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studying for the gaokao
The “gaokao” is China’s grueling, ultra-competitive university entrance exam. Somewhat similar to the American SAT, except that it lasts more than twice as long, the nine-hour test is offered just once a year and is the sole determinant for admission to virtually all Chinese colleges and universities. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, June 13, 2009]

The gao kao (pronounced gow kow) roughly translated means “the high test. It is a national obsession that remains as much a part of Chinese life as dumplings and chopsticks. Mei Fong wrote in the Los Angeles Times, the gaogao is “a test so important that construction work is stopped, traffic diverted and parents take work leave to coddle or bully their kids through the ordeal. (Some parents have even been known to put their daughters on birth control pills so they won't be distracted with menstrual cramps during the test.)One Chinese saying compares the exam to a stampede of a thousand soldiers and 10 horses across a single log bridge. [Source: Mei Fong, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2012]

Taken at the end of high school, the gaokao is given over a three day period across the country in July. It emphasizes math and science but also measure knowledge of written Chinese, English and Marxist thought. The English section requires students to write a composition in Chinese. A national university entrance exam existed in the Maoist era. It was abandoned during the Cultural revolution when schools were closed and students attacked their teachers and professors. The National College Entrance Exam was reinstated in 1977 under Deng Xiaoping. In 1977 only 230,000 students passed out of 5.7 million that took it. The National College Entrance Exam is credited with helping China advance after the Cultural Revolution and providing a backbone for today’s rapid growth. But at the same time many think the emphasis on the exam burdens students unnecessarily and stifles creativity, leadership and the ability to adapt to changing market places.

High school students have traditionally selected both the universities they want to attend and the major they want. The score they need to gain entrance to a university depends on the major they want. Students often have little knowledge about their majors when they select them. There are cutoff scores for top-tier universities and second-tier ones. The cutoff marks can vary by an applicant’s place of residence and ethnicity.

A report by Xinhua, the state news agency, said that of the 9.15 million students who took the gaokao in 2012 this year, about 75 percent would be admitted to universities in mainland China. Once the students get their scores, they submit to education officials a list of universities, ranking them in order of choice. Administrators at the universities then look at the students’ scores and decide whether to admit them for the coming September. [New York Times]

More than 10 million Chinese students took it 2010, about twice as many as in 2002. About three in five students pass it. Nine and a half million students took it in 2010, the drop off is due to demographic changes resulting from the one-child policy. About half the students that take the exam pass it. In the 1970s, only 3 percent of those who took it were accepted at universities. In the 1980s, about one in ten passed. In the early 1990s about a forth passed it.

In a society where many people see connections as crucial to getting ahead, the entrance exam is defended as meritocratic, giving everybody a chance of attending university. Explaining why the gaokao remains central to the college admissions process, the journalist Wang Hao told The New Yorker , “My parents’ generation, which went through the Cultural Revolution, will tell you that the test is the only way to keep it fair...Otherwise, all of the good schools would be filled entirely by people with connections.”

Good Websites and Sources: School Life in Beijing ; School Life Video YouTube ; Precious Children PBS Show Center on Chinese Education at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College ; China Today on Chinese Schools ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Education Wikipedia ; China Education and Research Network (Chinese Government Site) ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC)

Importance of the University Entrance Exam

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studying for the gaokao

The gaokao is a key to social mobility in China and a defining moment in the lives of those who take it. Success and failure on the test can mean the difference between prosperity and a life of drudgery. It also determines the direction in life an individual will take: company management, government bureaucracy, or a profession such as medicine. Success or failure can not only shape the lives of those who take it can also shape the lives of their families, who may depend on their future earnings.

Every year tensions are very high around test time. Students can barely look when the results are posted. Many think there is too much emphasis on this exam. Critics complain that the gao kao illustrates the flaws in an education system that stresses memorization over independent thinking and creativity. Educators also say that rural students are at a disadvantage and that the quality of higher education has been sacrificed for quantity. Even the government realizes there are problemz. One former Vice President told the New York Times, “Students are buried in an endless flood of homework and sit for one mock exam after another, leaving them with heads swimming and eyes blurred, arriving at university exhausted with little desire to use their minds or experience new ideas."

Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of the Peking University High School, wrote in The Diplomat, “June 7 and 8 are the two days that China’s senior three students (twelfth graders) have lived the first 18 years of their lives for, and whatever anxiety, neurosis, and insanity that has simmered beneath the surface among students, parents, and teachers this past year will now reach its climax.” [Source: Jiang Xueqin The Diplomat. June 3, 2011]

Evan Osnos wrote on The New Yorker blog on the day of the gaokao: “While the students took their exams, parents were streaming into the vermillion gates... of the Confucius Temple and the Lama Temple in burn incense and pray for good scores. (One friend told me today about a fellow mother who is so crazed that she has been visiting Catholic churches as well, just for good measure.) The city itself even got into the spirit, ordering drivers to avoid honking, which might disturb students, and, in some places, closing down Internet cafes in the days before, to encourage studying...Chinese papers this week have been full of news of foiled cheaters, including the crime rings in Fujian province that were selling a product line that included “wireless earphones, signal emitters, scanner-imbedded pens and watches.”

High school students are often told they can not take the university entrance exam until they have paid off all their school fees and debts. Some times poor rural families fork over a large portion of their annual income and still fall short. The situation got some attention in 2004 when one bright promising student committed suicide by leaping in front of a train after being told by his teacher in front of his classmates three days before the exam that he could not take the exam because his family owed $800 in fees.

Among middle class parents the thinking goes: if a child does well on his college entrance exam he can attend university in China otherwise it will be necessary to send them abroad.

Entrance Examinations and Admission Criteria in the 1970s and 80s

National examinations to select students for higher education (and positions of leadership) were an important part of China's culture, and, traditionally, entrance to a higher education institution was considered prestigious. Although the examination system for admission to colleges and universities has undergone many changes since the Cultural Revolution, it remains the basis for recruiting academically able students. When higher education institutions were reopened in early 1970s, candidates for entrance examinations had to be senior-middle-school graduates or the equivalent, generally below twenty-six years of age. Work experience requirements were eliminated, but workers and staff members needed permission from their enterprises to take the examinations. [Source: Library of Congress]

Each provincial-level unit was assigned a quota of students to be admitted to key universities, a second quota of students for regular universities within that administrative division, and a third quota of students from other provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities who would be admitted to institutions operated at the provincial level. Provincial-level administrative units selected students with outstanding records to take the examinations. Additionally, preselection examinations were organized by the provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities for potential students (from three to five times the number of places allotted). These candidates were actively encouraged to take the examination to ensure that a sufficient number of good applicants would be available. Cadres with at least two years of work experience were recruited for selected departments in a small number of universities on an experimental basis. Preferential admission treatment (in spite of lower test scores) was given to minority candidates, students from disadvantaged areas, and those who agreed in advance to work in less developed regions after graduation.

“In December 1977, when uniform national examinations were reinstated, 5.7 million students took the examinations, although university placement was available for only the 278,000 applicants with the highest scores. In July 1984, about 1.6 million candidates (30,000 fewer than in 1983) took the entrance examinations for the 430,000 places in China's more than 900 colleges and universities. Of the 1.6 million examinees, more than 1 million took the test for placement in science and engineering colleges; 415,000 for places in liberal arts colleges; 88,000 for placement in foreign language institutions; and 15,000 for placement in sports universities and schools. More than 100,000 of the candidates were from national minority groups. A year later, there were approximately 1.8 million students taking the three day college entrance examination to compete for 560,000 places. Liberal arts candidates were tested on politics, Chinese, mathematics, foreign languages, history, and geography. Science and engineering candidates were tested on politics, Chinese, mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Entrance examinations also were given in 1985 for professional and technical schools, which sought to enroll 550,000 new students.

