An unidentified teacher (R) encourages her students before they begin to take the national college entrance exam in Beijing June 7, 2007. More than 10 million are taking exams this year, and about 5.67 million will be enrolled in universities.[newsphoto]
For the other, it was an exercise in character-building - it gave him the strength to take a challenge head-on and on his own.
Both did pass the exam and enrolled in universities - but that was 30 years ago, when the admission tests resumed after more than a decade's gap because of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).
Tian Ying, 61 and a senior editor in a leading news organization, recalls her feelings in 1977: "Eleven years had passed since the country held its last college entrance exam. If I succeeded, it was good; if I didn't, it wasn't bad. I would gone back to the job I had."
She was among the 220,000 lucky ones of a staggering backlog of 5.7 million candidates.
"If my child were to do the exam, I would pretend not to know of the test at all, just let it be," she told China Daily.
For Wang Jinzhan, now a national model teacher in a Beijing middle school, the exam helped him become self-reliant. The 16-year-old rode a bike for more than 10 hours, traversing several mountains, and reached the venue a day before the exam in a small town of Shandong Province.
"The exam was a baptism of fire, which taught me how to face difficulties totally on my own," Wang said on his blog.
Three decades on, almost all the 10 million students appearing in the two-day exam beginning today have a strong support cast: Parents, teachers, counselors. And the odd doctor or "nurse".
Tales are legion of parents taking leave for days before the exam and camping in hotels near exam venues, adding to the stress students are already under.
They don't hesitate to cough up 10,000 yuan ($1,300) for tonics which are supposed to boost brain power and the immune system.
Some families even hire "nurses" to look after test-taking progeny. Xiao Ling, a sophomore at Hainan Normal University and also an experienced home tutor and a good cook, became a "nurse" last month in Haikou of South China's Hainan Province.
The family paid her 2,000 yuan ($260) a month, roughly four times they would pay a domestic helper, asking her to help their 17-year-old son review his studies, chat with him to ease his pressure and to make nutritious meals.
A record 10.1 million people are expected to sit the exam this year - an increase of 6 percent from last year - but only 5.67 million will be able to enter college.
(China Daily 06/07/2007 page1)