Public more rational on gaokao
Record 10.78 million examinees begin taking key test nationwide on Monday
At around 8 am on Monday, Wu Ruifang and her husband sent their son to a test center in Beijing's Chaoyang district and wished him good luck on the national college entrance exam, or gaokao.
Wu wore a red, tailor-made, traditional qipao, a dress also called a cheongsam, to wish her son good luck, and her husband wore a red T-shirt printed with the Chinese phrase "success on arrival". Red is traditionally associated with good fortune in China, and the qipao shares a character that is used in the Chinese phrase "success at first attempt".
As parents, teachers and friends lined up outside the test centers to cheer the students on, a record 10.78 million young people around China began on Monday taking the all-important exam, which lasts for two to four days depending on their location.
Many parents and students said they now have a more rational attitude toward the gaokao and no longer view it as a make-or-break exam that defines students' futures.
However, they still believe that it is a fair system that gives students important opportunities to move up the social ladder by enrolling at good universities.
After the first Chinese language exam began at 9 am, Wu and her husband stayed outside the test center to wait for their son.
"We are more nervous than he is, but we try to stay calm in front of him," Wu said. The couple both took one week of leave from work to ensure that they could attend to their son's needs related to the important exam.
"The gaokao is not as important as when we took the test more than 20 years ago, as children now have more job opportunities that do not require an academic background," Wu said.
However, if he is able to be enrolled at a key university, he has better chances to live a good life, she said, adding that she and her husband are grateful for taking the gaokao and the opportunities that passing the exam has brought.
Huang Shuxin, a high school graduate who took the exam on Monday in Wuhan, Hubei province, said that although she had studied very hard for the gaokao, she does not believe it is an exam that will define who she is.
"My parents have not put too much pressure on me, and I have also tried to stay positive, as I have been getting high grades in mock exams," she said. "If everything goes well, hopefully, I will be admitted to Wuhan University or Huazhong University of Science and Technology."
Zhang Keji, a first-year undergraduate student at Beihang University in Beijing, went to a test center in Haidian district on Monday to wish younger high school students good luck.
When he took the gaokao last year, he and his parents did not set a specific goal, and his results turned out to be better than he had hoped, Zhang said.
"The gaokao can only determine which university we go to, and we still have to work hard to make sure that our lives keep getting better," he said. "It marks an end of 12 years of hard work and the beginning of new adventures."
Jiang Jiang, whose daughter was taking the gaokao in Shanghai, said that although the teenager sometimes felt anxious about the exam, she was able to cope with this with the help of her teachers and parents.
The gaokao is a good way for her to receive a good education, but it is not the only way, she said.
Hu Fang and her husband also sent their son to a test center in Beijing. He had chosen the science subjects of physics, chemistry and biology for all of his elective tests.
As she and her husband both work in the field of aerospace technology, they started very early to cultivate their son's interest in science-related fields, Hu said.
"He felt very confident going into the test center, and hopefully he can achieve a high score."