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Ministry of Education Bans the Idolization of China’s Top Gaokao Scorers

Stories of the top achievers of China’s national exams can no longer be propagated by state media; the emphasis should shift to the average, harmonious student.

Chauncey Jung

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The countdown has started for China’s national exams, the gaokao. Although the top scorers of these decisive exams are usually praised as champions, the Ministry of Education now warns against their idolization and orders schools and media to use ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ as their guide.

China’s Ministry of Education has issued an official announcement this week that it is no longer allowed to idolize the top scorers of China’s upcoming National Higher Education Entrance Examinations, usually abbreviated to gaokao (高考, ‘high exams’).

The notice was issued after a top-level conference on May 8, which focused on the enrollment process for China’s national graduation exams.

The gaokao will take place in June and always attract nationwide attention – both offline and online – in the weeks before they start. The exams are the most important moment of the year for those taking part; they are a prerequisite for entering China’s higher education institutions and are usually taken by students in their last year of senior high school.

 

“It is strictly prohibited to give publicity to gaokao top scorers.”

 

“It is strictly prohibited to give publicity to gaokao top scorers,” the head of the Ministry of Education, Chen Baosheng (陈宝生), was quoted saying by various state media outlets on Weibo, adding that “those who do so anyway will be dealt with accordingly.”

In the Ministry of Education’s announcement, it further said that education departments all over China should use Xi Jinping’s socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics as a guide to their work relating to the college national entrance exams this year.

The exams, that take place during a period of 2 days, are so important because scoring high grades for this exam can give high school students access to a better college, which enlarges their chances of obtaining a good job after graduation. Because the exam results are potentially life-changing, the gaokao period is generally a highly stressful time for students and their parents.

Those who succeed in becoming the number one scorers in their field and area, also known as the gāokǎo zhuàngyuán (高考状元, ‘gaokao champions’), are usually widely praised by Chinese media and educational institutions.

Names and photos of top scorers published in 2009.

Year on year, the scores, names, photos, and stories of those students excelling in the humanities (文理状元) and science (理科状元) are publicized by national, provincial, and local newspapers.

Changing Propaganda: From Top Achievers to Harmonious Students

The announcement by the Chinese Ministry of Education to ban the promotion of the top scorers in the university entrance exams became a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media today.

In their report of the ban, Party newspaper People’s Daily published pictures showing how students and schools are preparing for the upcoming exams.

The photos are full of socialist-style propaganda-like slogans (e.g. “trials and hardships strengthen determination”), encouraging students to work and study hard and to repay their parents for the efforts they put into them.

Various pictures show how, to prepare for the decisive exams next month, students in Hengshui, Hebei, bring in meals for the class and then eat together from the same bowl in order to not waste valuable study time.

Instead of promoting and propagating the stories of China’s top scorers, Chinese state media now seem to shift their focus to students’ hard work and collaborate efforts to prepare for the exam.

In line with Xi Jinping’s socialist thought, which also promotes equality in education and the nurturing of “a new generation of capable young people who (..) are well-prepared to join the socialist cause”, the official focus has now apparently changed from top achievers to the average, harmonious and social student.

China’s higher education is extremely competitive, and so is the battle for the high gaokao scores; although as much as 9.75 million senior high school students are going to take part in the 2018 University Entrance Exams, only less than 100 of them will have the opportunity to become an actual gāokǎo zhuàngyuán or ‘top-score champion.’

Inequality behind the ‘zhuàngyuán’?

The gaokao top-score achievers are not just the minority when it comes to statistics, they are also the ‘elites’ of the supposed socialist society.

After claiming the title of 2017 Beijing University Entrance Exam top scorer, the 2017 zhuàngyuán Xiong Xuan’an was interviewed by Chinese media outlet The Paper and addressed some controversial issues on becoming one of the top scorers.

Xiong, during the interview, said that for students coming from rural areas, it is much harder to get into good universities, saying: “People like me are from middle-class families. We do not have to worry about food or clothes. Our parents are educated.”

