Last week, the timing of a meeting at the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Beijing was postponed for it; frogs in a pond in a residential complex in Qingdao city were poisoned to stop them from making noise; construction was halted in Xi’an city; traffic was rerouted in many parts of China and railway services were suspended in Wuhan province.
No, these steps were not taken to mourn or mark an anniversary but, according to state media, to ensure that the 9.3 million high school graduate students across China could sit for the Gaokao exam, the university entrance test, without any disturbance or noise.
In May, photographs of students studying for it while on amino acid drips to increase concentration were published on social networking sites..
According to Global Times, hotels near gaokao exam halls had witnessed a rise in bookings, last week “with many students opting to check in for the exam's two-day duration to avoid lengthy travel” during the mid-week exam days.
For the 9.3 million appearing for the exam, 6.85 million seats available. But the exam continuing from 1977, after a gap during the Cultural Revolution, is more than annual ritual; for many wide-eyed Chinese students especially from the rural and poor regions of China, this is the ticket to a seat in the most prestigious universities of the country.
The exam is gaining international recognition. Beginning this year, the University of Sydney is accepting "gaokao" scores from Chinese students, the first of premier Australian universities to do so, giving new international prestige to the Chinese test, Xinhua reported.
It also means more choice for the Chinese student; the student could choose between local or international universities.
But authorities here are also facing another issue related to the exam: falling number of students appearing for it and instead applying abroad.
“In 2009, some 840,000 Chinese students opted out of the university entrance exam. In 2010, the number rose to 1 million. According to the ministry of education, most of those who forgo taking the test are planning to study abroad,” a Xinhua report said.
“… according to a report by eol.cn, a website providing comprehensive education information, the number of applicants for gaokao has declined by 1.4 million in the past four years, while the number of Chinese students studying abroad has been increasing by nearly 20% every year,” Global Times reported. The newspaper said regional discrimination could be a reason behind the falling numbers.
“For example, the chance for a local candidate to be accepted by Shanghai's Fudan University is 274 times greater than that of his Shandong counterparts and 288 times greater than that of applicants from Inner Mongolia,” it said.
The government could see it as a problem but for many appearing for the exam, a little less competition is not necessarily bad.