Examinees are greeted by their teachers as walking out of the exam venue after taking the first test of the national college entrance examination at Yuyuantan Middle School in Beijing, capital of China, June 7, 2017. A total of 9.4 million Chinese students sit the annual national college entrance examination from Wednesday. (Xinhua/Wang Huajuan)
BEIJING, June 7 (Xinhua) -- On Wednesday, 9.4 million Chinese students began the annual national college entrance examination known as the gaokao.
According to the 2017 enrollment plan issued by the Ministry of Education, some 3.72 million of these students are expected to enroll in undergraduate programs following the examination, nearly 10,000 more than in 2016. However, competition is fierce to gain admission to top institutions.
Local authorities have taken extra measures to eliminate cheating, which, since last year, can be treated as a criminal offence. Increasingly sophisticated cheating methods have impaired the integrity of the examination, which is intended to be a level playing field.
In east China's Shandong Province, the local education department has ordered college students not to ask for leave during the examination period, except in special circumstances, to prevent them from acting as substitute exam takers.
"The whereabouts of absent students who do not have sufficient reasons must be investigated. Stricter procedures must be followed in the approval of leave requests," according to a directive issued by the department.
Zhang Zhiyong, deputy director of the department, said the move "aims to eliminate problems that may enable cheating."
Police in central China's Henan Province, which has the most exam takers at more than 860,000, have arrested 16 people suspected of operating businesses related to exam cheating. They have confiscated equipment including signal emitters, cell phones and laptops.
In Beijing, which has more than 60,000 exam takers, local authorities have stepped up supervision over the exam forms. The papers were delivered to the city's 92 test sites under police escort. The deliveries were monitored by GPS positioning and video surveillance systems.
"My family was poor and couldn't afford to send me to the college, so I started working as a teenager," said Du Wanjun, father of a Beijing exam taker. "But now, all children can compete for university places and many can succeed. I'm really happy for them."
He said he does not hold expectations for high exam results.
"I hope my daughter can relax and try her best. The gaokao is just an experience," said Du, who unlike many parents left the exam site without looking back.
Some parents were not as calm as Du. In the city of Changchun in northeast China's Jilin Province, a mother told Xinhua that she got up at 4 a.m. to cook carp for her child's breakfast.
An ancient Chinese legend tells of a carp that jumped over a high gate and became a dragon. The story is often used as a metaphor for academic and career success.
"I chose carp to wish my child a 'leap' on the exam," said the woman as she waited anxiously outside the exam site.
In south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, several mothers were seen wearing qipao, a traditional Chinese dress not commonly worn anymore, in front of Peihong High School in the regional capital of Nanning.
"Qipao sounds like the Chinese phrase 'qikaidesheng,' meaning victory," said Wu Yan, one of the mothers, who hoped the outfit would bring her child luck in the exam.
In Tibet, more than 28,000 students registered to take the gaokao, 80 percent of whom came from families of farmers and herders. Nearly 20,000 will take a Tibetan language test specially designed for Tibetan students on Friday.
"I hope my daughter will expand her horizons by entering an 'inland' university and finding a decent job after graduation," said one Tibetan father, referring to other provincial areas in China with better economic conditions.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the resumption of the gaokao after it was disrupted by the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
In recent years, many high school graduates have chosen to attend overseas universities. However, the overwhelming majority of Chinese students and parents regard the gaokao as a fair way for Chinese universities to select students for enrollment -- and a competition they cannot afford to lose.
A report released by China Education Online showed that the number of students taking the exam has declined from its peak of 10.5 million in 2008, and has remained stable at around 9.4 million since 2014.