Every year on June 7th-8th the National College Entrance Examination, commonly known in China as the Gaokao, is held.

This exam is considered to be the most competitive examination for Chinese students and it involves 12 years of academic studies –ambitious parents train their son or daughter from kindergarten for a place in China’s top universities. This year, 9.4 million students took the exam. Under the system of quotas, which vary from one province to another, and based on students’ original choices, the results of the Gaokao determine which university they get in to.


Not all universities in China are considered equal in terms of quality of teaching. Most talented students aim to get in to the best institutions – Qinhua University, Beijing University, Fudan University, etc … the Ivy League of China’s higher education that will secure these students with the best education in the country and the brightest future.


Entrance qualifications are stringent for top institutions and are even more so if your hukou (Chinese residence) is not from the same city as the university you are applying for. This leads a lot of people in China to label the system as unfair and deeply psychologically disturbing. To give you an example of the tough selection that is involved, out of 10 000 test taken in different cities, Beijing and Qinhua University will collectively take 84 from Beijing – 10 from Tianjin – 3 from Anhui and 2 from Guangdong (source: the Atlantic – 2013).


Parents waiting outside Chengdu Tianfu Shishi Middle School Source: Xinhua

Parents waiting outside Chengdu Tianfu Shishi Middle School
Source: Xinhua


Other students that did not make the cut into top universities are spread out in second or third tier level universities according to their test scores and hukou. This is still an opportunity for them to make a difference in their life; however, since China’s higher education system lacks resources, many universities offer a mediocre standard of education and low chance of employment after graduation. Failing to enter a top universities can be very tough for students and their family, who prepared for this exam all of their life.


Therefore, stakes are high for students and their family this June 7 at the examination center. For many families getting their son or daughter into college and the best institutions of China is their only chance to get out of poverty. For most parents it is the hope to give their only son or daughter the opportunity to get a better life they never had.


The tension is almost palpable in the air – for both parents and students, this is almost as if preparing for war. Parents anxiously send off their child to the gates giving them the last piece of advice and encouragement before exams starts.

Parents send off their child at the exam gates

Parents send off their child at the exam gates


At one examination center, in the city of Mianyang (Sichuan), Liang Shi, a candidate for the Gaokao appears extremely relaxed. He is almost a celebrity for being the most experienced Gaokao person in the examination room (if not in China). At 49 years old, he has attempted and failed the exam 19 times. He has even been referred by his fan base as the “King of Entrance Exam” and also as the “Most Awesome Stubborn College Entrance Exam Taker”.

Good luck to Mr. Liang!

Good luck to Mr. Liang!


However, this year for his 20th time it will be his last battle – he declared to the press “if I fail this time, I am finished, I pull out”. Nevertheless, Liang still hopes that this year will be the one, and he can be accepted at Sichuan University (a top institution in the country) to study mathematics.


We also hope that this year will be the one for Mr. Liang and good luck to the other 9.4 million participants of the Gaokao.




高考(gāokǎo)- Gaokao / College Entrance Examination

大学(dàxué)- university

高中 (gāozhōng)- high school

婴儿园 (yīng’ér yuán)- kindergarten

考试 (kǎoshì)- exam

考 (kǎo)- to take (exam)

户口(hùkǒu)- hukou / household registration

备战 (bèizhàn )- to prepare for war

北京大学 (běijīng dàxué)- Beijing University

清华大学 (qīnghuá dàxué)- Qinghua University

负担大学 (fùdàn dàxué)- Fudan University

四川大学 (sìchuān dàxué) – Sichuan University



We  like to feature news  from Chinese news that may not caught the eye of the western media.  Find out what happens in China outside of what is published on China Daily.  Johann, from Easy Mandarin Chinese School (www.easymandarin.cn), will be finding, translating and helping us learn some related words to teach us a little more about China.