1977 Examining

Source:Global Times Published: 2009-4-21 21:10:46

By Zhang Fang

The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was a special period in China's history, now a remarkable story relevant to this era has been made by Jiang Haiyang in his celluloid venture called Examination 1977. The movie is woven around the national university entrance examination reintroduced in 1977, in modern China, after it was abolished during the Cultural Revolution.

The resumption of the national university entrance examination in 1977 is extraordinary in that it shaped the dreams and aspirations of millions of youth in China. However, its importance has often been overlooked.

The examination was originally suspended in 1966, due to the Cultural Revolution which was a period of widespread social and political upheaval in China.

In 1968, millions of educated youth answered Chairman Mao Zedong's call to re-learn, work and be involved in the rural ways of China's social and economic life.

From 1972 to 1976, China's colleges started to enroll new students, and most of them were recommended by local officials based on their families' backgrounds and their own behaviors in the countryside rather than intelligence. Those who were enrolled were called worker-peasant-soldier students.

Until late 1977, Deng Xiaoping declared that the university entrance would be based on examination scores, thus reinstituting the admissions test officially known as the National Higher Education Entrance Examination.

Largely deriving from this period, Examination 1977 is a sensitive portrayal of the influence of the gaokao (the Chinese expression for the national exam) on Chinese youth and society.

Director Jiang believes the film will find empathy from many of those who actually experienced the change during this period.

The film focuses on a typical farm in Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China, where several young people had gathered after moving to the region during the Cultural Revolution.

Many of them were keenly awaiting the new examination system as this offered them the only hope of getting out of the countryside into the towns again.

Starring Sun Haiying, who appeared in A Passionate Life (2001, directed by Kang Honglei), and Wang Xuebing, the movie follows the lives of several youths to capture the challenges that aspiring students faced in that era. Many students were not given an opportunity to register for the exam or were prevented from taking the test by grassroots cadres. Mostly, students were prevented from registering because of their family's political background.

There were more than 10 million young candidates registered for the examination in the winter of 1977. The youngest examinees were in their early teens and, the oldest in their late thirties, and this became a major turning point for the millions of people born in the 1950s.

Examination 1977, therefore, not just reflects a social change but also talks about social equality and justice in that era.

The movie's primary investor Xiong Xiaoge was one of the few students fortunate enough to enter university in 1977, clearing admission into Hunan University, where he majored in English. For Xiong, there was no doubt that the gaokao of 1977 changed his life.

Says Xiong, “Examination 1977 is the first time I have invested in a project with some preliminary research. For me, the film is important because it is all about passion and idealism of that era, something which is unrelated to money.”

Some of the most famous people today in China had taken the entrance exam in 1977. Director Zhang Yimou (known for Hero), Chen Kaige( known for Yellow Earth), Professor Yi Zhongtian, all hailing from that generation, are household names in China.

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