The biggest only in China moment

I grew up in a small town in Shandong province, Eastern China.

It is a small town with just 4 million people. Most of the Chinese people have never heard of my hometown. By its population, it is ranked at 130th among all 250 cities in China. Of course, it is considered a 4-th tier city.

My family was relatively poor compared to others. And I was the only child of the family thanks to the one-child policy.

Since age 4, my parents sent me to the best kindergarten in the city. There were around 50 children in my class and 10 other classes in my kindergarten. Given there were so many children in my class, my teacher never noticed me, let alone remembered my name.

At age 6, I transferred to a public preschool that was designed to gain entry to the best primary school in my hometown. At that time, the preschool has only 4 classes, with 120 children per class. I remembered I was sat with three other classmates at a small desk in the back of the classroom. So 4-children per small desk. My parents were poor and powerless at that time so they couldn’t bribe the teacher to put me in front of the class.

At age 7, I successfully passed the entrance exam of primary school so that I joined the best primary school in my town. At that time, there were around 6000 students in the school with 72 classes over the six grades. Each class has around 80 students. For each grade, there were two “experimental” classes allocated with better teachers and resources. Again, my parents were poor and my entrance exam results were not enough to put me in the experimental class. So I was allocated in class 9, one of the worst classes of all.

However, my parents were really strict and serious about my education. Although my teacher quality was not as good as the “experimental” classes, I was sent to an after-school supplementary class or cram schools for additional education. During the weekends, I was also forced to enrol in an art and calligraphy school for “extracurricular activities”.

With the help of cram school and my hard work, I successfully ranked 20th among the 80 pupils in my class from the 1st-grade final year exam. Later on, my ranking improved significantly.

At age 11, for my 4th-grade final exams, I managed to get a 1st among my classmates. For top students in the normal class, they could be granted a privilege to join the “experimental class”. So that’s why I then transferred to the “experimental” class, where all the best teachers and classmates in school. After joining the experimental class, I realised how competitive it was. I ranked 29th in the experimental class but my result could have been the first for normal classes.

I got frustrated and let down, at the same time I fell in “love” with my crush in the same class. At that time, I thought we were going to be married and live a happy life after. But the reality was that my results fell significantly during the 5th midterm so my teacher threatened me that I might transfer back to the normal class if I did worse in the final exam. My teacher also told my parents about this. After so much pressure, I cheered up and successfully nailed it in the 5th-grade final exam. And I got an 11th among the 1000 pupils of my grade, 4th in my class.

The Chinese compulsory education consists of 6 years of primary school and 3 years of high school. If you achieve the top 50s in 5th-grade in your primary school, you could skip the 6th grade and directly participate in the entrance exam for the best middle-high school with other 6th-grades.

At age 12, I participated in the entrance exam of the best middle-high school in the whole town. There were around 4000 primary school graduates that enrolled in the entrance exam and I managed to get 13th among the 4000 students. By the rules, I was then allocated to class 13 with ID number 001.

My middle-high school had around 7000 students over the 7th, 8th and 9th grade. Each grade had around 2300 students. There were around 70 students per class. Students have to study from 7am to 9pm, six days per week. We have to strive for an entrance ticket for the best high school in town.

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This is exactly what my classroom looked like. One of the best memories in my life.

Since I was the 1st in my class, I was held high expectations from my teachers, because teachers got bonuses if their students get high ranking in exams. So I was selected to participate in various “extension classes” in school including mathematical olympiad and writing competition.

I managed to maintain my 1st ranking on all the next three years of midterm and final exams. My whole-grade ranking maintained 10ish among the 2300 students. My picture was always posted on the front panels from our building. My teachers were so proud of me for not just the bonuses they got.

At age 15, it was time for high school. In China, each city has its own unified high school entrance exam. And many high schools in the city use the same test questions but with different bars to accept students. Most of the students were from rural areas with much worse education. However, this entrance exam is their only chance to get a much better education in the city.

So I participated in the high school entrance exam in my city. There were around 34,500 students enrolled in the entrance exam. And I managed to achieve the 19th place in the exam among the 34,500 students.

After the exam ranking released, my parents got multiple phone calls from different high schools. They all wanted me to join their high school. Of course, one of the calls was from the best high school in the city. And to our surprise, we also got a phone call from the best high school from the province capital - Jinan. I was told to enrol in the provincial high school entrance exam for better opportunities.

