History in the making: the Classes of 1977, 1978 and 1979

Updated: 2015-03-31 08:13

By Luo Wangshu(China Daily USA)

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In the history of the national college entrance examination, or gaokao, the Classes of 1977, 1978 and 1979 were part of an important milestone.

Premier Li Keqiang, late novelist Wang Xiaobo, renowned director Zhang Yimou and many other luminaries in various fields all sat for the exam in one of those three years, before being accepted by universities and making their mark on the world.

Official figures showed that 5.7 million candidates signed up for the gaokao in 1977 and only 272,971 were admitted. That meant that the admission rate was as low as a record 4.78 percent.

The gaokao can be traced back to 1952, when authorities rolled out a standardized national college entrance exam as part of changes to improve the education system. It was used to test candidates' academic performance and universities recruited them based on the test results.

The previous imperial examination, used to select candidates across China for the state bureaucracy, had ended in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Before 1949, universities held individual tests for admission.

Political movements later affected the examination system. It favored students with a strong political background.

The "cultural revolution" (1966-76) put a stop to the gaokao but it resumed in 1977.

With no limits on age or candidates' background, youths who were affected by the disruption quickly realized the opportunities for higher education and rushed to embrace the new system.

Consequently, in one classroom, students' ages varied dramatically, ranging from early teens to the 30s. Some were half as young as their classmates.

Due to the lack of a systematic education framework for 10 years, examinees were unsure of their academic level. At least one candidate was known to have turned in test papers without correct answers but was still brave enough to apply for the top-ranked Peking University.

The graduates of the first three classes to enter university after the resumption of the gaokao subsequently formed the core of China's economic rise and development.

The three seminal classes have continued to capture the imagination of the people, and the lives of its students have fueled numerous adaptations in TV, film and literature.

(China Daily USA 03/31/2015 page5)