Gaokao Students 1

Inside China’s “Gaokao Factory”

A former students recounts her grueling schedule and eventual withdrawal from Hengshui, a city notorious for exam-prep schools

The 2022 edition of China’s National College Entrance Examination (gaokao) takes place from June 8 to 9 this year, with certain cities offering additional subject tests until the week’s end, and Shanghai postponing its exams until July due to Covid-19 restrictions. During this week, close to 12 million teens will be striving to achieve their best results on what for most will be the single factor deciding which university they will go to—or whether they go at all.

Such extreme stakes breed extreme measures: Across China, a number of high schools have gained fame (or notoriety) for their rigorous examination-prep methods that seemingly churn out expert test-takers. Apart from Maotanchang in Anhui province, the city of Hengshui in Hebei province is perhaps China’s most famous “gaokao factory.” It is known for having a rigorous curriculum based on repetition, military-style discipline, and even pep rallies and slogan-chanting, which allegedly succeeds in sending around 87 percent of students across its several high schools to so-called “first-tier” universities each year.

This reputation has attracted high school students from across China, as well as students wanting to retake the gaokao to improve their scores, to try to transfer to a Hengshui school in the hope of raising their grades. The following story is the first-person recollection of one such transfer student, who eventually rebelled against and left the Hengshui system, but continues to have questions about whether it was all worthwhile:

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author Renjian the Livings

Renjian the Livings is the nonfiction storytelling platform under NetEase. It aims to “reconstruct life through narration.”

Translated By
author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

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