Why China is Reforming the Gaokao College Entrance Exam

Reforms to the gaokao, the college entrance test that Chinese high school students take their senior year of high school to determine their college acceptance, are taking place in Shanghai and Zhejiang province.

The reforms widen the scope of subjects that students can test on and allow for tests throughout the high school career, rather than just one test senior year.

With the changes, students will still be tested on Chinese, math and English. But for the three remaining subjects, students in Shanghai and Zhejiang can choose to be tested on a wider range of topics from geography, history, chemistry, biology, physics and politics, among others

People’s Daily

The idea behind it is that students are feel too much pressure senior year in the current system. There are also problems stemming from excessive memorization-based learning that “kills creativity.”

I have written about these problems in the past. Here are a few problems with Chinese education that gaokao reforms hope to solve, excerpted from articles I have written:

In China, the use of standards has fostered a high-pressure system that kills creativity.

“When [my son] Star was young, he was very imaginative,” Frank Chen, director of Asian operations for OnSpeX, said. “Now, he appears to be losing his creativity.”

“If he writes whatever he wants in an essay, he will get a bad grade, because the teachers do not like it. But there’s nothing to do about it. I want him to go to a good college. The teachers get bonuses if he goes to a good college.”

“The folly of Common Core proponents’ China envy”, Mitchell Blatt – Daily Caller

The gao kao college entrance exam is the big focus that all of a Chinese student’s experience leads up to. One test determines where students will attend college. Attending a good college will lead to getting a good job. Students will do anything to pass the gao kao, including receiving IV drips so they don’t have to eat, and, of course, using their parents’ guanxi. In 2011, a number of students’ tests were thrown out after it became known that they used connections with government officials to fake minority status and receive affirmative action benefits.

Doing well on the test involves a lot of hard studying and memorization. There are two tracks to the test: science track and humanities track. One student quoted in a Wall Street Journal article said, “For science track, a good score is over 720 – it’s much harder to get high marks on humanities because so many of the questions are open-ended rather than multiple choice.”

The pressure on rural students is much greater than city students, because rural students have to score higher to attend a good university. Most of the top universities, such as Beijing University and Fudan University (Shanghai) are in big cities, and local residents require lower scores to qualify for attendance.

“Looking For Freedom From The Chinese Education System”, Mitchell Blatt – Vagabond Journey

“Beijing University is called ‘Beijing People University,’” Frank Chen, a Shanghai resident said, “because they enroll more local freshman than students from small cities.”

“Mr. Yu [Minhong] said, the whole country is concerned that currently the gaokao admissions policy is unfair, mainly in two points,” an article in iFeng news on March 8 said. “The first point is that there are major discrepancies between the acceptance rate of students from different provinces and cities to the top national universities. The second point is that the proportion of top national university resources allocated between city and rural areas is extremely out of balance. The imbalance between education resources in the city and countryside, and between different provinces and cities, has created an unequal situation for the gao kao and college entrance opportunities.”

“Fairness” and the gaokao: the invalid argument against reform, Mitchell Blatt – ChinaHush

New Article: Our Mistaken Search for “Authenticity”

Here’s the column I wrote for the latest issue of map magazine. Actually, it was published on Sept. 1, so sorry for being late…

On TripAdvisor, many of the reviews of Jinli Pedestrian Street in Chengdu criticize the popular attraction because it’s too commercialized. “It is now a completely commercial zone, capped off with, wait, you know it, a STARBUCKS!” says a top contributor from El Paso, Texas.

It seems foreigners always hate something that is too commercialized and are always looking for the most “authentic” thing. I have felt the same way, too, from time to time. Whenever the topic of Yunnan comes up, I tell people not to go to Lijiang but to go to Dali instead. (Of course, Dali has bars and hotels, too. After all, without commercialization, there’s nowhere to sleep.)

In our search for “authenticity”, it’s worth defining what we’re looking for. According to the China Highlights travel agency, “Jinli Old Street is one of the oldest shopping streets in Sichuan Province, and it can be traced back to the Three Kingdoms Period, over 1,800 years ago.” Does it really make sense to criticize an ancient shopping street for being excessively commercialized? …

Read full article: Our Mistaken Search for “Authenticity” – map magazine



Surprisingly, Theocratic Terrorists Really Do Hate Freedom

Remember when George W. Bush cast the fight against terrorism as one between “the enemies of freedom” and the supporters of “progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom”? Remember how stupid he was? How had he not known anything about international politics?

