avatar
Ben Sangree

Test of Their Lives Over, China's Youth Ask: Now What?

Emotions swept the Chinese Internet this past week as the dreaded gao kao, China’s college-entrance exams, came and went, leaving nothing behind but gnawed pencils, tear-drenched tissues, and empty IV drips in its wake.

Preparation for the gao kao can dominate years of students' lives

Even though the vast majority of Chinese agree that the gao kao system needs serious reform, for the time being it remains the biggest determining factor in university placement, and plays a large role in placing students into majors. In the weeks leading up to the exams, thousands of stressed-out students vented on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, commiserating over their packed schedules and aching brains. 

Let the celebration, or at least relief, begin

As netizens turned their attention from their studies back to Weibo, the expected chorus of revelers celebrated their new-found freedom, euphorically plotting how they will now spend their free time. The first and largest group were unequivocally happy to finish with this grueling chapter of life and move on to a largely idle summer.  

@黄豆苗 fondly remembers the moment he completed his exams. “In my view, two days of gao kao were simply hell. I barely remember the hellish exercises, but I’ll never forget the sensation of stepping out of my final English exam and feeling like I had entered heaven! Remember right before the test started we tore up our books and threw them, celebrating wildly afterwards? That sure was a great summer vacation.” {{1}}[[1]]对我来说,高考那两天简直就是地狱,可如今已经不记得在地狱试练的感觉,倒是考完英语出考场立马从地狱到天堂的感觉一辈子都忘不了。还记得我们考前疯狂撕书扔书,考后可劲狂欢的情景吗?那个暑假,貌似我们天天都有活动噢[[1]]

@晴天莓子 celebrated her freedom in her own unique way. “My home is very close to school, and for the past two months I haven’t even left this road. After the test, the first thing I did was run around in a circle!” {{2}}[[2]]话说我家离学校很近,连续两个多月都没有走出那条大街。考完第一件事就是逛了一圈[[2]]

With weeks before scores are received and college enrollment begins, many netizens look forward to kicking back. @2帆小萝莉 bemoans, “Can I sleep? 99% of my youth has been dedicated to studying. Any time left over is mine to hibernate!” {{3}}[[3]]睡觉可以吗 我的青春几经注定百分之九十九奉献于学业了 剩下的留给自己夏眠一下吧!![[3]] 

Glad it’s over—now what?

Yet all was not unmitigated happiness. Many were disillusioned with the entire process. @大鹏-Andy quips, “Actually, before the test I always envisioned I’d be crazy happy afterwards. But now that I’m finished I’m tired to death, and still busy.” {{4}}[[4]]其实啊,考试前总是憧憬着考完之后可以疯狂happy,可是考完了之后还累得要死……..忙死了……[[4]] @相遇烟雨 also found little to celebrate. “Who says we can relax after the test. Waiting for the results is the most nerve-wracking!” {{5}}[[5]]谁说考后就可以放松的??扯·····,成绩才是最担心的··[[5]]

Students tear apart their study materials in post-exam euphoria. From Xinhua

Beyond the immediate gratification, an existential anxiety could be detected among many Weibo users. After spending the better part of their conscious lives explicitly preparing for the exam, many are asking “…what now?” For these students, years of rote memorization leading up to this test aren’t immediately rewarded by any clear path forward, leaving many with mixed feelings of nostalgia, self-doubt, and angst about the future.  

As a manifestation of the stress caused by the test, there are even stories of increased divorce rates among parents, and students turning to plastic surgery in the weeks after the exams. 

@若雪 frets, “After the gao kao, I went ahead and engaged in all sorts of rebellious behavior I had been planning, but now in my heart I still feel as empty as before. I feel like I’m on the edge of a cliff, have lost my footing and slipped. I feel helpless and hopeless, who will come save me?” {{6}}[[6]]高考结束后,各种想像中的叛逆行为都进行过了,可心里依旧觉得很空…好像走在悬崖边却失足跌落…那样的无助与绝望…谁能来救我[[6]]

@Maige的小屋 was particularly bleak, capturing a sentiment many of us have experienced after traversing one of life’s major junctions. “Before the gao kao we had lofty visions, but after the gao kao, nothing seems as beautiful, and every day is like sleeping in the dark. I suddenly realized that studying was actually pretty good.” {{7}}[[7]]高考前憧憬的一切,在高考结束后,觉得没有那么美好,每天睡得昏天黑地。突然发现,上学挺好[[7]]

@波波嘉 expresses similarly subdued nostalgia. “I’ve thought about this day for long time, spending time every day planning about the heaven of post gao kao life.  I wish I knew before how extremely boring it actually is, makes me want to return to pre-gao kao hell.” {{8}}[[8]]以前想了一大堆,天天挤时间谋划考完后天堂的生活,我要早知道考完后是这么无聊到死,让我回地狱吧.[[8]]

With a nation of students who cram endlessly for one single examination, only to feel sadly nostalgic and anxiously powerless when faced with the responsibilities of adult life, might there be parallels with a rapidly developing China? China is in a position of newfound power on the world stage, and there is sure to be ongoing national pondering on how to deal with the consequences of maturity.     

If this is too heavy, here’s a reassuring story also making the rounds: After the gao kao, young lovers are booking hotel rooms.

 

[Thanks to author Ben Sangree, who leads marketing efforts for Fluentflix. FluentFlix is a new way to learn Chinese through authentic video content like music videos, movie trailers, news, and inspiring talks. With engaging and immersive content, it empowers users to learn with fun videos exhibiting the diversity and vibrancy of modern Chinese culture. Learn more at FluentFlix.com.]

0 Comments
Jump To Comments
avatar

Ben Sangree

Ben Sangree leads marketing efforts for Fluentflix. FluentFlix is a new way to learn Chinese through authentic video content like music videos, movie trailers, news, and inspiring talks. With engaging and immersive content, it empowers users to learn with fun videos exhibiting the diversity and vibrancy of modern Chinese culture.