Basically, the top 100 best performers in city-level high school entrance exams are told to enrol the provincial selective entrance exams. There are 17 cities in Shandong province. At that time, there are around 2000 talents from all over the province that enrolled in this selective exam and they only chose 80 of them.

I successfully got the 45th ranking among the 2000 talents because I worked so hard 7 days per week from 7 am to 11 pm. So I managed to join the best high school in Shandong province. That means I need to leave my home city and migrate to the provincial capital to continue my study.

At age 16, I moved to Jinan, the capital of Shandong province with 7 million people. I was thrilled to live in such a big city and in the best high school in Jinan. There were a lot of new things that had broadened my visions.

My high school is said to be the top high school in Shandong with around 7000 students from grade 10th, grade 11th to grade 12th. There are a total of 170 classes and each class has around 40 people. This is obviously much better than my middle schools with 80 students per class! So we can get double attention from the teachers.

And it was also my first time to see a foreign teacher in my school - a Canadian English teacher. It was my first time to see a living creature that can actually talk in fluent English, a foreign language that we were forced to learn since childhood.

Also before starting the 10th grade, we have to participate in the military training and learn what is like to be a soldier and prepare to work hard for the incoming college entrance exams.

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Over the next three years, my exam rankings fluctuated from 20th to 200th among the 2000 students in my high school. Although I studied so hard and tried my best for each exam, there is always someone that is smarter and hard-working than you. The even bigger challenge is the fierce competition of college entrance exams in China. We have to study really really hard in order to get admissions from the best Universities in China.

At age 18, I participated in the national college entrance exam, which was the once-in-lifetime experience. There were around 700k students in Shandong that sat the exam. However, I was so nervous at that time and did not go well with my Chinese literature. The result turned out to be terrible for me: I only ranked 2,326 among the 700k high school graduates.

This failure has made my dream universities pretty distant. Tsinghua and Beijing University only select the top 100 among the 700k students. The rest of the top ten Chinese universities then select the top 2000 students. With my terrible performance, I barely made it to the 12th university in China.

At the same time, my high school offered me a second opportunity to study in the UK to compensate for my failure in the exam because I had a good record previously. This was from a foreign foundation that represented the University of Cambridge. So I sat their exams, attended their interviews and successfully got an offer from Cambridge.

After that I have finally escaped the Chinese circles of exams, ranking, competing and selection from thousands. I found life in Cambridge village was much much more relaxed and quiet. I was used to a class with 80 people and it suddenly switched to a class with only 10 people, I felt so shocked culturally.

But for the remaining students that were selected to enroll in Chinese universities, they still faced even tougher competition for exams, credits, scholarships, fundings and ultimately — jobs. Each opportunity is only selected from hundreds or thousands of great candidates already.

Therefore my whole life in China is exactly the “Only-in-China” moment.

You spent years in becoming what you are today. Before you can feel proud, suddenly you realise that there are still 1000 Chinese just did the same as you. And you have to compete with them.

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It is exactly what it feels like in a 1.4 billion population country with a meritocracy rooted culture. It applies to all the scientists, engineers, civil servants, artists, government officials and even communist party members. They are all selected from the thousands or even millions. Most of the elites have no powerful family backgrounds.

Poor Chinese families with no background could actually make their life better through hard work, competitions and exams. Though discrimination and corruptions do exist, the path to success for the poor is actually not blocked.

Wah imagine being number 699000 you are practically a failure in school and a pariah to the community

At that number you are shocked further upon realizing that you are among the top 30%

Such competitiveness can break your spirit

At least the system works. Though simplistic I think I have an idea why the Chinese system works and even the poor have an opportunity to make something out of their lives

India has the same crazy shit ! So much pressure !

In 2015, photos of parents and friends climbing up high school walls to reach classroom windows in the Indian eastern state of Bihar were splashed across newspapers around the world. The students inside were sitting the crucial 10th standard public board exams (equivalent to the UK’s GCSEs). The climbers were there to help them cheat.

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Ukienda kuongea unanyamazishwa ati China is number one shutup!!

Number 1 how and yet they don’t innovate they compete to pass empty exams.

Just like Kenya where we don’t train creative innovative minds to solve Kenyan problems. We copy paste solutions from the West.

China,will always chase after the west. If the west creates a smartphone, that’s what China builds next.

They are not leaders but followers. Just like bonobos.

Samali ya hii upuusss.

I think that a system that puts emphasis on passing exams is limited. You look at all those PISA rankings and you see China ranked number 1 with the US not even in the top 20 yet last I checked most innovations come from the states