Path to stardom starts with an exam

Updated: 2012-02-27 08:31

By Zhang Yuchen and Wang Yan (China Daily)

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What's the motivation?

Art colleges are not only about the promise of fame and fortune. Many candidates see them simply as a chance to build a career on something they love, such as movies, music or theatre.

Some students and parents take a more pragmatic approach, however, believing that the process can be a shortcut to a good college.

To be accepted by an art college, applicants must pass a three-round test in February or March and then take the gaokao, the national college entrance exam, in June. (Those looking to study fine arts are usually also required to pass a provincial test in early January.)

The score needed by an art student in June is much lower than that of a normal student, which means students who struggle academically have a better chance of getting into a top university.

Wang Jiechun, whose son is trying out for the Central Academy of Drama, admitted that the thought had crossed her mind.

"My son's scores (during the final year of high school) fell short of the requirements for a first-tier university," she explained. "Taking the art-college exam offers a better chance for him to get accepted by a first-tier college."

However, tutors say the situation results in irrational applications from people with no interest or talent in the arts.

Hu Xuehua, a director who works as an examiner for Shanghai Theatre Academy,wrote on his micro blog about an incident when he interviewed a candidate for a film production program. He asked the student for his favorite filmmaker, and he answered Zhang Yimou. Yet, when asked whether he had seen Red Sorghum or Qiu Ju Goes to Court, two of Zhang's most famous works, he said no.

There are three kinds of students at Beijing University of Technology's art and design college, according to associate professor and dean Wu Yunchao.

The first group is infatuated with painting and has been drawing since they were very young, he said, while the second is interested in painting but needs five or six months of training to get to a professional level.

"The third kind have no foundation in the arts at all," Wu said. "The low threshold of the entrance exam allows these students to be enrolled."

He estimated that just 20 percent of students at the school are real arts lovers.

Struggling artists

Dedicated to the arts or not, jobs are still hard to come by., a website specializing in education, reported that the employment rate of art college graduates is currently less than 50 percent, with less than half of those working in jobs relevant to their majors.

Shanghai's education commission recently told colleges offering bachelor degrees in artistic design, performance and broadcasting, among others, to scale back recruitment by 10 percent. The alert was due to several years of low employment, officials said.

The worst majors for employment within six months of graduation last year were fine arts and music, according to the annual report by the MyCOS Institute, an independent education evaluation agency.

Jiang Nan knows firsthand what life is like for a struggling artist.

After finishing her studies in vocals and music performance at the China Opera House in 2002 she discovered that a dream can quickly become a nightmare.

"I'd dreamed of being a singer since I was little, but after I enrolled at college I found the business is very different from my imagination," she told China Daily, adding: "Some things are just out of your control."

Many of her classmates were forced to join small troupes to make a living, some traveled from place to place performing in talent shows, and others pursued further education to hone their skills.

"I decided to quit singing and become a salesperson for a decoration company in Beijing, largely due to financial reasons," Jiang said. "If I'd decided to pursue further studies, it would have just added to the financial burden on my family, as training courses can cost 500 yuan an hour."

Wu at Beijing University of Technology said he expects the shortfall in employment opportunities to lead to a sharp drop in the number of students applying to art colleges in the future.

"Positions within the art world have been gradually occupied in recent years," he said. "Newcomers to the field need to start considering how much room is left for them in the market."

Zou Hong contributed to this story.

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