Scholarship and education

Gaokao pressure and opportunism

China's college entrance exams, or gaokao, continue to generate news and commentary in the Chinese media. Here are two short op-ed pieces that discuss the intense media attention that surrounds the gaokao every year.

The essay section (topics here) is probably the most-discussed portion of the exam. This year, Netease recruited a number of semi-famous names to write essays for a "Gaokao with Celebrities 2007" feature. Ever wanted to know what Sister Hibiscus or that fat Photoshop kid think of the topic "a phrase on everyone's lips"? Now's your chance.

A piece in today's Beijing Youth Daily finds the contest pointless:

Why are celebrities all hot to write gaokao essays?

by Yuan Guangkuo / BYD

In recent days, with the gaokao still a hot topic, major websites have run "write gaokao essays together" campaigns. One website had an even more original approach: using Tianjin's essay topic, "A phrase on everyone's lips," it invited seven people - a web celeb, a singer, etc - to "write essays together." It took pains to institute rules and even gave them all rankings, commendations, and "award certificates" (Chengdu Shangbao, 12 June).

Every year when the gaokao essay topics are announced, newspapers and online media organize people of all types, particularly all sorts of celebrities, to write gaokao essays, and each time this receives a positive reaction from everyone. Like the annual gaokao, this seems to have become standard practice.

Society's "gaokao essay complex" has many people puzzled: a gaokao essay is prepared for test-takers by gaokao test preparation experts - what's the point of anyone else writing one? Especially those celebrities - why are they so quick to write these topical essays? Actually, if you think carefully, you won't be confused. The heart of the matter is contained in the word "hot."

The influence that the gaokao has on society is matched by few other events during the year. Operating procedure for celebrities is to go where things are hot; the gaokao, which really has absolutely nothing to do with them, naturally becomes something that they cannot let go of. But in light of the education levels of the majority of celebrities, the math, physics, and chemistry test papers are not doable, and too dry besides. Fortunately, regardless of their level of education, and no matter whether their thinking is superficial or profound, they'll always be able to write a few hundred characters. So they go to work on the gaokao essay.

Take another look at the so-called gaokao essays that use "a phrase on everyone's lips" as the topic, and you'll discover just exactly where their motivation lies. One web celeb wrote an essay titled "XXXX Invincible" (XXXX无敌, where XXXX is her online ID), another celebrity wrote one titled "I'm fat for a reason" (天生我胖必有用, where the writer's ID has "fat" in it), and a singer even used one of his songs as the title for his every possible means, celebrities maneuver to try to keep others from forgetting them, to keep people from forgetting their current or past splendor.

Celebrities and stars writing gaokao essays is, to put it bluntly, nothing more than an annual effort to use the fiery heat of the gaokao to increase their own popularity. So as for how well they write and how they go about it, there's no reason to take it seriously. We can watch their performance, or not. It's that simple.

* * *

The exam determines whether a student will go to college and become a successful, productive member of society, or if he will spend the rest of his life enduring the shame of his failure. Or so things can seem. Here's a look at this year's test by a proctor who's been administering the gaokao for a decade and a half.

Gaokao in the eyes of an old invigilator

"Ten years to a sword" / BYD

As a high-school teacher, this year was my sixteenth to be a gaokao invigilator. The testing centers for the gaokao today are truly "armed to the teeth" - closed-circuit sound systems, monitoring devices, mobile phone jammersm and earpiece detectors have all been put into use; just checking the students requires five photographs, and all of the photographic information is entered into a computer. Banners hanging at the gates of the school testing centers have changed from reading "Welcome XX County Teachers to Our School to Assist with Test Proctoring," to "Gaokao Workers who Participate in Cheating will be Removed from Public Office" - quite the feel of the discipline rods in Outlaws of the Marsh.

And students are even more different from the students of old. What surprised me the most this year was that before they entered the testing room, many students clustered together shouting slogans in voices that rocked the campus. Indeed, the eyes of this "old invigilator" were opened. However, I discovered that many of the students who shouted slogans were actually more agitated, to the point that the hands of one student were shaking so much when she entered the testing room that when she sharpened her pencil she sliced her finger and drew blood. I hurried to turn her over to the proctor waiting outside the classroom to have her cut bandaged in the bathroom. Another student, holding a pen in his hands, was still looking everywhere for a pen, agitated to the point of tears. Other students couldn't even pick up their pencils at all...I shook my head with a sigh. Is it that bad? Isn't it just a test?

But no wonder. The gaokao these days has become completely and utterly "the people's gaokao," "the test of tests," and "recognition of merit." For the gaokao, roads can be blocked off, flight-paths can be altered, traffic cops can break traffic regulations of their own accord - everything is "special measures for special circumstances." The media's drumbeating is even more all-encompassing. And in the midst of all of this, it would only be abnormal if the test-takers had no reaction whatsoever.

What will the gaokao be like in the future? I look forward to finding out, but at the same time I'm worried.

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There are currently 4 Comments for Gaokao pressure and opportunism.

Comments on Gaokao pressure and opportunism

Invigilator? You translated it as proctor later on...

I'm more interested in the math section.


It's not "hard", just more involved. If you know the concepts of trig, you should be able to solve the above problem.

Micah: Sorry. Ever since taking proctored exams in high school where the attending teachers wore badges that read "INVIGILATOR" I've had a soft spot for that word.

for these not so famous bloggers, writing a gaokao essay is like a game. they need to update their blogs regularly and they need a topic. so when a word game comes along, many of them are agog to play it. they are good players with words. there is no reason why they should give a wide berth to such godsend fun.

i don't think it's pointless as pointed out in beijing youth daily. it is not a question whether these celebs write gaokao essays in an endeavor to consolidate their fleeting fame. it is not generous to question people's motives at no provocation.

i think some people see it pointless very probably because they are not good at writing and they are not good at getting a kick out of writing a gaokao essay playfully, no matter whether they are aware that they may not be good at getting fun out of writing.

it is just a game and it is really pointless to blame people who want to play with words and have fun.

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