“Other innovations in enrollment practices, included allowing colleges and universities to admit students with good academic records but relatively low entrance-examination scores. Some colleges were allowed to try an experimental student recommendation system--fixed at 2 percent of the total enrollment for regular colleges and 5 percent for teachers' colleges--instead of the traditional entrance examination. A minimum national examination score was established for admission to specific departments at specially designated colleges and universities, and the minimum score for admission to other universities was set by provinciallevel authorities. Key universities established separate classes for minorities. When several applicants attained the minimum test score, the school had the option of making a selection, a policy that gave university faculty and administrators a certain amount of discretion but still protected admission according to academic ability.

“In addition to the written examination, university applicants had to pass a physical examination and a political screening. Less than 2 percent of the students who passed the written test were eliminated for reasons of poor health. The number disqualified for political reasons was known, but publicly the party maintained that the number was very small and that it sought to ensure that only the most able students actually entered colleges and universities.

“By 1985 the State Education Commission established unified questions and time and evaluation criteria for the test and authorized provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities to administer the test, grade the papers in a uniform manner, and determine the minimum points required for admission. The various schools were to enroll students according to the results.

“Adult students needed to have the educational equivalent of senior-middle- school graduates, and those applying for release or partial release from work to study were to be under forty years of age. Staff members and workers were to apply to study job-related subjects with review by and approval of their respective work units. If employers paid for the college courses, the workers had to take entrance examinations. In 1985 colleges enrolled 33,000 employees from various enterprises and companies, approximately 6 percent of the total college enrollment.

Getting Around the Gaokao

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “Many universities do set aside a few slots for students admitted on the basis of special merit, thus allowing leeway for students who do not take the gaokao or have low scores. Admission in those cases can be based on factors like musical talent, foreign language skills or athletic prowess, as in the United States. Ethnic minority students sometimes get an advantage. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times June 30, 2012]

Of course, children of senior Communist Party members, government leaders and prominent businesspeople have their own back channels to admission, a phenomenon that exists, too, in the West, though perhaps not to the same degree. There has also been a growing trend of students in China applying to universities outside the mainland. Many Chinese parents — including the party’s top leaders — not only value a foreign degree over one from a Chinese university, but also want their children to avoid the stress of taking the gaokao. An Education Ministry report last year said the number of high school students from top cities leaving the mainland to pursue higher education overseas grew at 20 percent each year from 2008 to 2011.

“Gao Haicheng, a junior in Kunming, said he planned to apply to universities abroad rather than ones in China. Though avoiding the gaokao is not his main aim, Mr. Gao said the exam “is a big problem in China’s education system.” “In China, they only use marks to explain something,” he added, referring to the emphasis on the gaokao score.

Studying for the Gaokao Exam

Students usually spend around three months cramming from dawn until the wee hours of the morning for the university exam. Sometimes parents spend a large portion of their salary on brain tonics like Gingko Study Power and air-conditioned hotel rooms for the last few days before the test so their children can focus on studying in a distraction-free environment.

Sharon Lafraniere wrote in New York Times, “For the past year, Liu Qichao has focused on one thing, and only one thing: the gao kao...Fourteen to 16 hours a day, he studied for the college entrance examination. He took one day off every three weeks...He was still carrying his textbook from room to room last Sunday morning before leaving for the exam site, still reviewing materials during the lunch break, still hard at work Sunday night, preparing for Part 2 of the exam that Monday. I want to study until the last minute, he said. I really hope to be successful.” [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, June 13, 2009]

Families go through great lengths to maximize their children’s chances. “In Sichuan Province in southwestern China, students studied in a hospital, hooked up to oxygen containers, in hopes of improving their concentration. Some girls take contraceptives so they will not get their periods during the exam.”

