The face of conflict is not always guns and bloodshed. At least not in the most populous country in the world. Educational conflict in China – where cheating in examinations means serious jail time – is about social class and opportunities.  When the Chinese government announced, the redistribution of education opportunities to the poor and ethnic minorities, the decision was met with protests across social media. It was a decision that shrunk the odds of middle and upper-class children from gaining access to top higher education schools in the country, (New York Times).

University admissions in China are a cut-throat affair.  Getting a placement in good universities which are concentrated in affluent cities, essentially dictates your future. It translates into well-paying jobs, a good social standing and upward mobility in China’s meritocracy. This year alone, over 9.5 million school children trooped to examination centers to take the National College Entrance Examination known as Gaokao. Local students from wealthier regions like Wuhan in Central China and Baoding in Beijing had more slots available to them compared to their counterparts from poor cities like Luoyang in Henan Province. The ministry of education’s plan to reduce the placement of local students and open up more slots to outsiders from impoverished regions, raised concerns about ‘fairness in education’.

Equitable distribution is a contested subject between the social classes. While the wealthy claim that they work just as hard to get placement in the top universities, the poor people’s comeback is that the rich are quick to utilize resources from rural areas, but reluctant in allowing the underprivileged to attend good schools in the prosperous cities.  On the other hand, a publication by the BBC put into perspective the significance of the Gaokao season in China.  These standardized examinations that have been the center point of China’s educational system since the 1950’s have shaped the country’s social fabric.

Families that have the means often hire professional tutors known as Gaokao nannies to help their children revise for the examinations. Nannies can earn as much as 45$ a night to stay up with the candidates and coach them. Hotels also cash in on this season, by providing Gaokao packages that provide competitive rates for candidates who live far from test centers. In most cases, these rooms get fully booked despite the soaring per night prices that could hit the equivalent of 290$. Perhaps the most famous Gaokao season event takes place in Maotanchang School in China’s Anhui province. In this institution labeled a test-prep factory by the New York Times, parents dig deep into their pockets to raise as much as 8000$ for the tuition program.

The Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed shares his disapproval of this form of education and christens it Banking Education. His view claims that children should not be viewed as containers that are recipients of knowledge provided by educators, but they should be molded to be free thinkers. While many other critics question this entrenched examination culture of the Gaokao, for many in China it is a delicate matter that cannot be compromised.  


The New York Times China Threatens Jail Time for College Entrance Exam Cheaters June 7, 2016. Retrieved from

The New York Times: China Tries to Redistribute Education to The Poor, Igniting Class Conflict June 11, 2016. Retrieved from

Gaokao Season: China Embarks on Dreaded National Exams, June 7, 2016. Retrieved from

Freire, Paulo., (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Retrieved from


3 thoughts on “Challenging the Conflict Discourse:A closer look at China’s examination system

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