China starts college entrance exam amid natural disaster concerns

BEIJING — More than 9 million of China’s students started on Tuesday to take the world’s largest standardized college entrance examination.

Construction sites across the country have been ordered to suspend work at night and noon, so as to create a peaceful environment for students to prepare for the exam.

Bans on private cars in Beijing, which is notorious for its heavy traffic, have been temporarily lifted to allow parents to send their children to the city’s examination venues.

In the island province of Hainan, seven teachers wearing red T-shirts with smiling faces embraced their students before they entered a classroom to take the exam.

“Red is a lucky color. The T-shirts helped us to convey our wishes to the students,” said teacher Qin Rong from the Haikou Middle School affiliated with Hunan Normal University.

Yang Yongqing was waiting for his daughter outside the school with his wife after buying vegetables at a nearby grocer.

“We are going to return home with our daughter and cook some dishes for her as a reward,” Yang said.


This year’s exam, however, have been shadowed by droughts and floods in southern China.

In Wangmo County in southwestern China’s Guizhou Province, where 14 people were killed in recent rain-triggered floods, 23-year-old Yang Bofu finally sat down in a classroom to wait for the test.

“I prepared for the exam in a rented apartment, which was flooded during the disaster,” he said. Yang lost his books and admission card for the exam in the flood.

After the flooding occurred, Yang and about 230 other students were arranged to stay in the local Qingxin hotel, with lunch and dinner provided to them free of charge.

In the exam room, the proctor let him in after comparing him with a photo attached to his examination permission slip.

The subject the students were tested on for Tuesday morning was Chinese, and Yang felt that he did well.

“I am the only one in my family who could even take the exam,” he said. He has three brothers.

According to the Ministry of Education, this year’s average college enrollment rate will be 72.3 percent.

“We will try our best to ensure that all of our students will be able to take the exam,” said Tu Zhangyou, vice county head of Wangmo. Nine hundred of the county’s 902 students are now taking the test.

In Nancheng County in east China’s Jiangxi Province, where Monday’s rainfall reached 166 mm, the local government has spent more than 100,000 yuan to buy a massive electricity generator.

“In case the thunderstorms disrupt our power supply, we must ensure that the listening part of the English exam can still be held,” said Yang Ruichun, a county publicity official.

In the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which is still recovering from last year’s massive earthquake, 1,069 students took the entrance exam in makeshift classrooms.

Although the students had to be sent to other provinces to continue their schooling after the quake, Suo Hongwei, director of the administration office of the Minzu Middle School, believes they will still do well.

“Today they all returned, and I believe that they can get good results,” Suo said.


While millions of students were striving on their examination paper, the authorities were trying to crack down on high-tech cheating.

In many provinces across the country, students were closely examined before they entered the testing rooms to try to guarantee no cheating tools or telecommunications tools were taken in.

Since last year, Jilin Province has invested more than 110 million yuan to install video surveillance, which covers 5,864 examination rooms.

All examination rooms in Hubei Province have installed phone-signal jammers. At the same time, cell phone signal detectors were provided to each room, said an official of the provincial administration of education and examination.

In southwestern Guizhou Province, the government set up 100 inspection groups to supervise the province. Vehicles with radio detectors patrolled around the examination rooms.

Two large, signal-blocking devices and several other smaller devices were used to combat cheating in northwest Shaanxi Province.

“Any high-tech cheating tool will become metal scrap when signals are cut off,” said Liu Xiaobing, deputy director of the Radio Monitoring Station in Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi Province.


Forty-five students in Guangdong Province refused to take the examination one day before the big day, which fractured the tight examination system.

The 45 were recruited by the South University of Science and Technology of China, which was newly established in 2011 and insisted on recruiting all of its students without outside assistance.

“We don’t have to take the college entrance examination, as we applied to the South University of Science and Technology,” said Hu Zezhou, one of the 45. “We chose to grow innovative and independent thinking patterns.”

The college entrance examination remains the “only relatively fair way of student selection,” but the education should come in various ways, and our university wants to chose one of the alternative ways, said Zhu Qingshi, president of the university.

The exam, also called “gaokao” in Chinese, was resumed in 1977 after the ten-year Cultural Revolution ending in 1976. About 5.7 million Chinese competed for 270,000 university seats that year.

The exam’s content and form has changed a great deal over the last several decades, but it has always been regarded as a potentially life-changing event for China’s students.

However, the number of students registering for the test has dwindled in recent years, from the record 10.5 million registered in 2008 to 9.3 million this year.

One reason for the decrease is that more students have chosen to study overseas. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, about 200,000 middle school students are currently studying abroad and will not be taking the exam.

While thousands of participants are busy filling out answer sheets, He Yizheng, a student at the Dongbei Yucai Middle School in Shenyang, capital of northeast China’s Liaoning Province, is practicing English and tennis.

“I’ve received an offer from the University of Pennsylvania in the United States,” he said.

“Compared with Chinese universities, foreign schools attach greater importance to the improvement of students’ general competence,” he added.

Wu Qun, general manager of Hanterry, a company that provides consultation services and language training for students who wish to study abroad, noted that the high competitiveness of the college entrance exam has forced some students to find different paths to higher education.

“Living standards are improving, so more families can afford to send their children abroad,” he said.

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