“Some well-off parents dangle the promise of fabulous rewards for offspring whose scores get them into a top-ranked university: parties, 100,000 renminbi in cash, or about $14,600, or better. My father even promised me, if I get into a college like Nankai University in Tianjin, “I’ll give you a prize, an Audi,” said Chen Qiong, a 17-year-old girl taking the exam in Beijing.”

There are tough, regimented schools that resemble military academies that specialize in preparing students for the gaokao. Despite the annual school fee of 38,500 renminbi (about $5,640) — well above the average annual income for a Chinese family — they have no problem getting enough students. At some schools one forth of the seniors are restudy students. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, June 13, 2009]

Classes continue for three weeks straight, barely interrupted by a one-day break. If a student’s cell phone rings in class, the teacher smashes it. Some students continue studying days after most of their classmates left for home and have bruised wrists from pressing the edges of metal desk, piled with stacks of textbooks.

Extreme Measures Taken During the Gaokao Exam-Taking Season

In June 2012, Beh Lih Yi wrote in AFP, “More than 9 million students sat China's notoriously tough college entrance exams, with "high-flyer" rooms, nannies and even intravenous drips among the tools being employed for success. With just 6.85 million university spots on offer this year, competition for the top institutions is intense, and attempts to cheat are rife -- 1,500 people have been arrested on suspicion of selling transmitters and hard-to-detect ear pieces. [Source: Beh Lih Yi, AFP, June 6, 2012]

Parents and students this year are also resorting to some outlandish but legal methods to ensure nothing goes wrong in the make-or-break two-day exam.Students have reportedly been given pre-exam injections and intravenous drips designed to boost energy levels, while girls have resorted to hormone injections and birth control pills to delay menstruation. "There are situations where girls take pills to delay their periods until after the exams," a gynaecologist at Beijing's Chaoyang Hospital, who declined to give his name, told AFP.

“Some of the more affluent parents have rented houses close to the 7,300 exam venues across the country, while so-called "high-flyer rooms" are being offered in the northern port city of Tianjin, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper. The special hotel rooms -- which cost up to 800 yuan ($126) more than an ordinary room -- are billed as having previously been rented out to someone who scored high points in the exams. Rooms with lucky numbers such as six -- which symbolises success in Chinese culture, or eight -- which represents wealth -- are also favourites. "Every year the house rental market heats up ahead of gaokao," Jin Guangze, a teacher from the Beijing Experimental High School told the China Daily.

“The exam has also given rise to a new and lucrative industry -- the gaokao baomu -- or "exam nannies" -- who are tasked to look after students during the exam period. "The nannies are well-qualified with at least a college-level degree," said Jennifer Liu, marketing manager at Coleclub -- an agency that provides household help and has offered the service since 2009. "They are there to help the students -- cook meals, wash clothes, tutor the students and offer support for their mental well-being," she told AFP. Liu declined to disclose how much it cost to hire a nanny, but media reports say the service costs an average 4,000 yuan over a 10-day period.

“Meanwhile, China's state television CCTV has repeatedly broadcast advice to help students prepare for the exams and has warned against cheating, airing a confession of a remorseful suspect caught for aiding students to cheat. The nation's public security ministry said in a statement Monday that police had busted over 100 gangs suspected of selling cheating equipment, rounding up 1,500 people with the seizure of some 60,000 devices such as ear pieces. Exam authorities said they would use wireless signal jammers and frequency detectors to prevent cheating, as well as fingerprint scanners to verify exam-takers' identity.

Before, During and After the Gaokao Exam

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gaokao stress
The tests are taken so seriously that the authorities stop traffic to ensure candidates arrive in time and order residents not to shout or use car horns lest it distract the students. A favorite breakfast was a favorite among test-takers: a bread stick next to two eggs, symbolizing a 100 percent score.

