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Motivation for the Gao Kao

'Motivation' has added further pressure to an already stressful exam, but support pulls students through


Motivation for the Gao Kao

'Motivation' has added further pressure to an already stressful exam, but support pulls students through


As was noted in yesterday’s The Viral Week that Was, it’s that time of year again. A total of 9.42 million Chinese high school students finished taking their dreaded Gao Kao 高考 examinations, the entrance tests for university. If there’s one stereotype that has been emphasized over and over to the extent that the Chinese don’t deny themselves it’s the utter dedication in terms of hours, effort and emotion they put into education and school work—and now it’s crunch time.

For each stressed and hard-working student is a large bundle of social media posts backing them all the way. During this time of disproportionately high pressure, the bulk of responses have been motivational. These motivational proclamations however have not just been limited to the web, but have also been plastered well and truly all over schools and classrooms in the form of displaying ‘inspirational’ slogans for students.

A Chinese article recently collected some examples and awarded those thought to have particular character. Their classifications are somewhat questionable, but here we go:

1) “For the most aspirational”:

– ‘If you get into Qinghua 清华, great leaders will treat you like a brother, if you get into Beida 北大, you can debate with great minds.’

(Qinghua and Beida are often seen as the most prestigious universities in China.)

2) For the “Most reckless”:

– ‘Seeing as studying doesn’t kill you, you can put every ounce of your life into it.’

3) “Most ruthless”:

– ‘You only need to improve only a little bit, and you can push a thousand people out the way’

It’s survival of the fittest.

4) “Most bleak/pessimistic”:

– ‘Without the Gao Kao, how can you compare to the rich second generation?’

(富二代 fu er dai is a term used for children of the entrepreneurs who became rich under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. Here this means that this exam is the only way those born into a poor background could improve their disadvantage)

5) Most “seductive”

– ‘If you don’t study, how are you going to care for all your numerous women?’

(Agreed. So seductive)

6) “Most realistic”

– ‘Defeat Mr Perfect, do better than the rich children of officials, the Gao Kao isn’t relying on your fathers’ wealth, working hard relies on yourself.’


As was certainly noticed when translating these, they involve a lot of phrases and concepts specific only to Chinese. Justifiable or not, it would seem the Gao Kao is still a volatile pressure point which Chinese students have to pass through with every ounce of their effort.

An interesting idea that comes through quite strongly is the recurring theme of meritocracy and this exam being the only means by which students—particularly those from poorer backgrounds—can give themselves anything near a fair chance. This fits in line with recent reforms aiming to improve fairness and level the playing field for all participants. This doesn’t, however much, ease the task of students who then have reinforced pressure heaped upon their shoulders.

Nevertheless, social media has shown plenty of admirable individual students gritting their teeth and getting on with realistic targets or employing a respectable amount of wit in response to the hype. Current university students also offer their sympathy having recently undergone the process themselves. And some of them, of course, have their own motivational posters:

The illusion of putting everything into studying probably isn’t helped at all by the effect of society—such as large blaring posters. But on the other hand, the amount of personal support pledged to friends, family, and acquaintances is an optimistic silver lining amongst all the stress. We can only wish everyone good luck, or as the Chinese say, 加油!


For the next stage – after students survive and make it through university, see Graduation Photos to Remember.

Cover image courtesy of Xinhua News.