The gāokǎo (高考) is China's harrowing college entrance examination, the big bad brother of the SAT. I used to imagine myself taking the gaokao one day, perhaps writing a book about my experience ("Gaokao!: One man's struggle for Chinese high school equivalency"), but every peek I take at my students' practice workbooks flushes that dream a little farther down the (squat) toilet. Just trying to parse the grammar of the questions in the Physics section makes my brain ache, so I can only imagine how hopeless I'd be in the Chinese section. I'd probably do okay in the English section (though a lot of the questions I've seen appear to be written by non-native English speakers, so even that wouldn't just be a walk in the park).
But what about the zhōngkǎo (中考), the high school entrance examination? Could a foreigner such as myself pass for a middle school student? Let's see what I'd be up against: the Guangzhou version of the zhongkao includes Chinese, Math, English, Chemistry, Physics, Morality (品德), and a P.E. test. So, I think I can outrun a group of 10-year-olds, and maybe in a few more years I could learn enough grammar to bumble through the Chinese part... wait, Morality? They have a test for that?
Yes, they do: While browsing through a bookstore (as I am wont to do) the other day I happened upon a set of zhongkao practice tests, and, not realizing it was only for the Morality section, decided to try a question or two:
Question 6: Now that more and more cell phones can access the internet, in 2009 cell phones have become a tool for "yellow" [pornographic] browsing. One student believes "Looking at a few pornographic websites from time to time won't cause addiction; there's no need to make a mountain out of a molehill." This viewpoint
1) is ignorant of the harm caused by pornographic information as well as its illegality
2) expresses a poor ability to resist harmful temptation
3) benefits the development of young people's curiosity
4) may lead us down the path of crime and lawlessnessA (1234), B (234), C (134), or D (124)?
If you answered anything but D (124), it's probably because you are a filthy capitalist masturbator.
But seriously here, regardless of how you feel about pornography, can we all agree this is a little creepy? Here's another question, this time from the essay section:
When Zhou Enlai was a student in Shenyang, he was just 12 or 13 years old. One day, Headmaster Wei gathered all the students together and asked "Why study?" One student replied, "To give us more opportunities in the future." One student said, "To get rich." One student said, "To help our parents with their accounts" (his father was a businessman). Headmaster Wei turned to Zhou Enlai and asked, "And you? Why study?" Zhou Enlai stood up and said loudly, "For China's rise to prominence." Zhou Enlai studied his whole life for his nation's independence, for his country's revitalization. It was a lifetime of struggle.
Using the material, discuss what our concept of "study" should be.
I would love to further investigate the criteria for this kind of essay and this test in general. I'm no pedagogical expert, but even if we could somehow agree on a standard set of ethical values we want our children to espouse, can we really depend a test like this to determine moral "level"? As my esteemed colleague Jon has pointed out, if there's anything that "amoral" people are good at, it's pretending to be "moral", so how is any sort of paper examination going to weed them out?
I'm starting to suspect that fluency in Chinese language and culture requires nothing less than a Chinese education. What I need is some sort of Chinese Billy Madison project. Who will fund me? Surely there are wealthy investors among my readership! Who will publish my book and direct my subsequent movie starring Adrian Brody as me and Gong Li as the sexy second grade teacher who eventually warms up to my childish antics and falls in love with my brutish determination?