“Outside the exam sites, parents keep vigil for hours, as anxious as husbands waiting for their wives to give birth. A tardy arrival is disastrous. One student who arrived four minutes late in 2007 was turned away, even though she and her mother knelt before the exam proctor, begging for leniency.” [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, June 13, 2009]

Eric Mu wrote in, “The morning before the exam started, I walked through a crowd of students’ parents. They were anxious and gazing expectantly at their children, praying that they would ace the test. My dad was there too. He brought me a can of Red Bull. “Son, don’t be nervous.” My dad passed me the can. How can I not be nervous seeing you wimpy like that? I was thinking, gulping down the liquid. “Your teacher said you are good. He said you have no problem.” My teacher? My teacher doesn’t care about me at all. All he cares about is statistics. “We can try again next year if you fail.” But next year. How many next years I am going to have? But I just said bye to my dad, throwing the tin can as far as I could, and strode into the exam room, ready to take my destiny by the throat, or, be taken by my throat. [Source: Eric Mu, September 2, 2011]

Mu wrote,”The three days of examinations proceeded without incident, except occasionally the kid in front of me snuck a look or two at my exam sheet and the teachers there pretended not to see it at all, or they were too involved in their chat. But how can I let my three years of hard work be stolen by this sneaky bastard? I stared back at him with my hard, venomous eyes, covering my sheet up. The thief turned his head back.

After the test students had collect the answers from the district education bureau and,with the help of their teachers, estimate their scores.”

Feelings After Taking the University Entrance Exam in China

Eric Mu wrote in, when the exam was over “I walked out of the room feeling like an abandoned condom, used and hollow. Exhausted too. All I wanted to do was to catch up on all the sleep that I had missed over the past three years. It was not only because I was so sleepy, I wanted to sleep away the horrible three years, to forget them like a bad dream. When I woke up again, I hoped that I would find myself a fresh person with a new life.” [Source: Eric Mu, September 2, 2011]

A month later, I got the admission letter from a university, my family was exhilarated. But I was only relieved to have my burden removed, if only temporarily. I knew intuitively that university would by no means be as wonderful as the teacher depicted to me. Compared with three years ago, I was now older and in no small measure, wiser.

My feeling was vindicated; university life was but another cycle. We would go through another round of anxiety, angst, boredom and disillusion, only with different tokens for goals: then it was about passing the exam and going to university, now it was about becoming a Party member and finding a girlfriend and getting a job.

Anxiety Around the Time the Gaokao Scores Are Announced

Describing the tension around the time the gaokao scores are announced, Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “Millions of high school graduates across China have been furiously dialing telephone hot lines or gathering with family members around the home computer in recent days in a nail-biter of a ritual not unlike that of waiting for a winning lottery number. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times June 30, 2012]

The number, in this case, is the score for what is generally considered the single most important test any Chinese citizen can take — the gaokao, or college entrance examination. High school seniors took the test over two to three days in early June. Now, the tests have been graded, the numbers tabulated and the results released, region by region. In the final step, college selections are being made in an opaque process that stretches from late June into July.

“When the result came out on June 23, it happened to be my 18th birthday,” said Yang Taoyuan, who lives with his parents in Kunming, capital of the southwest province of Yunnan. “We had a family get-together on that day, and everybody was there when we called over to a hot line to find out about my scores.”

“Students who have received their gaokao scores and are now submitting their choices for universities expect to hear results this month. Mr. Yang, the graduate in Kunming, said by telephone that he had put down the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology as his top choice. But he said if he had done better than his score of 517, out of a possible 750, he might have put down the Civil Aviation University of China in Tianjin. “I did the best in my class, so I’m pretty happy with the result,” he said. “So are my parents and most of my friends. But it’s not high enough to get me into the school I’m longing to attend.”

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last minute studying

Gaokao Essay Questions in 2010

On some gaokao essay questions students are asked to write an essay that fits a set title; others give students more freedom in their choice of approach. Poetry is usually prohibited. Students in regions that do not specify a topic of their own are given one of the two national essay questions. [Source:, June 7, 2010]

National (I): Why chase mice when there are fish to eat? A: cartoon showing one cat chasing a mouse while others eat fish has this as a caption.

