We’ve talked at length about the national exams (or gaokao) that have been making our Chinese compatriots’ lives hell the last month. Every year there’s a couple of weird controversies, usually relating to cheating or illegal registration or the like, and this year was no exception.
But cheating stories are depressing. Here’s one wacky gaokao tale that seems to have earned a happy ending. A Sichuan student failed his gaokao essay, but may get into university anyway because the 800-word paper had been written (largely correctly) in a language from 3,000 years ago.
The script, called “甲骨 Jia Gu” (oracle bone script) is from the Bronze Age and is usually found on ox bones or turtle shells. Professors who translated the essay into modern Chinese found that 19-year-old Huang Ling’s character use was largely correct, but his essay was awarded an 8 out of 80 (later lowered to 6).
From the SCMP:
Mr Huang was quoted saying that he was not trying to “play around” but was hoping to “attract the attention of the examination assessor”. He said he had become obsessed with oracle bone script since last year, when he was taught how Chinese characters evolved from it. He has since read voraciously about it in his spare time.
Teacher Fu Tichao was initially angry at Mr Huang, but admitted it was impressive that he wrote the essay in 90 minutes. There are only about 1,000 oracle bone script characters, and Mr Huang has mastered 80 per cent, the teacher said.
While some netizens criticised Mr Huang for showing off, others applauded his dedication to a rare and difficult discipline.
Danwei pointed out that writing wasn’t all in oracle bone, but rather was an amalgamation of various ancient forms:
This reporter’s initial reaction was astonishment when I first saw the paper covered in ancient characters on the copy Xiao Huang made of his essay. After inspecting it carefully, several language arts teachers who had studied ancient characters discovered that it contained oracle bone characters, bronze inscription characters, and seal characters. And after reading Pu’s transcription, a number of language arts teachers said that although some of the sentences were ungrammatical or strained, the meaning was basically understandable.
Pu said that Xiao Huang’s writing was usually better than this, so the ancient characters may have affected his thought process.
Many felt that the low score belied the rigidity of the national exams, which do not normally let students like Huang show off their true skills. But if Huang got into university anyway, then at least it shows that sometimes, with enough media attention, there are exceptions to the rule.