(CNN) — Liang Shi, 56, has a successful life by far. He worked in several different industries, eventually opening his own business, getting married, and having a son.
But there is still one goal he has yet to achieve, though not for lack of trying: to do well enough in the Chinese university entrance exam to get into one of the top universities.
Liang took the grueling two-day exam, known as “gaokao”, in early June with nearly 13 million students across the country. It was the 27th time he had taken the gaokao, having been dissatisfied with his score every time since he first took the exam 40 years ago.
Students’ test scores are their only criteria for admission to university, and most applicants only receive one chance, with the test being administered once a year.
Liang was an outlier, making national headlines for his persistence.
But so far, that hasn’t paid off; after finishing the gaokao, he filmed a video on Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok, saying he was “not very satisfied” with his performance.
“It can be a bit difficult if I want to go to a good university this year,” he said in the video.
The results, published last Friday, confirmed their fears. He had scored 428 points out of a total of 750, less than his results the year before and not enough to get into most universities, let alone an elite like Sichuan University, which he has watched for years. decades.
“I am so disappointed now, so disappointed. I think the score can’t be as bad as this,” he said during a live social media broadcast hosted by local outlet Sichuan TV, which showed him the opening of its result in real time.
“Although I thought this test was a bit of a flop, I still didn’t think I would score lower than last year.”
The gaokao covers four subjects: Chinese, mathematics, English and science (physics, chemistry and biology) or liberal arts (politics, history and geography). During the live broadcast, Liang said he was “disappointed in all subjects,” but especially in Chinese subjects and liberal arts.
A lifetime of trying
Liang, from Sichuan, took his first gaokao as a young student in 1983 but failed to pass the minimum score to enter college, according to the state-run China Daily. He tried it for the next two years, with similar results.
In the decade that followed, he went to technical school, but dropped out soon after. He did other odd jobs, worked in a sawmill, and got married. But through it all, he continued to study and occasionally pass the gaokao, even scoring high enough in 1992 to enter a university in Nanjing, according to China Daily.
But, displeased, he refused the offer and kept trying.
After meeting the gaokao eligibility criteria, he stopped taking the test for several years and worked as a salesman before opening a successful factory, China Daily reported. Then, in 2001, the government removed the age limit for testing, allowing it to resume, at first sporadically, then with dogged persistence.
He has taken the gaokao every year since 2010.
He had worked hard for the past year, leaving home at 8 a.m. to study at a friend’s teahouse and only returning home late at night, according to the China Daily. He had even accepted that Sichuan University might be beyond his reach, and he decided to attend any “key university” that would accept him.
But he appeared defeated on Friday as he reviewed his results. He didn’t know if he would take the test again in 2024. “If I can’t reach my goal next year, I might as well give up,” he said.
“I think I’m fine in all aspects, but the results prove time and time again that I’m not,” he said. “If I can actually find the problem and change it, and my score can go up, then maybe I won’t give up yet.”
a difficult ordeal
The gaokao is notoriously difficult, with a lot of pressure on students who spend months preparing for the exam.
For generations of Chinese, and this is still true for thousands living in rural China today, a college education was their only path to success and upward mobility.
Before this year’s exam, many students visited temples to light incense and pray for good results. And on the big day, authorities imposed restrictions near test centers to minimize noise and any disruption to test takers, such as banning nearby cars from honking their horns. Other businesses such as restaurants temporarily suspended operations during the test.
Photos from the day showed support staff, transit workers and residents wishing students well as they made their way to testing centers, giving thumbs up and high fives. Throughout the exam, anxious families gathered outside the test centers, some carrying bouquets of flowers and banners with uplifting slogans.
But things could get even tougher for students in the years to come, with expanding pools of applicants, which means more competition for coveted places at some universities.
This year’s 12.91 million applicants are up 980,000 from last year’s number, raising concern among some students already facing an uncertain economy and dwindling opportunities.
Although China’s young people have been the most educated in decades (many are now pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in hopes of getting a head start), they are entering a tough, pandemic-battered job market. and government regulatory crackdown on several key industries.
China’s youth unemployment rate is at record highs, recently hitting 20.8%, and experts warn it could remain high for several more years.