He added: “We were born in large cities like Beijing. We simply got better education resources than the rest. Students from other places and rural areas are not able to get these benefits.”

 

“The top scorers nowadays are, generally speaking, coming from prestigious families.”

 

Over the past years, Chinese parents are increasingly spending huge amounts of money towards their children’s education, varying from extravagant summer programs to hiring ‘gaokao nannies‘ to support children taking the exams. Spending money on high-quality private schools and tutoring starts as early as kindergarten.

But not all families can afford top-notch schools for their children. Official statistics show that in 2017, dispensable income per capita in China is approximately 25,974 yuan (±US$4072).

Xiong told reporters that his parents are diplomats, saying: “It made my learning path easier. And the top scorers nowadays are, generally speaking, coming from prestigious families and are good at studying.”

Perhaps the general promotion of top-score achievers used to be an efficient way for state media to promote hard-working attitudes and the ‘Chinese dream‘, but the emergence of the more elite zhuàngyuán now has come to show how differences in educational resources have created inequality in educational opportunities.

Weibo Discussions

The recent ban on stories about the 2018 gaokao top scorers is an indication that the Chinese Ministry of Education now wants to de-emphasize worsening disparities within society, but not all commenters on Weibo agree with this shift.

“Why can’t we give publicity to the top scorers?”, author Tan Yantong (@谭延桐) asks on Weibo: “There is so much rotten entertainment news (..) and bullsh*t news, unbearable news, ruining our value system – why don’t you ban that sort of news?”

 

“What’s the use for me to become a number one scorer now?”

 

“Then you might as well ban the top scorers in sports,” others say: “That’s also highly competitive.”

“Now what’s the use for me to become a number one scorer anyway?” another commenter jokingly says.

But there are also supporters of the new guideline. “This is a good start,” one other Weibo user writes: “Elementary education is general education – not elite education. How to provide efficient and equal education is something the Ministry of Education needs to figure out through new strategies.”

By Chauncey Jung and Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Chauncey Jung is a China internet specialist who currently works for an Internet company based out of Beijing. Jung completed his BA and MA education in Canada (Univ. of Toronto & Queen's), and has a strong interest in Chinese trends, technology, economic developments and social issues.

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  1. Avatar

    winona

    May 13, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    honestly, i like this. there’s so much pressure in chinese culture to exceed in studies (resulting in depression, anxiety and even suicide). academia isn’t for everyone. this is de-stigmatising average test scores and opens up the conversation for different careers. im very surprised and quite proud of china’s education department for promoting this campaign. i wish for china to keep moving towards progressive and open minded societal attitudes.

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China Celebs

Chinese Actor Zhao Lixin Banned from Weibo over Comments on Second Sino-Japanese War

The actor was banned for “downplaying” the Japanese aggression in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

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Sina Weibo issued a statement on April 16 that the Weibo account of the Chinese-Swedish actor Zhao Lixin has been terminated following remarks he made about Japan’s invasion of China and the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The Weibo account of Zhao Lixin (赵立新, 1968) has been closed after the Chinese-Swedish actor made controversial comments on the Second Sino-Japanese War.

On April 2nd, Zhao Lixin, who had more than 7 million followers, posted a message on Weibo that questioned why the Japanese military did not pillage and destroy the Beijing Palace Museum during the Second Sino-Japanese War:

The Japanese occupied Beijing for eight years. Why didn’t they steal relics from the Palace Museum and burn it down [during that time]? Is this in line with the nature of an invader?

The actor also commented on the Nanjing Massacre of 1937, suggesting that it was a consequence of Chinese resistance to the Japanese invasion.

Zhao’s post led to much controversy in early April, followed by a lengthy apology statement from the actor on April 3rd, in which he said he did not phrase his comments carefully enough and that he was remorseful over the storm of criticism he had ignited. His controversial Weibo post was soon taken offline.

Many people were mostly angered because they felt Zhao’s comments “defended” the Japanese invaders. “Zhao’s permit to work in China should be terminated forever!”, some commenters posted on Weibo.

