Today is the second day of 2012 Gaokao, the National Higher Education Entrance Examination in China. Though more and more students choose to skip Gaokao (through ways like studying aboard), it is still the most important exam in the lives of many Chinese students, because to be admitted into a university is probably their only way to move up in society. For a lot of students, the ultimate purpose for the 12 years of formal schooling in prior to Gaokao is to sit the 3-day-long Gaokao. Not only for students, the entire nation is mobilized during the 3 days of Gaokao to make sure that nothing goes wrong. For example, roads to major testing centers are often cleared for student transportation only.
Gaokao is a farewell to youth. After Gaokao, one starts to go through the real ups and downs of life. Summer is the time to harvest memories. Collectively, there seems to be no difference. Yet individually, everyone is so unique. At a time when another generation of youth bid goodbye to their teen years, deep emotions from the old days strike back – it’s a journey we all went through, followed by new comers year after year…
1977, winter. Gaokao was resumed after being cancelled for 10 years (the length of the infamous Culture Revolution). Gaokao has changed the fate for countless people in this country with a huge population. This year, Gaokao replaced the system of students being recommended to collages during Culture Revolution and provided a platform for fair competition for those who were earger to change their lives. Gaokao opened the door to another world for many people, who, thereafter, headed to a promising future.
1977. Gaokao was open to factory workers, peasants, Rusticated Youth who have been send down to the countryside and who have already gone back to their hometowns, veterans, government officials and new high-school graduates.
1980. Right before the exam started, two girls were chatting. Their smiles lit up the whole exam room and brought a breeze of lightness.
1980. High school teacher Da Wei was encouraging students outside a testing center.
1985. Close to Gaokao, in a classroom at the 171 Middle School in Beijing, Wang lin and a male classmate a few desks away were both focusing on their books. They were in love, broke up later when they went to different classes later. But then, they went to the same college, got married and divorced.
1988. Song Hongbin was the only one in Haibin County, Jiangsu province, who has passed the second round of examinations at an art college, and thus the only one who met the qualifications of Gaokao. There was only him in the entire exam room. This examinee ID belonged to him.
August 27, 1994. Wang Jun, son of immigrant Li Kaiying at Dongyuemiao Village, Sandou Township at the dam area of China’s Three Gorges, got into the Department of Automobile Engineering at Tsinghua University, with a total Gaokao score as high as 651. Local villagers all came to his home to celebrate.
July 7, 1995. The 3-day-long Gaokao kicked off. 2.53 million students were fighting for admissions to China’s colleges in 100 thousand exam rooms across the country. In the picture, a Beijing student was struggling to answer an exam question.
1996. During lunch break in between two exam sessions, two high school girls in Beijing were using every minute on study materials, in the hope to get into prestigious local universities.
1997. There were a total of 2.84 million high school graduates taking Gaokao. Among the troops of “Gaokao companions” (usually students’ patents and even grandparents waiting outside testing centers), a mother was handing over soft drinks to her daughter who just stepped out of the exam room.
1998. 450 thousand students were sitting Gaokao at Beijing’s 70 testing centers. In an exam room at the Fourth Middle School in Beijing, a science-track girl was confidently waiting for the exam to start (Senior high school students in China usually can choose to go on science track or liberal arts track. While everybody is tested in Chinese, English and math, science-track students also need to take additional exams on physics, chemistry and biology, and liberal arts students on history, geography and political science.)
1999, first day of the 3-day-long Gaokao. There were 3.4 million students taking Gaokao that year. In the picture, students who just finished an exam session were walking out the testing center at the Third Middle School of Fuzhou.
2000, the year for the first spring admission Gaokao in China (Universities in China usually only have fall admissions). Exams started in chilly winter months. There were a total of 54 exam rooms for the several thousand students in Bejiing. In the picture, students from Peking-University Middle School were taking Chinese exams.
2000. At Beijing’s BuyNow computer mall, students and their parents waited in line since early morning to use the free internet at the mall to check Gaokao scores. According to staff at the mall, in the morning alone, there were hundreds of people coming to check Gaokao scores – some left with happy faces, some sad.
2001. The limit of “unmarried, age under 25” requirement for Gaokao takers was lifted, much to the delight of many older Gaokao takers. Huang Shunfeng, who relied on the stock market for a living, has always dreamed about taking Gaokao for once in his life. That year, Huang, together with many other older Gaokao takers like him, became the first to benefit from the new Gaokao policy.
July 7, 2002. More than 92,800 students in Shanghai walked into more than 3,800 Gaokao exam rooms in heavy rain. Coincidentally, the essay topic in the first Chinese exam was “in front of the sea.” Many student felt perplexed by such an open topic and feared they may fail. In the picture, a girl who just walked out of the exam room was complaining to her mom.
June, 2003. Students were required to take temperatures before entering exam rooms. Therefore, students in Guangzhou were asked to arrive earlier than previous years so that they have enough time to have their temperatures taken. Before 8 am, there were already tons of students outside the testing center at the Guangzhou Seventh Middle School. After taking temperatures, they waited until 8:30 am to enter exam rooms.
February, 27, 2004. The annual art major application process before Gaokao took place in several universities in Xi’an. Universities from Guangxi, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Inner Mengolia, etc. carefully and strictly interviewed each of the several thousand of students who came down there. Competition was fierce. The admission rate for male modeling major was only 5%.
June 6, 2005. Over 70,000 Gaokao invigilators from 702 Gaokao testing centers in Henan province received invigilation training. “Metal detector” was first used in exam rooms this year to keep out telecommunication tools like cell phones.
June 16, 2006. This year, Guangxi province started online grading. There were a total of 2.4 million answer sheets to grade and more than 1,800 teachers grading in front of a computer screen.
June 7, 2007. At the testing center at Tsinghua-University Middle School. Parents were waiting outside the center after their children entered exam rooms, probably with lots of different emotions going on in their minds.
July 3, 2008 (year of Sichuan earthquake). At the testing center at Sishi Middle School, Chengdu, a student who hurt her legs in the earthquake, was approaching the exam room in a wheelchair. On that day, 96421 students from 40 counties in Sichuan took a belated Gaokao in 3274 exam rooms at 77 local testing centers.
June 8, 2009, the last day of Gaokao. Outside a testing center in Beijing, a sign amid the crowds that read “You are the best” attracted a lot of attention.
June 8, 2010, To celebrate the end of the Gaokao, students at the Xiangfan Fourth Middle School tore up textbooks and testing materials.
June 8, 2011. Gaokao was over. Students from the Eleventh Middle School, Nan’an District, Chongqing, were drinking and celebrating.
June 5, 2012. Students from the east campus of Yangzhou-University Middle School happily showed off their Gaokao examinee IDs.