Exams in 1977

June 2, 2009
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I stayed in one corner, motionless, silent. I sat in mournful thoughts of continuance. Around me, the din of students talking restlessly, like a crowd of mad people.

It has something to do with this movie about China’s examination start-up in 1977. After all, exams are responsible for one of the most awesomely important fears we know: the very shaping of one’s future. Well, at least in China, where education has been endorsed by a slate of heavy weight from then on, especially the role of examination, whose benefits are magnified as the only saving graces for Chinese young to hit the jackpot of higher education. Yet sometimes exams can be gruesome, hopeless, horrifying and even outrageous when it turned out to be a frightfully incompetent measure of a student’s academic progress. Without a doubt, rows of physic problems that are humanly impossible to finish in a gruelling period of 90 minutes are starkly different from balancing one’s intelligence to brainstorm a creative idea, which should be one of the basic purposes underlying education.

Let’s focus more on the movie. Students of the dark era wasted 11 years to move from a steady, nerdy, carefree way of life to rotting and self-disintegration in farm lands, or in some less romanticized and envigorating, more bleak and distant towns. Eleven years, too long too soon, kept their prospects at bay; all the good things are too good to be true, for they dare not think about any place or any time, except for what happened today, living one day at a time, rinsing their minds out of decaying past memories or pubescent fantasies, praying for their fates—to be selected as an “excellent” worker in the farm, to be routinely trained by strange phantoms of guilt into kept men and kept women.

Exams made it all different. The message itself, when conveyed explicitly in some old radios, sounded more divorced from real life—when saving graces came down to earth and answered their monotonous prayers, they scrutinized every grain of truth, looking numb and feeling nothing except for a pain in the neck. The exams are not designed for them. What had been squandered would never come back.

At last, this is the movie’s story, but it is that of the only story of that generation as well: boys and girls nipped at the start of their youth.





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