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Gaokao essay questions: fun and easy!

J8 Shenzhen Evening News

The front page of todays’ Shenzhen Evening News features a smiling girl giving a thumbs-up.  She is a high school student about to start her second, and final day of test taking for the gaokao, China’s national university entrance exam. The headline reads: “The Guangdong gaokao essay question is fun and easy.”

Taking the gaokao is easily one of the most high-pressure and stressful events of a young Chinese person’s life. It is given once a year, over two days, and is the single determining factor as to whether or not they go to university – and if they go, where and what their major will be. It is certainly neither fun nor easy. Yet this Shenzhen Evening News article claims that, “If you could choose where to be born, Guangdong would be the place.”

Gaokao essay questions vary by region in China. There are at least 14 different variations of the test given to students across the country. This year, students taking the test in Guangdong could choose from the two following essay options:

  1. “An Englishman dreams of living in Xinjiang in another era. Write a story based on this.”
    (一个英国人希望生活在上世纪的新疆)
  2. “Marie Curie tells a young girl, “No matter what era we live in we can all have a good life.” Respond to this statement.
    (居里夫人和子女说:不管生活在什么样的年代,我们都能过上好的生活。如果让你来写,你会怎么写)

In contrast, students in Shanxi, Henan, Helongjiang, Jilin, Ningxia, Shanxi, Xinjiang, Hainan and several other provinces had to answer this:

“A ship owner hired a painter to paint his ship. While re-painting the ship, the painter discovered a leak and repaired it. The ship owner then gifted the painter a generous bonus to show his thanks. The painter said, “You’ve already paid me for the work I’ve done.” The ship owner replied, “This money is it show my gratitude for you finding and repairing the leak in my ship.” The painter responded, “Oh that’s nothing.” The ship owner insisted: “My children sail this ship, if you had not found that leak, they never would have returned. But they have returned safely, so I would like to express my gratitude!” Respond to this situation in 800 characters.

(船主让漆工给船涂漆。漆工涂好船后,顺便将漏洞补好了。过了不久,船主给漆工送了一大笔钱。漆工说:“工钱已给过了”。船主说“这是感谢补漏洞的钱。”漆工说:“那是顺便补的。”船主说:“当得知我的孩子们驾船出海,我就知道他们回不来了。现在他们却平安归来,所以我感谢你!”考生根据材料自拟题目,写800字作文。)

Yet its clear not everyone found this year’s Guangdong gaokao questions so “fun and easy”: an article inside the paper describes how many students were so terrified of taking the test that they either didn’t’ show up, or stood out in the hallways crying while others tried to encourage them to go sit the exam.

The Shenzhen Evening News is a commercial daily paper based in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.

Links and Sources:
Shenzhen Evening News: 广东高考作文 玩“穿越” ; 有的不愿考 有的走错地 
Danwei.org: Head in the clouds, feet on the ground: 2010 college exam essay questions ; The habits of highly effective test-takers
Weibo: 2012 高考微作文

Special thanks to Clayton Lightfoot for his translation contributions and weibo prowess.