Friday, June 02, 2006

The times they are a changin' ... or are they ?

Cold sweat, shaky hands, brains going in overdrive ... examination season is coming up again in China !! From June 7 to 9, millions of youngsters will again be faced with what could very well be a turning point in their lives: being admitted to university or being turned down. The impact on their further lives could be enormous and so the already well-to-do families leave no means unexploited to make life of their siblings during this period as comfortable as possible:

With the college entrance examination approaching, local high school
graduates and their families have started booking hotel rooms, maids, and appointments with psychologists to help prepare for the important test.

Hotels and guest houses say business has been booming in recent days.

The Shizeyuan Hotel, a three-star hotel in Yangpu District, set aside two floors of more than 20 rooms for students to review lessons during the exam period from June 7 to 9.

More than 95 percent of the rooms have been booked by yesterday. The earliest reservation came at the beginning of May - more than a month before the exam date, hotel staff said.

The Tianping Hotel near Shanghai Jiao Tong University says it has only two or three rooms left for June 7, a common situation at this time of year. Most of the guests are students who are going to sit the exam at schools nearby, according to the hotel's manager surnamed Li.

Taking in consideration the focus and importance that is attached to these examinations, it seems almost like a rite of passage for China's educated youths and I wonder why it is said that the imperial examination system was abolished in China at the end of the Qing.

Theoretically, any male adult in China, regardless of his wealth or social status, could become a high-ranking government official by passing the test, although under some dynasties members of the merchant class were excluded. In reality, since the process of studying for the examination tended to be time-consuming and costly (private tutors had to be hired), most of the candidates came from the numerically small but relatively wealthy land-owning gentry. However, there are numerous examples in Chinese history in which individuals moved from a low social status to political prominence through success in imperial examination. Under some dynasties the imperial examinations were abolished and official posts were simply sold, which increased corruption and reduced morale.

Does this sound so much different from the examinations as we have them today (apart from the gender democratization) ? And as for the corruption, also here ... nil novi sub sole:

A team of monitors will be searching for key words related to the national college entrance exam around the clock starting today to ensure questions aren't leaked online ahead of the test on June 7 to 9, officials with the Shanghai Educational Examination Authority said.

Officials said they believe they will be able to spot any question leaked online within one hour, and have the information pulled off the Web within two hours, but won't go into details about the technology they are using.

To prevent any questions from leaking ahead of time, all of the teachers who helped draft the exam paper are being held away from their family and friends until students are finished writing the test.

So all era's and times may have their own set of customs and specifics, but often at the bottom the basics are very similar.

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