Scholarship and education
Posted by Joel Martinsen on Monday, June 8, 2009 at 2:10 PM
Sunday, the first day of the national college entrance examination (aka. the gaokao), marked the culmination of months if not years of work on the part of high school seniors sitting for the exam.
For the rest of the country, it was a chance to see what interesting topics the test-makers had come up with for this year's essay question.
In Beijing, the prompt students were given was I have a pair of invisible wings (我有一双隐形的翅膀), a line that comes from a popular song sung by Angela Chang (张韶涵). Students were required to write at least 800 characters in any form of writing apart from poetry.
Yesterday's evening Mirror asked five well-known authors born in four different decades for their impressions of the topic:
Zheng Yuanjie (郑渊洁, 1955)
A few days ago a reporter asked me, "You've written King of Fairy Tales for twenty-four years all by yourself. Where do you get the inspiration?" My answer was very much like this prompt: "Because I have a pair of invisible wings." If I was given this topic to write about, I probably wouldn't stop even at 8,000 characters. I'd write an essay about my experiences and feelings over several decades.
In the end, for this year's topic, the better imagination a student has, the more points they will score.
Wang Hailing (王海鸰, 1953)
In such circumstances, to stand out from the crowd is very difficult, particularly in terms of ideas. On the other hand, a topic like this has both advantages and disadvantages. This year's topic hopes that students will pursue their ideals, and I think it will be difficult to score points any other way.
Students with a good grounding in language have the advantage.
Qiu Huadong (邱华栋, 1969)
I've always paid close attention to gaokao essay topics. It's hard choosing good topics these days; hard in that they need to judge ability. This topic is a huge test of students' imagination. Every student will have their own interpretation of the topic, and the essays they write will be easy to separate into good and bad.
Compared to previous years, therefore, this topic gives easy points to imaginative students, but those who aren't able to open up their minds will stray off-topic and score poorly.
Ding Li (丁力, 1971)
If I were to write this essay, I would be inclined to use the form of a lyrical essay. I believe the people who chose this topic are looking for students to express their own ideals, so it gives them a lot of room for this. Ultimately, the topic is moderately difficult and will generate some good essays. In particular, students emotionally invested in life will very likely receive high scores.
An Yiru (安意如, 1984)
I think that the lyricist may not have realized how well the song matches the emotions of people caught in a disaster. In answering the prompt, I think students ought to tie in to contemporary society, and of course they can also talk about their own response to the song.
For example, singing this song at KTV, a high-school student may have thought nothing more than that it sounded nice. But later on? Lots of people discovered that the song could encourage us during a disaster. It touched our hearts and had the power to heal emotional wounds.
Overall, half of this year's questions ask students to write an essay that fits a set title (denoted by * in the list below). Of the remainder, eight provide short prompts but allow students to choose a title and theme of their own, and two (Guangdong and Jiangxi) ask students to discuss a specific topic. Students in provinces that do not specify a topic of their own are given one of the two National prompts.
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.