I remember, during the time of the ‘anti-rightist campaign’, there was a movie whose plot featured a student who, in order to get good grades, came sick to the examination room, and the ‘inhuman’ nature of this college entrance examination and its ‘mark-ism’ caused the indignation of the ‘revolutionary masses’. Thirty years later, the revolutionary masses of today seem no longer indignant, they’re too busy looking after the next or second next generation, renting a wedding car to send them to the exam, feeding them dumplings (with the meaning of ‘exam success), extend their memory through copying, and all sorts of other superstitious practices. In their view, for the next generation to fulfil the destiny they didn’t have, apart from the single plank-bridge of the University Entrance exam, there it no other way to go.
But lamentable parents that we are, shouldn’t we think a bit – is it reasonable to bundle together a whole human life and a once-off exam opportunity?
We say nothing about those students who, because of excessive exam pressure, put themselves and their families on the road to misfortune. Let’s look at the situation of those who succeed in the exam. As far as I know, many of those whose destiny was ‘changed’ through the exam have suffered more misfortune on the road of life than those who failed at the exam. There are two aspects to this misfortune:
1. People with high levels of education see their desire for social status and high quality of life expand to no end. But in reality, within our society, higher quality of life and social status have nothing to do with the level of education, and this leads to a large rift opening between their expectations and what society can give once these people enter society. For that reason, we often see the following strange phenomena in the workplace and on dating websites: highly educated people are often those who can’t find a suitable job or dating partner, because through their high level of education and high expectations for themselves, they realise that to find an adequate job or person to live with, they only have a very narrow space.
2. From human nature itself, studying all sorts of subjects is a sort of instinct. So following our instinct to go and study further is a pleasant thing. But the college university exam as ‘sole pass’ has turned learning into a painful task, and those students who just bear the pain in order to pass the exam and change their fate, then may no longer wish to study any further, because in their subconscious, study has become a burden endured against their will. For that reason, in real life, we can often observe this strange phenomenon: many people with a high level of education appear to be as ignorant as ordinary people, or even more ignorant than them. The reports that many female students are abducted by traffickers, isn’t this a warning bell for our whole education system?
This phenomenon whereby the winners of the entrance exam have become the losers of social life may remind us of what Marx called ‘alienation’ in his ‘1844 manuscript on philosophical economics’. The better workers become and the more they increase their productivity, the more they progress on their road towards unemployment.
The core idea of Marxism is that people should resist the forces of ‘alienation’ that society impose on their physical selves, and thereby walk towards complete liberation. However, the sad thing is, after experiencing over half a century of Marxism, the revolutionary consciousness of our ‘revolutionary masses’ does not reach as high as the desire to ‘get rich first’ or ‘acquire capital’ of the new rich! Even they understand very clearly that the college entrance exam is not a fun thing. We cannot equate it with changing one’s destiny. Of course, the money in their hands allows their children not to bear the full weight of oppression brought by an alienating education system. But as for us ordinary parents, no matter how aware we are, there is nothing we can do. Their children, in contrast, can decide not to take part in the ‘Asian style’ education system.
If we say that our education system is a disaster for the humanity of our students, elite schools are first in the run for this disaster, and our students who cannot but endure the the gaokao seem even more under pressure in our current education system, like beans in the press.
I’m not saying this as a way to push for the abolition of the entrance exam, after all, the exam does not have negative consequences for everyone who takes it. After all, there will be people who really improved their own destiny through the entrance exam. All I want to say is, if the entrance exam is the only single-plank bridge that everyone of our students must walk along, and are forced to endure the impact of its ‘alienation’ to the full, then we cannot but wish to think of ways to resist this fate.
So, how can we resist the ‘alienation’ brought to each student and family by the university entrance exam?
I believe, after living through the terrible catastrophe that recently occurred in Sichuan, it’s time we seriously thought about this question: what do people live for, in the end? Do people live in order to have a decent social status, or live an existence that is decent in the eyes of other people? Is it unbearable to do a lowly job on the street, clean shoes, repair bicycles, or the like?
In the face of death, what seems decent in the eyes of other people becomes an irrelevant thing. But for some time, our entire society has been set on pursuing a form of ‘success’ irrelevant to the core of our lives, and ready to pay the cost. And as we gradually find ourselves paying a heavy price for holding these values, we might start thinking, why do we actually want to be victims of this value system?
People are animals that live by relying on values, and for which values for the legitimate basis of common life. If our whole society is based on a set of values considering that a person needs to be a high official and make large amounts of money to be considered successful, then I really don’t know what was the point for us to sacrifice millions of life in order to build a socialist society!
If we do not have the power to change our present education system, well, let’s change our values first! We should at least have the courage to refuse to become alienated slaves!