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Xinhua Insight: Top secret assignment: writing the gaokao

English.news.cn   2014-06-14 14:01:11

BEIJING, June 14 (Xinhua) -- While China's high school students were rightly happy at the end of the "gaokao" college entrance exam, another group of academics were also relieved as they hung up the responsibility of deciding the fates of others. These were the examiners.


When Wang Ligong (alias) walked into his classroom Monday, his students burst into warm applause. They had last seen their teacher a month before, when he left without notice. Little did they know he was on a secret assignment: writing the test paper for the gaokao.

The gaokao is a rigorous rite of passage in China, when the examinees learn the limits and opportunities of their future higher education. For some rural students, it is life-changing. At university, they become city folk - no longer yoked to the soil like their parents.

It was suspended during the "Cultural Revolution" (1966-76) and has been held annually since 1977. The test, including Chinese, math, English, natural and social sciences, used to have a standard outline and examination paper, but since 1985, cities like Shanghai and Beijing have run their own versions.

Under Chinese law, the gaokao paper and its answers (before the examination) are classified as top secret.

Wang recalled he was "very happy" at the honor of writing the test paper. The Beijing high school teacher would touch the lives of thousands of young Chinese.

Around 9.39 million people sat the exam this year, more than 70,000 of them in Beijing.

In China's test-oriented education system, the gaokao is also a crucial test of the teachers' abilities.

Teachers are often rewarded if their students score well and those who can foresee the questions correctly are popular among students and parents.

Wang, under 40, has taught for 14 years and never thought he could write a gaokao paper at such young age. Most of his colleagues have never been offered the opportunity before retirement.

However, the day a teacher agrees to take the assignment, their life is tinged with tension.

Li Shuqing (alias) wrote a gaokao paper several years ago. She was proud to be appointed an examiner, but she was also warned that "once you leak any information about the test, even unconsciously, you could be jailed for disclosure of state secrets."

Prospective examiners have the right to decline, but after they sign a confidentiality agreement with Beijing Education and Examination Institute, there is no turning back.

Keeping the examiners' identities secret is crucial. Only Li's principal and husband knew of her assignment. Her daughter believed she was visiting her grandparents in Hunan Province. Friends and relatives were told she was abroad.

Before setting off, the high school teacher knew nothing about the assignment, not even where she would live and who she would work with.

Li said the confidentiality agreement also prohibited her from taking part, as a gaokao examiner, in promotions for schools and private training companies for the next three years.

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Editor: Yang Yi
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