Patriotism, youth ideals and CPC roots resonated in gaokao essay
Young generation of talent to carry forward pioneering spirit in science, technology
Published: Jun 08, 2021 01:05 AM
A teacher gives a high five to a student outside an examination point at a high school in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province. A total of 10.78 million Chinese students across the country stepped into <em>Gaokao</em> examination rooms on Monday to take their final step toward college. Photo: VCG

A teacher gives a high five to a student outside an examination point at a high school in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province. A total of 10.78 million Chinese students across the country stepped into Gaokao examination rooms on Monday to take their final step toward college. Photo: VCG

 A total of 10.78 million Chinese students across the country have stepped into examination rooms on Monday to take their final step toward college. Gaokao, the country's largest scale nationwide annual exams have always attracted much attention from wider society, especially the essay questions for the Chinese course. 

Heated discussions on essay topics have become a unique phenomenon each year on day one of Gaokao, because it is not only about the crucial test, but also a reflection of mainstream public values, observers said.

In 2021, China's Ministry of Education has issued four versions of exam papers nationwide, and Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Zhejiang Province issued their own exam papers. This year, many of the essay questions in the Chinese course are closely related to patriotism, the ideals of youth, and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which asked students to write an essay linking their dreams to that of their elders from decades or even a century ago.

"Gaokao is like 'the coming-of-age exam' for people like us, and questions about young people's ideals regarding their homelands and the motherland, as well as their responsibility and duty of the times, are an integral part of the exam," an examinee surnamed Tian from Chaozhou, South China's Guangdong Province, told the Global Times on Monday.

Many web users joked that "the examinees who have watched the 2021 TV series Awakening Age might laugh out loud." The Chinese TV series Awakening Age, narrates the story of how the CPC was founded in 1921 and why the founding fathers of the CPC had to establish such a Party in China. The series has remained a hot topic on social media, where discussion emphasizes that it has played a positive role in educating young people about China's revolutionary history. Many young people said online after watching the series that "I'm going to submit a Party membership application."

"I had a lot to say when I was writing my essay this morning, because we are at a crucial historical juncture. China has effectively controlled the pandemic in general and the country has eliminated poverty nationwide. The Party is also going to celebrate its 100th birthday, so it's easy for me to pick examples from reality and put them into my essay to make comparisons with the challenges that our ancestors were facing in the past," said an examinee from Nanning surnamed Wei, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

"Gaokao is not only an exam for selecting talent, but also a test of people's outlook on life, and patriotism is an important part of this." Tian said, "I am happy that I'll be able to write my heart out in this exam."

"Students today face a totally different age compared to the youth 100 years ago, but their dreams are connected and inherited. In recent years, China has displayed its unique systematic advantages in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and from the comparisons with the poor performances of Western countries and a series of stigmatizations against China launched by the West, Chinese people, especially the youth, are increasingly patriotic and confident," said Wu Liang, a Chinese teacher at a high school in Shanghai.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the West may still have the chance to alter the mindsets of some young Chinese people to look down on traditional Chinese culture and Chinese political system, becoming more Westernized and accepting their supremacy as well as US hegemony, but now, this illusion has collapsed, said analysts.

Adding the recent offensives against China launched by the West like the trade war, and China's firm determination and bottom line on safeguarding sovereignty on issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, patriotism and recognition of the CPC's efforts in defending China's interests are becoming common sense, said experts, noting that this is why the TV series like Awakening Age can go viral and this year's gaokao will raise those kinds of essay questions.

Mao Zedong in The Awakening Age

Mao Zedong in The Awakening Age


Interesting questions

The questions are not just about slogans or bland political ideas, but are related to interesting topics that warrant discussion. For instance, one of the essay questions refers to an article written by Chairman Mao Zedong when he was 24 years old in 1917 in the magazine the New Youth. The article was mentioned in the TV series Awakening Age

Mao's article was about "the research of sports" which stated a theory that "if the strong overuse their strength, they would eventually become the weak; and if the weak make the effort in training to improve their weaknesses, the weak could also become the strong." The question asks the examinee to write an essay based on Mao's opinion.

Some observers and high-school teachers said this is a very open and informative question, and if the examinees are familiar with the current international situation, then they might automatically come out with ideas about the competition between China and the US, and the US is just like "the strong who overuse their strength" while China is the one who has successfully improved its many weaknesses and transformed from the weak to the strong.

Focusing on science, technology

Chinese students have the chances to use their knowledge to make better lives for themselves. For instance, studying subjects about sciences and technologies that the US is seeking to suppress China would be a good choice. 

China launched a new education plan in 2020 to encourage elite students to study "basic" subjects to improve the country's science and technology capabilities.

According to the Strong Base Plan released by the Ministry of Education last year, 36 leading Chinese universities - including Peking, Tsinghua and Fudan - will select outstanding high-school graduates who are "willing to serve the country's significant strategic demands", including high-end chip production, AI, new material industries, and other subjects related to national security, as well as some humanities and social science fields that suffer from shortages of talent.

Many of these subjects - such as mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology - are unpopular with students who prefer majors such as computing and finance that will improve their earning capacities after graduation.

This plan is mainly designed to solve the current shortages of scientific researchers in basic disciplines in China, Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.

"At present, in some of the world's leading high-tech fields, such as chips and artificial intelligence, China's development faces technology blockade launched by the West. The lack of mastering core technology is hindering China's faster development," Xiong said, "Vigorously training talent in basic disciplines, especially basic sciences such as mathematics, physics and chemistry, will help cultivate new forces in the high-tech field and solve these problems fundamentally."

From now to 2050, the examinees today will become the key forces for China to realize national rejuvenation in all aspects, and to overcome all kinds of challenges. Fortunately, we have seen enough young people who have ambitions to be contributors. Broader society and the government need to give them enough support, said experts.