Taiwanese author Chiu-Ti Jansen on why it's ironic her story was used for the HKDSE

By Ben Pang

How would you feel if a story you’d written years ago suddenly appeared on an exam paper? One author wasn’t sure even she would pass

By Ben Pang |

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Chiu-ti Jansen found it amusing that her work was used for this year’s HKDSE Chinese reading exam.

New York-based Taiwanese writer Chiu-ti Jansen’s immediate response was shock when her story, The Running Track, was used for this year’s HKDSE Chinese reading exam.

“I was very surprised indeed, but I felt sorry for the candidates who had to read my 3,000-word article in such a limited time,” she said. “Could they digest the different messages of the story in such a stressful environment?”

Jansen told Young Post that she wasn’t certain if she would have scored full marks after reading the exam questions.

“For a result-oriented exam like the HKDSE, my article was transformed into a standardised question-and-answer format. When I read the questions, I needed to check my own writing again. That was so weird! I’m not sure even I would score 100 per cent.”

Writers express themselves through their words. Jansen used running as a metaphor for life. She wrote her story as a way to map out her own path and define herself. Running helped her get away from studies and other daily chores; she enjoyed every moment that running gave her. She set her own pace as everyone has their own running routes to follow. Instead of comparing herself with others, the runner placed all emphasis on her own battle.

“The irony is that the story was aimed at releasing myself from social expectations,” the writer said. “But now it’s used for assessing students’ reading ability and determining whether they can enter university. Life is so unpredictable!”

Many questions in Paper One asked how running inspired the writer and the readers. Other questions asked about the function of literary devices, the runner’s attitudes towards the sport and her life, the meaning of the running track, and the description and meanings of the route’s scenery.

Chiu-Ti Jansen's memoir talks about growing up in Taiwan and walking on Wall Street.
Photo: People’s Daily Pub

“Question 9 in Paper One was one of the toughest, as it asked if certain words could be replaced with another phrase which equally or better expressed what I wanted to convey,” Jansen said.

The question gives a sentence: “Many people are dissatisfied and frustrated with this world. I will ‘continue to run and enjoy the peace’.” It then asked students if these words could be replaced by “understand peace from running on the track”.

What made this question particularly challenging was that students had to think about whether the other option matches the passage’s context and conveys the same meaning. They needed to read the passage several times and see whether the new phrase would be appropriate.

“Overall, the exam questions are very well conceived and interesting, although it’s hard to know exactly what the exam-setters want,” Jansen said.

When reading her own story, what resonated most with Jansen was paragraph 12, which mentioned the challenges at different distances. “The first lap seems very comfortable, but the second and third laps, that’s where it gets tough and you have to carry on. The final one is the most challenging. You have to power through and avoid any mistakes,” the text says.

Jansen said the whole running process applies to life, as mental toughness is the key to success. “Looking back, the story was a vital part of my youth, as it brings back many good memories. I remember I was such an idealist back then, with limited life experience, eager to see the world.”

Asked what writing tips she has for young people, she insists everyone should write based on their personal experience.

“The trendiest writing styles these days are derived from current affairs and tabloid news. They are meant for easy consumption, like fast fashion,” she said. “But writing is timeless. It’s about who you are and what story you want to convey; something that can speak to another person at a completely different time.”

Edited by Pete Spurrier