The Second Sino-Japanese War is still a highly sensitive topic in China today, with anti-Japanese sentiments often flaring up when Japan-related topics go trending on Chinese social media.

The ‘Nanjing massacre’ or ‘Rape of Nanjing’ is an especially sensitive topic within the history of the Second Sino-Japanese War, also because some Japanese politicians and scholars consistently deny it even happened, heightening the tension between the two countries. For a Chinese celebrity to seemingly ‘downplay’ the aggression and atrocities committed by Japanese invaders in the 1937-1945 period is therefore highly controversial.

Despite Zhao’s apologies, Sina Weibo issued a notice on April 16 “Relating to Harmful Political Information” (关于时政有害信息的处理公告), stating that the account of Zhao Lixin, along with some others, had been closed for spreading this kind of information.

The hashtag relating to Zhao’s social media suspension received more than 57 million views on Weibo today.

“It’s good that his account was taken down,” a popular comment said: “It’s insulting our country.” Others said that Zhao should not have posted something that is “out of line” “considering his position as an actor.”

Zhao Lixin is mainly known for his roles in TV dramas such as The Legend of Mi Yue, Memoirs In China, and In the Silence.

Zhao is not the first KOL (Key Opinion Leader) to have been banned from Weibo after making controversial remarks relating to China’s history. In 2016 the famous entrepreneur Ren Zhiqiang disappeared from Weibo after publishing various posts on his experience with communism in the past, and the status quo of media in China.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Top 6 of China’s Popular News Apps

In an online environment with hundreds of news apps, these are some must-know apps Chinese netizens use to stay updated on the news.

Gabi Verberg

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In China’s dynamic online media environment, where hundreds of news apps are competing over clicks, these are five different news apps that are currently popular among Chinese netizens.

China is the world’s largest smartphone market, and the mobile app business is booming. Chinese netizens, of which some 98% access the internet via mobile phone, have thousands of app to choose from across dozens of app stores.

To provide some insights into this huge market, What’s on Weibo has listed some of the most popular and noteworthy apps in China today in various categories, namely news, education, health, games, and short video & live streaming. Check our top 5 of most popular short video apps here. This article will focus on some of China’s most popular news apps. Stay tuned for the other categories, that will follow shortly and will be listed below this article.

We made our selection based on the data from the Android app stores Tencent, Baidu, Huawei, and Zhushou360. We tried our best to give you a representative overview of a variety of apps that are currently most used in China, but want to remind you that these lists are by no official “top 5” charts.

When it comes to news apps, we see there’s a clear preference for the more commercial media outlets rather than traditional Chinese state media newspaper titles, and that besides gaming, live streaming, shopping, and music, news gathering is still very much a popular online activity among Chinese netizens.

 

#1 Jinri Toutiao 今日头条


Jinri Toutiao, which translates as ‘Today’s Headlines’, currently ranks as the most popular app in the Chinese Apple store, together with its ‘speed version’ (今日头条极速版) version, which offers a different interface.

The Jinri Toutiao app is a core product of China’s tech giant Bytedance Inc., which has also developed popular apps such as TikTok, Douyin (抖音), Xigua (西瓜) and Huoshan (火山).

The main difference between the normal and speed version app is that the Jinri Toutiao has some extended features; its layout can be adjusted according to user’s preferences and its installment takes up more space on the device.

Toutiao’s success is mainly due to its artificial intelligence functions that sources news and other articles for its users. Through the app’s machine-learning algorithm, Jinri Toutiao can understand its user’s preferences and personalizes the selected content its shows on the main page. In doing so, Toutiao is a so-called news aggregator that has some 4000 news providing partners and is comparable to American apps such as Flipboard.

In 2018, Jinri Toutiao had 700 million registered users, with 120 million daily readers, spending approximately 76 minutes on the app, viewing a total of 4.2 billion(!) articles.

 

#2 Ifeng News 凤凰新闻


Ifeng News or Phoenix News is part of Phoenix TV, a broadcasting company established in 1996. The media company, that is headquartered in Hong Kong, is active in traditional media as well as in new media.

