National exam like a do-or-die moment
Wei Xiaoling was one of 8.67 million aspirants who sat the university entrance exam last month. But the 19-year-old from rural Shandong told Vivien Cui a college offer could be both good and bad news.
How did you do in the exam?
I was numb after the exams. I look back now and realise I was very nervous at the time. That is why I did not do as well as I usually did in the mock exams. I got 540, far below this year's enrolment minimum of 568.
What made you so nervous?
It was not the first time I have taken the entrance exam. I failed last year when I scored 535. My family is very poor and I have two younger sisters both studying at school. It was hard for my father to decide whether I should be granted a second opportunity. He let me attend the review class for another year, but on the condition that I give up if I fail again. And as everybody knows, the gaokao is the only chance most of us rural students have to go to a metropolitan area.
Why can't you get a third chance?
My middle sister graduated from junior high school this year and is applying for a key senior high school in town. She has an excellent academic record. When she knew I was applying to college, she thought about dropping out of school to be a migrant worker to support me and the family. But my parents forced her to go back to school. What could she do if she dropped out? She is only 14, and is way too young to leave home.
What if both of you are enrolled?
My sister's tuition will vary from 6,000 yuan to 11,000 yuan over the three school years. With such a low result, I have a better chance if I apply for a diploma course. The tuition fee would be around 5,000 yuan per academic year. My father said our family could make around 2,000 yuan in net yearly income. The tuition fees are astronomical for us.
How will you cope if you enrol as a diploma student?
My father said he would borrow money from relatives and friends if we have schools to go to. I feel scared thinking about it.
Why is your father so supportive despite the difficulties?
My father was born in 1960, when the whole country was suffering from famine. My grandma told me that he almost starved because she was too malnourished to have any breast milk. He was also a soldier for five years and contracted tuberculosis while serving in the army. Ever since, he hasn't been able to do much farming work. That's why my family is poorer than the average farming family. In spite of the poverty, however, he raised my two sisters and I with the belief that only with knowledge can we reverse our situation. The gaokao is the de facto embodiment of knowledge. It is like a do-or-die moment.
How did your classmates in the review class perform?
Two dozen of the 64 students met the enrolment cut-off mark for bachelor's degree candidates. The ratio is pretty average for schools in Shandong. The province has some of the fiercest competition for enrolment in the nation due to its large population. My teacher said there were 720,000 students taking the exam last month, an increase of 15 per cent from last year, and even more will take it next year. A frequently-used comparison is that the gaokao is like millions of warriors rushing to cross a one-plank bridge.
What are you doing now?
I am working in a restaurant. I have to work 15 hours a day because we are short-handed. I am still waiting for the letter of admission. My dream used to be to go to a school, no matter which one, in Qingdao . But my score destroyed the dream. If I fail this year, I might find a job as a migrant worker in Qingdao.