World News

China's exam migrants desperate for chance to sit life-changing gaokao

Posted June 5, 2018 11:13 p.m. EDT

— Wang Huairong, a 17-year-old Chinese high school senior, is wandering the streets when he should be preparing for the most important exam of his life.

His parents moved more than 800 miles from their home in Shandong province to Fujian, in the south, in July 2017 to give him a better chance of scoring highly in the country's university entrance exam -- the gaokao.

They made the move after Fujian, a province with a smaller population that's perceived as an easier place to take the test, allowed non-residents to sit the exam there.

But a new provincial government decree in November disqualified Wang and hundreds of other students who had settled in the province after July 1, 2017 and they now can't take the test. Many parents of the rejected students think it is policy backtracking and have brought their grievances to the capital Beijing.

"My dad often says that we should trust the government. But right now I'm disappointed with the society and the nation. I have no idea about my future path," Wang said Tuesday. He's in Beijing with his parents to petition the government to allow him to take the gaokao but on Wednesday, the day before the exam, they still hadn't heard anything.

"I feel like my entire life is now drowned in soup," Wang said. "I wanted to study politics and law."

On the eve of the national exam, which is sat over three days starting Thursday, many of the parents say they can't help but blame themselves.

"I wanted to make the smartest choice every step of the way," 46-year-old construction worker Huang Liexian said with remorse. "But in the end, my daughter doesn't even have a future now."

Many of the parents have lined up outside the Ministry of Education in Beijing most mornings since April 9, bringing foldable stools to sit on and umbrellas to shield them from the burning sun.

The Ministry of Education didn't respond to a request for comment. Repeated calls by CNN to the Fujian Examinations Authority also went unanswered.

Fujian dream

Although it takes place at the same time nationwide, the test is administered at a provincial level, meaning state demographics can greatly affect how well each province's students perform.

A student's result in the gaokao is heavily weighted by their provinces' population, economic factors and how successful its entrants have been in the past.

When Fujian, a province well known for its small student population and high enrollment quota, made a rare move to open up its gaokao to students nationwide, many families decided to seize the opportunity.

However, these so-called gaokao migrants sometimes caused resentment among locals.

Wang said at first he didn't want to move to somewhere 1,600 kilometers away from home, but lured by a "Fujian dream" -- better chances to get into college and cleaner air -- the family managed to buy a property in Fujian and finally moved there last July.

"The exam has been my only motivation for the past decade," Wang said

By November 2017, 15,699 out-of-province students registered in Fujian for the 2018 gaokao, according to the local authority. Some 605 students were affected by the rule change and can't take the exam, a government statement said.

Zhao Lezhi, who has waited outside the Ministry of Education each day, said that gaokao immigrants are mostly lower-middle class people who want to give their kids a good start in life.

"We are not even asking for social security, but only the right to determine my daughter's future," Zhao said.