… on the line—June 7-10 are the dates for that annual rite of passage known as the university examination (高考). This year is also special in that it marks the 30th anniversary of the reinstitution of the examinations after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Part of what piques our interest about the examinations are the ingenious cheating techniques that have proliferated with the spread of mobile devices such as phones, laptops, and walkie-talkies. Each year, they try to crack down, and this year is no different: the new rule is that you can’t leave the test room prior to the last half-hour of each test session. But we trust after the tenth, we will find some more reports about how some people managed to cheat the system. It’s hard to not be amazed by the progress has been made since the days where we scribbled history notes on the inside of our hand or the old crib-sheet-in-the-baseball cap days.
On a more sociological note, one might interested in knowing how the university examination—and by extension, the tertiary education system—manages to improve the distribution of opportunity in China. In recent years, for example, the number of students from rural areas has exceeded the number of urban students (52.5%). Universities in more developed provinces expand enrollment in order to offer more spaces for students from the less developed, western provinces. You could call it a kind of regional/economic “affirmative-action”, and that, we believe, was not really the case thirty years ago, when the point was just to get the whole system running again. What kind of long-term effect this has on China’s society, or perhaps more importantly, what kind of effect it could have were it designed or implemented in a particular way, could be a good doctoral thesis ten years for the kids taking the test today.
This doesn’t even get into the slew of hot-button issues raised by the examination system, such as gender discrimination. While the number of women taking the test seems to have increased, there is still the issue of discriminatory admissions standards even at places like prestigious Beijing University, where, for certain language majors, women with higher scores were rejected in favor of men with lower scores. They say this is because there are too many women in these majors, so that there’s now a mini “affirmative action” for men, though were a bit shocked by the explanation given in this article (in Chinese) by one professor, who stated that a learning environment dominated by females and femininity was not ideal, a statement that beg more questions than it answers.