school,
one o f778 test sites in Beijing where 56,000 students were scheduled
to take the exam. Several nurses and an ambulance stood by to treat
the overwrought.

Some parents, like Hou, had spent hard-earned money on hotel rooms so
their children would have a comfortable place to rest between the
morning and afternoon sessions. Hou, like others, had also invested
in shark-extract tablets and other "brain tonics" believed to boost
memory and alertness.

Also available were government-sponsored buses bearing tanks of
oxygen. The buses cruised from test site to test site, offering
students a few mind-clearing breaths.

Since early June, Beijing's many around-the-clock construction sites
have been shut down each day from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to eliminate
noise that might disturb young scholars. Restaurants, nightclubs and
other entertainment center have been ordered to be quiet.

The exam's exalted stature is partly due to the widely held
conviction that it is one of the few honest contests in China. Many
things here, from finding an apartment to getting a job, are
determined by bribery or connections.

But while the tests themselves are considered fair, many Chinese
question whether the results, in which a perfect score is 750, are
fairly used. Through an arcane allocation system, big-city students -
especially those from Beijing and Shanghai - can get into good
universities with lower scores than can students from the countryside
or inland cities.

Officials who defend the disparities argue that most good
universities are in big cities, that those universities are limited
in their ability to accommodate out-of-town students, and that
big-city residents have better job prospects and therefore need
better educations.

Those arguments don't impress rural students.

"Beijing and Shanghai students are kids of the 'first wife.' Students
from Hubei, Hunan, and Shandong [provinces] are the concubine's
kids," a student from Wuhan University in Hubei Province wrote
recently to the China Youth Daily. "They can afford to play musical
instruments, paint, receive a well-rounded education and then get
into college with ease. We can only study day and night, get high
scores and then discover that we still can't get into colleges.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618) 453-4244
Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office)
(618) 457-8903 (home)


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