Chinese vocational school student enters final of global math competition alongside students from MIT, Tsinghua
Published: Jun 14, 2024 10:10 PM
Jiang Ping Photo: Organizer of 2024 Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition

Jiang Ping Photo: Organizer of 2024 Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition

A special name list has been trending on Chinese social media over the past two days: 17-year-old Jiang Ping, a fashion major trainee at a vocational high school in East China's Jiangsu Province, ranked 12th in the 2024 Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition, alongside students from top institutions such as MIT, Tsinghua, and Peking universities.

The web-based competition has no diploma requirements, allowing math enthusiasts from all walks of life to participate. Jiang is unique as the first vocational high school student to reach the final round.

Jiang and 800 others in the final round represent 17 countries and regions, according to a statement released by organizer DAMO Academy under Alibaba. An AI challenger also participated this year but did not advance to the final round.

The 801 competitors, who outsmarted AI in this aspect, will answer questions within any 8-hour period on June 22, and the winners will share a prize of 4 million yuan ($550,000).

Jiang demonstrated strong math skills in middle school, but her performance in the high school entrance exams was not as strong, leading her to enroll in a vocational school. There, her math proficiency caught the attention of her teacher, Wang Runqiu, who recommended that Jiang undertake self-study of college-level math courses.

Jiang has embarked on a journey to explore the beauty of math. She told the media that "it is fulfilling when I solve a problem, but sometimes painful when I cannot."

Her journey is solitary as Jiang's classmates lack interest and the school lacks relevant materials. Jiang frequently discusses math problems with Wang, who provides guidance as they tackle challenging questions together. Wang, who holds a master's degree in math, ranked 125th among the 801 finalists.

"I used to think that I wasn't qualified to participate in such contests, but maybe this can be an opportunity for me to prove myself, especially after learning that waiters, waitresses, delivery persons, doctors, and others can all participate," Jiang said.

Jiang's dedication to math and her corresponding achievements have inspired many netizens, who congratulated the teenager and pledged to dedicate themselves more to their own areas of interest.

"She lives like the protagonist of a fiction," wrote a user on Sina Weibo.

Another netizen posted, "It is even harder for her to persist in an environment where people prioritize finding a job over challenging their thinking."

In China, vocational high schools and colleges often bear the stigma of being seen as "places for failed students." There are calls to break this stigma, embrace the diversity of individual development paths, and question the notion of "mainstream success."

At the moment, Jiang finds it difficult to choose between fashion design and math, but she slightly prefers fashion design.

When asked about her dreams, Jiang expressed a desire to attend university. She sees fashion design as her Plan A, with math as her Plan B. "I want my Plan B to also be visible," she said.

Global Times - Agencies