Video: Why some students migrate to beat China’s “unfair” university entrance exam

It’s time once again for the gaokao. Every June since 1978, millions of young people throughout China have taken the notoriously difficult Chinese National Higher Education Entrance Examination with hopes of going on to university and moving up what is seen as one of the country’s fairest social ladders. Students prep for hours upon hours, pulling grueling all-nighters. Parents do what they can, some in more unique ways than others.

The test is supposed to give all students an equal shot at higher education despite their income level or location. But inequality between each region’s examination remains a contentious issue. At the heart of the concern is a quota system that gives advantage to students from certain areas of China over others. People could in theory manipulate the system, then, by moving to the right region.

With each province allocated a different quota by the education authorities, locals aren’t keen on the increased competition that the children of migrant parents represent. In January 2014, prominent Chinese citizen rights activist Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years in prison for “disrupting public order” because he helped migrant parents organize a protest in 2012 outside Beijing’s education authority demanding their children be allowed to take the exam in Beijing.

At the time, however, there were also counter protests in major cities against the prospect to protect local residents’ spots. The rules were eventually changed allowing some migrant students in China to take the exam away from their registered permanent residence, except in Beijing.

This regional inequality is the subject of an infographic video recently uploaded by Feideshou (飛碟說), an independent online video producer, on major Chinese video platform Youku. The video, which explains why the exam system is unfair, has been played more than 1 million times with more than 1,400 comments. Below is Feideshou’s YouTube backup copy of the video along with the subtitles translated by Global Voices:

In the comment section of the video, people are still debating the issue of gaokao fairness. “No one can criticize” (誰都說不得) believed unfairness is a part of life that must be accepted:

It is not fair. All universities are favoring local students. In the eyes of the universities, whether students get 600 or 550 points is similar. There is no such thing as talent. They only expect the students to be able to deal with the curriculum. That they favor local students more is just being practical. The issue of unfairness is part of reality. In coastal regions, their income is higher than inland. People deal with the situation by moving around and find their jobs in Shenzhen and Guangdong. The education system won’t change, Everyone has to find their own way to university.

The US examination system may be more fair than the communist Chinese one, oceanswimmer wrote in a sarcastic remark:

The SAT exam in the US will not differentiate between a Beijing resident and a Henan resident. The universities in the US will select the best students. The sad thing is the supposed fairness of the gaokao is only reflected in the US [education system]. Haha. Those who travelled north to take the gaokao have benefited from the loophole. In the long run, the Empire has lost its spirit [of fairness].

This article was written by Richard and was originally published by


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