Fourteen to 16 hours a day, he studied for the college entrance examination, which this year will determine the fate of more than 10 million Chinese students. He took one day off every three weeks. He was still carrying his textbook from room to room last Sunday morning before leaving for the exam site, still reviewing materials during the lunch break, still hard at work Sunday night, preparing for Part 2 of the exam that Monday. China may be changing at head-twirling speed, but the ritual of the gao kao pronounced gow kow remains as immutable as chopsticks. The Chinese test is in some ways like the American SAT, except that it lasts more than twice as long. The nine-hour test is offered just once a year and is the sole determinant for admission to virtually all Chinese colleges and universities. About three in five students make the cut. In Sichuan Province in southwestern China, students studied in a hospital, hooked up to oxygen containers , in hopes of improving their concentration.
Chinese imperial examinations were a civil service examination system in Imperial China for selecting candidates for the state bureaucracy. Although the exams had precedents from earlier times their implementation as a tool of recruitment selection only started in earnest during the mid- Tang dynasty. The system reached its apogee during the Song dynasty and lasted until the final years of the Qing dynasty in The exams served to ensure a common knowledge of writing, the classics, and literary style among state officials. This common culture helped to unify the empire and the ideal of achievement by merit gave legitimacy to imperial rule. The examination system played a significant role in tempering the power of hereditary aristocracy, military authority, and the rise of a gentry class of scholar-bureaucrats. Starting with the Song dynasty , the system was regularized and developed into a roughly three-tiered ladder from local to provincial to court exams. Wealthy families, especially from the merchant class, could opt into the system by educating their sons or purchasing degrees. In the 19th century, critics blamed the examination system for stifling Chinese science and technical knowledge.
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