National (II): A: What is light reading? B: It is reading for the purpose of relaxation, interest, and practicality. Unesco's selection of April 23 for world reading day arose out of a beautiful legend: April 23 is the date that famed Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes died, and it is also St. George's Day, celebrated in Catalonia. The legend goes that the knight George slew a dragon, rescued a princess, and was granted a gift in return: a book, representing knowledge and power. Every year on this day, Catalonian women will give a book to their husband or boyfriend, and the men will give a rose in return. Actually, the same day is the date of Shakespeare's birth and death, and is the birthday of authors such as William Faulkner, Maurice Druon, and Halldó Kiljan Laxness, so it is a fitting and proper choice for world reading day.”

Gaokao Essay Questions in the Cities in 2010

Beijing: Looking at the stars with your feet on the ground? Commenters see this one as asking for an evaluation of idealism versus practicality.

Shanghai: Danish fishermen? “Danes go fishing, they carry with them a ruler. When they catch a fish, they will measure it and toss it back if it is not long enough. They say, 'Isn't it better to let the little ones grow up?' More than two thousand years ago in our country, Mencius said, 'If fine nets do not enter the pools, there will be more fish and turtles than can be eaten.' And in fact this principle runs throughout many areas of our lives.”

Tianjin: The world I live in? “The world is like a painter's dazzling array of colors, the world is a melody dancing about on an instrument; the world advances through innovation and finds warmth through harmony; the world can exist in a marvelous virtual network, and the world is expressed in the real lives of ordinary people; the world may seem large, but it is really very small?.everyone has their own world, but everyone lives in the world. Sum up your experiences and understanding of 'The world I live in.'?

Gaokao Essay Questions in the Provinces in 2010

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entering the test center
Jiangsu: Green Life? Green is vibrant, visually pleasing. Green is intertwined in life and ecology. Today, there is a new concept of green, one that is closely connected to the lives of every person.”

Guangdong: Neighbors? We are neighbors and rely on each other. You might be visible or invisible. It is impossible to avoid having neighbors, but you can make a choice.”

Zhejiang: As Roles Change? When fledglings grow up, they are said to feed their aging parents with food from their own mouths. This is known as 'reverse feeding' . Similar phenomena exist in human society. The cultural influence of the younger generation on its elders is known as 'reverse cultural feeding.' For thousands of years, under the orthodox traditional model of children receiving instruction from their parents, the undercurrent of reverse cultural feeding was not obvious. But in today's rapidly-changing society, young people have a reverse feeding ability unprecedented among earlier generations. Their scientific knowledge, values, lifestyles, aesthetics and interests, are exerting a growing influence on their elders, leading to constant changes in the roles of instructor and instructed.”

Shandong: Light and shadow? All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.' Leo Tolstoy.” (Other sources are reporting an alternate question about luxury purchases and a high-class lifestyle.)

Hubei: Fantasy? Sun Wukong somersault cloud and Nezha's Wind Fire Wheels are products of fantasy bearing humanity's dream to fly through the air. Who would have thought that the Fair of 10,000 Nations in Shanghai's Lujiazui district, described in the late-Qing fantasy novel New China, and the journey “From the Earth to the Moon? dreamt up by French science fiction novelist Jules Verne would become reality today? Fantasy arises from the human instinct to seek out knowledge and is an expression of humanity's uncommon imagination. Fantasy motivates reality, fantasy illuminates life, fantasy is the source of happiness??

Jiangxi: Recovering childhood? Why do we want to recover childhood? Because society it too utilitarian, children have too much pressure, and childhood ends too early. Society needs innocence and required a return to childhood.”