Ron Paul said in a 2007 presidential primary debate: “I’m suggesting that we listen to the words of the people who attacked us and the reason they did it.”

After considering those words, it’s more obvious than ever that religious fanatics who kill those who believe in different religions than they do are not very supportive of freedom after all.

Consider bin Laden’s “Letter to America”, one of his earliest public statements on the attacks. This 4,000 word missive was published approximately a year after 9/11, and it backs up Bush’s argument that the terrorists hate our freedom. Continue reading

The Universal Language of Basketball

A Buddhist wearing red robes drove me to the Chinggis Khaan International Airport to leave Mongolia. He spoke almost now English, but somehow I could understand that he was asking what country I was from. When I said, “American,” he said, “LeBron James!” Later on during the ride, he said, “Dwight Howard.” I responded “Kobe Bryant,” but then he corrected me, telling me, “Howard came to Mongolia.”

We weren’t able to have much conversation during that ride, but the little conversation we did was based on the language of basketball.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is Dwight Howard in 2011 dancing a Mongolian dance in a nightclub: Continue reading

$8 Million of Flawless Counterfeit Currency Found in Eastern China

Police in Taizhou, Zhejiang province have seized over 80,000 fake hundred RMB bills, according to CCTV. The bills are so well forged that they can even pass machine checks.


About an hour ago, the verified Weibo account of the Sunrise Metal Products (Shenzhen) Co. (@电商戏客) posted a message about the report. “According to CCTV, police in Taizhou, Zhejiang seized over 8 million RMB worth of fake currency with serial numbers starting with M3W96,” it said.

Subsequent messages relayed that the money “feels no different” and sounds the same, too. Already some fake currency with the M3W96 serial code has turned up in Beijing, and the shop owner said that the currency passed through her verification machine. Police are on the watch for currency with serial codes beginning with M3W and M3S.

Here’s the original message:

According to CCTV, police in Taizhou, Zhejiang seized over 8 million RMB worth of fake currency with serial numbers starting with M3W96. The characters “100” can reflect light. Without a machine, it is hard to recognize [it's fake]. Please identify the currency you have. Be careful!

#M3W96真假辨伪# [话筒]据央视报道,浙江台州警方查获800多万元M3W96开头的假币。这种假币下边的“100”字样还会反光,没工具很难识别。请各位辨识手中的人民币,小心中枪额!

Beijing Rules Out Democracy in Hong Kong; Occupy Central Plans to Occupy

The key point in the ruling by China’s legislature over the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive elections wasn’t over open nominations. It was over the nominating threshold.

China ruled that candidates must win endorsements from half of the members of the nomination committee to make the ballot. In 2012, the pan-democratic side of Hong Kong politics (in contrast to the pro-Beijing/pro-establishment side) did have a candidate in the chief executive race in the form of the Democratic Party’s Albert Ho. Ho received 184 votes, 34 more than the 150 needed to make the ballot.

While the pan-democrats had just enough votes on the then-approximately 1,200 member Election Committee to nominate a candidate, they got crushed in the final voting, and Ho ended up with less than half the number of votes as nominations he got. (The Democratic Party takes some criticism in pan-democratic circles for having compromised in 2010 on democratic reforms, but they do have the largest number of legislators on the pan-democratic side.) If the elections happened in 2017 under the same nomination rules, the pan-democrats would likely have a candidate on the ballot for public votes.
Continue reading

Italian Vincenzo Arecchia Wins Youth Olympics Boxing Gold

The Men’s Light Welterweight (64 kg) boxing events at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China ended in disappointment for anyone who wanted to see a Russia-Ukraine showdown. The field included the top two boxers from the AIBA Youth World Boxing Championships in April: champion Bibert Tumenov (Russia) and runner-up Viktor Petrov (Ukraine, soon to be Russian if Putin has his way).

