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Life's turning point for Chinese youth

Updated: 2015-06-09 07:29
By Pauline D. Loh (China Daily)

This week, about 9.4 million high school students will heave a collective sigh of relief. They would have just completed the national college entrance examination, or gaokao.

For them, this particular exam will mark a turning point in their lives. Whether they score well or not will decide which university they can gain a place in.

Competition is intense.

For these students it also marks the changeover to a more responsible, independent stage in life. Going to university, to many, may mean living away from home. Gaining a place in a prestigious tertiary institution may also mean the key to a better future in their hands.

Every year during the gaokao period anxious parents hover over their progeny, often an only child. In the few days during which the examination takes place all over major cities in China, special traffic arrangements are made so the students get to the venues on time.

After the exam, there is only a short respite as the students wait with bated breath before the results are released and they are offered a place with their chosen university, or not.

Going to university is an incubation period during which they prepare for adulthood.

Chinese parents are protective.

Since early childhood they would have nurtured and nudged their children toward higher ground. Their children go to the best possible schools, get the best tuition teachers and the best extracurricular training - just so they get a better competitive edge.

In a country where the family planning policy has shrunk the size of the average family, the child gets the undivided attention of parents and grandparents, and also bears the burden of heavy expectations.

A young colleague complains that five years after graduation, her parents still expect to be consulted about her major decisions in life, including the choice of a boyfriend and when she should get married.

Life's turning point for Chinese youth

It's a much harder world these days. An open market economy means there is more competition. Compared with the days of the planned economy, things are less predictable and the iron rice bowl is becoming a thing of the past. Students these days need to be street smart and tech savvy, and they need as much EQ as they do IQ.

Chinese parents need to know when to let go.

To someone whose parenting skills tend to lean toward Western models, I find it hard to understand the slavery mode Chinese parents inflict themselves with. They tend to overprotect their children, investing their life savings and expectations in their children.

As my young colleague moans: "It's not fair. I have to live out my parents' expectations and try to live a life of my own. It's pretty heavy."

Gaokao is just the first step. Once the expected grades are achieved and the expected place in university gained, it is a few more years of hard work to graduation. It's a good job next, and a suitable spouse and children.

Above all, it would be to fulfill parental expectations.

Contact the writer at paulined@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 06/09/2015 page2)

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