According to Phoenix TV, users of the Ifeng News app approximately spend more than 37 minutes on the app daily.

Like Toutiao, the Ifeng News app also offers personalized content for users based on AI algorithms. Different from Toutiao, Ifeng is not just a news aggregator but also produces its own content.

Ifeng News is the app to consult when you want to get somewhat more in-depth insights into the main headlines from around globe. In addition, Ifeng also offers 24/7 live news broadcasts from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

 

#3 Caijing Toutiao 财经头条

Caijing Toutiao is an app developed by Caijing Magazine, an independent financial magazine based in Beijing that, in addition to economic issues, also focuses on social and public affairs and civil rights. It has long been known for its progressive and critical content, which is why we list it here, although some other commercial news apps, such as Tencent News, Sohu News, Netease, and The Paper, might be more popular in terms of the total number of downloads.

Caijing Magazine was established in 1998 by Hu Shuli (胡舒立) as part of the Media Group Limited. Especially in the first ten years of the magazine’s existence, it enjoyed relative freedom regarding press restrictions. But the ‘golden era’ of Caijing came to an end in 2009, when Hu Shili resigned after facing more control over news by the authorities.

Nevertheless, Caijing is still known as an authoritative news platform for business and financial issues in China.

The Caijing app, in addition to its live stream and headlines, offers rich financial content organized in various categories. The app is not only among the most popular news apps, but it was also ranked the most downloaded financial app in the first half of 2018.

 

#4 People’s Daily 人民日报


People’s Daily, one of the leading news outlets of China, is the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. The news office was established in 1948 and is headquartered in Beijing.

Despite being seventy years old, People’s Daily has adopted various strategies over the past years to reach Chinese younger audiences in the digital era. The news app, launched in 2014, is part of its digital strategy, and now ranks amongst the most popular news apps of China across different app app stores.

A large number of People’s Daily‘s news articles focus on political matters. Users of the app can choose whether they want to see the standardized content showed to all users, or opt-in to recommended articles based on monitored personal preferences.

 

#5 Tencent News 腾讯新闻

Tencent News, which is part of the Shenzhen-based Tencent Group, is one of the leading news-apps of China. In addition to the app, the company also has its online portal QQ.com, where they release the same content as the app, complemented with other services.

In 2017, Tencent brought the two apps together when it added a news feed and search function to its super app WeChat. This means that, regardless if you have the Tencent News app installed on your device, you will be directed to Tencent News when you enter certain search words in WeChat. With WeChat’s 1.08 billion monthly active users globally, this sets off a tremendous user flow from WeChat to Tencent News.

The majority of the news articles on the app come from third-party platforms. In addition to the news, the app features other Tencent products such as Tencent Video and their live streaming service.

In the final quarter of 2018, Tencent News users grew from 94 million to 97.6 million daily active users, making it the second most popular news app of China.

 

#6 Zhihu 知乎


Zhihu is no typical news app: it actually is China’s biggest Q&A platform, comparable to Quora.

In 2018, Zhihu had 160 million registered users, of which 26 million visited the app daily. Despite the fact that Zhihu is not a traditional news content app, it plays an important role in China’s online news media landscape, as it provides an open space where users get (news) information and can get answers to their questions relating to the news and other things.

What sets it apart from other social media platforms is that users do not need to be ‘connected’ or ‘follow’ each other in order to see each other’s questions and comments. Zhihu‘s algorithm pushes up the most popular content, driving engagement.

How does Zhihu exactly work? All Zhihu users can create topics or questions, and reply to those of others. By voting on the best response of other users, the app automatically features the most appreciated comments on the top of the page.

To guarantee the reliability of the information provided by users, Zhihu has rolled out a ‘point system’ that credits users for their content, profile, and behavior on the platform. By giving every user a personal score, Zhihu allegedly hopes to promote more “trustworthy” content.

Apart from the Q&A feature, Zhihu also offers electronic books and paid live streaming. Zhihu also launched the so-called ‘Zhihu University’ that offers paid online courses in business, science, and humanities.

Also see:

By Gabi Verberg, edited by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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