But it was a disappointment for both of them. Petrov lost his first match to Vincenzo Arecchia (Italy), the eventual gold medal winner, in a 2-1 decision, and Tumenov lost by disqualification to eventual runner up Suzuki Toshihiro (Japan). Tumenov ended up placing 4th and Petrov 5th, out of the 6 man field, and they never got to face each other.

In real war news, NATO says more than 1,000 Russian troops have invaded Ukraine, and Angela Merkel and the other European and American leaders are threatening to “discuss” sanctions. – Guardian

Support Using American Force if The Benefits Outweigh the Costs… …Even if Your Children Aren’t in the Military

Don't talk to me until you learn some sense.
Don’t talk to me until you learn some sense.
“My first question to anyone who is on television saying, we have to get tough, we need to put boots on the ground and we need to go to war in one of these places is, I will hear you out if you tell me you are prepared to send your son, your daughter, your grandson, your granddaughter to that war of which you are beating the drums. If you aren’t, I have no patience with you, and don’t even talk to me.”

Ex-CBS News host Dan Rather made the familiar argument that if you don’t have children serving in the armed forces, then you shouldn’t support fighting a war. This comes in the context of conflict in Ukraine and American air strikes on ISIS in Iraq. Speaking of Iraq, we also heard it the last time America invaded Iraq. At the moment, President Obama has said there won’t be combat troops going to Iraq.

Anyway, whether or not America sends combat troops to Iraq should have nothing to do with how many families have family members serving and everything to do with whether or not it is in America’s interests, weighing the benefits against the costs, to do so.

True, the personal costs might be greater for parents who have children serving in the armed forces, but the military is a national asset deployed for national defense. If threats posed against America are large enough, and combating those threats requires war, then that is when America should go to war to defend itself.
Continue reading

Ukraine vs. Russia Boxing Fight To Take Stage at 2014 Youth Olympic Games

Today, the 2014 Youth Olympic Games open in Nanjing, China, and what would the Olympics be without an international political brawl?

In 1985, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) went to Moscow and defeated the fictional USSR champion on film in Rocky IV. Shortly thereafter, the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union fell. This time, the boxing is for real, and at stake is the new Russian empire.

Russian boxer Bibert Tumenov and Ukrainian boxer Viktor Petrov have a good chance of facing each other in this year’s Light Welterweight (64 kg) boxing competition at the Youth Olympics. They faced in the finals of the AIBA Youth World Boxing Championships in April, and the Russian won.

When Teak Ukraine arrived in Nanjing, their ambassador, 2012 Gold Medal winning boxer Oleksandr Usyk, wrote “UKRAINE” in big letters on the YOG board.

Recently in Crimea, the National Professional Boxing League of Ukraine sent a letter to protest an “illegal” boxing event being held by the Russian boxing federation in Crimea. The letter reads in part: Continue reading

Patch Adams’ Bad Advice About Depression

Patch Adams, a humor-loving doctor who was glorified in Robin Williams’ film of the same name, expressed his sympathies in response to Robin Williams’ death by suicide.

Adams said, “Thank you for all you’ve given this world Robin, thank you my friend.” (More quotes at Yahoo! News.)

Adams, however, has expressed bad advice when it comes to depression. At a 2006 appearance at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, Adams called depression a “selfish act”, and said,

“To me depression is a symptom of a disease called loneliness,” Adams said. “You cannot be depressed and hold someone you love in your mind at the same time — it is impossible.”

Vanderbilt Reporter

Patch Adams, via Wikimedia.
Patch Adams, via Wikimedia.

Depression, according to medical professionals, is in fact a real disease.

The assistant dean of students, Scott Rodgers, M.D., criticized Adams’ advice as “malpractice” in that same article and said, “I was shocked and dismayed to hear a famous and influential physician speak in this way about mental illness.”

As for Adams’ claim that having people you love (and people who love you) prevents depression, Molly Pohlig, who is struggling with depression, wrote for Slate:

I didn’t know Robin Williams, but I bet he did know that he was loved. I know that I am loved. Maybe not on a Robin Williams scale, but I have friends and family who would do anything for me, and I absolutely know this. But there comes a point where love does not matter. When things are bad, I don’t care that people love me.

“When the Illness You Live With Becomes Breaking News”, Molly Pohlig, Slate