Liaoning: Happiness is ____ ____) “ (1) A poll on November 19, 2009 showed that 80 percent of Chinese respondents felt that happiness was connected to a house; more than 90 percent of Japanese respondents felt there was no connection. (2) A philosopher fell into the water, and after he was hauled ashore, the first thing he said was “Breathing is such a happy thing. Live is happiness. But why do so many people ruin themselves for “so-called happiness?” (3) “At its most superficial, happiness comes from desire and material objects, but these can never be satisfied in life.” (4) “Everyone pursues happiness, but in the pursuit of your own happiness, you must not harm others, or harm the country.”

Fujian: The birth of Grimm's Fairy Tales (The brothers Grimm felt that there was a connection between folk tales and human history, but after collecting many of them without finding that connection, they gave up. Later on, a friend chanced across the things they had compiled, and arranged with a publisher to have it published, becoming what we know as Grimm's Fairy Tales.”

Sichuan: Points and Life? A point can form a line, can form a plane, can form a body. Life is like a few unregulated points which can be connected into countless lines, which can then form different planes, which can then form different geometric objects.”

Anhui: Philosophical association? Take inspiration from the philosophy expressed by Ruan Yuan's “Poem on Wuxing? [not translated here]. Shaanxi: Success and the environment “(1) A tropical fish placed in a fishbowl will only grow three inches long; placed in a pond, it can grow quite large. (2) Wolves are so strong and powerful because they live in an outdoor environment. (3) A psychologist picked ten people and told them they had extraordinary talent. They then went on to find success. Later, the psychologist admitted that they were just ordinary people.

Hainan and Ningxia: Participation; Chongqing: Tough problems Hunan: Morning.

Teen Writes Entrance Exam Essay in Han Dynasty Prose

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last minute encouragement

Wang Yunfei, an 18-year-old student from Nantong, Jiangsu province, has won instant fame for an essay he wrote in this year's college entrance examination. His essay on the environment first stunned the examiners and then caught the attention of the entire nation, for it was written in the long-forgotten classical Chinese language that was used in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220). [Source: China Daily, February 7 2011]

Wu Xinjiang, a scholar of classical literature, was summoned to examine and rate Wang's paper. After spending a whole day reading and re-reading Wang's essay, Wu declared that it was a perfect piece of Han Dynasty writing, in grammar as well as style. Wu was also surprised to find that in the prose there were over 40 Chinese words he had never heard before. Wu later told the media that Wang's writing skills were good enough for a postgraduate student of classical literature. Despite a lack of original thought or deep insight, Wang's essay was widely circulated on the Internet over the past couple of weeks. It has also won him admission into the prestigious Southeast University in Nanjing as an undergraduate student of civil engineering, a subject he wished to pursue.

"My prose got 67 out of 70," he told China Daily over the phone. "Maybe I lost 3 points on account of my poor handwriting. I had to write the 800-wordprose in 90 minutes."He said his favorite subject is science. His highest scores in the college entrance exam were in physics and chemistry. "Classical Chinese is my hobby," said Wang, whose father is a truck driver and mother a farmer....Unlike many teens, who crave for fame, Wang is "upset" that his essay has become a talking point for the nation. He said the sudden fame has interrupted his peaceful life, as journalists from across the country are lining up to interview him."The interviews have taken up the time I wanted to spend reading," he said, adding, "I don't want to be famous."

Wang said he has never had a computer in his home. And unlike his peers who spend most of their spare time surfing the Internet, he devoted his leisure time reading classical books. At school, he was never considered a promising writer because his unusual style of writing didn't impress any of the teachers. But he always wanted to write a classical prose in the college entrance exam to "wow" the examiners, Wang said. "I thought if they fail me for that, I could always try again the next year," he said. Once he is done with his studies, Wang dreams of being an architect."Skyscrapers in all the big cities of China look a lot alike. I want to design something distinctive." However, he maintained he will always make time to pursue his hobby. "It's (classical Chinese) already a part of my life, and I love it," he said.

Image Sources: China Smacks, Shanghaiist, China Daily, Wall Street Journal, Xinhua, Photobucket

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2012

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