‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!’

Exam fever: Students arriving for the first day of the ‘gaokao’, in Nanjing, eastern Jiangsu province. Millions of students sat for the notoriously tough exam yesterday, the first since the country lifted zero-Covid rules that forced classes online for months on end. — AFP

What does the National College Entrance Exam, or gaokao, mean to the Chinese people? Everyone has his or her own answer.

For Liang Shi, it is the only way to realise his dream of becoming a college student, Bandao Metropolis Daily reported.

At the age of 56, the Sichuan native sat for the exam yesterday for the 27th time.

In 1983, Liang attended his first gaokao but failed. He tried again in the next two years, but had no luck.

In 1986, his parents persuaded him to go to a technical school.

He quit after just one year. He said he did not want to work alongside loud machines. He kept preparing for the test and did odd jobs.

In 1991, he went to work at a timber factory and got married. But he did not give up on gaokao.

In 1992, he could only sit the adult gaokao due to the age limit.

He was admitted to Nanjing Forestry University, but he was not satisfied with it, so he did not go. In the same year, he was laid off. To raise his family, he worked as a salesman.

He sold clothing, refrigerators, TVs and hardware. Later he opened a building material factory and earned one million yuan (RM647,000) in less than a year.

In 2001, the Ministry of Education cancelled the age limit to attend gaokao. Liang picked up his books again.

Buried in his business, he only had time to sit for the exam in 2002 and 2006. From 2010 to 2022, he sat for the exam for 13 consecutive years.

His best score came in 2018 when he got 469 out of the total 750.

In 2019, he scored 462. But he did not apply to universities because his goal was Sichuan University, a Double First-Class university.

His repeated tries have earned him a reputation and are met with mixed responses.

His son, who took the test in 2011 with him and has graduated with a master’s degree, does not want him to be under the spotlight. His wife said nothing, so Liang took her silence as being supportive.

Some netizens say he is wasting time and energy, and he is putting on an act.

Liang however does not care about others’ judgment.

“Everyone pursues different things. You can’t say who is right, who is wrong. As long as the law permits, it’s reasonable,” he said.

To prepare for the exam, Liang leaves home at 8am, takes the subway to study at a friend’s teahouse and returns home between 9pm and 10pm.

There is a fixed table for him. At noon, he has a nap on a bench.

At such an age, Liang said he finds it hard to get up early.

He wants to realise his dream as soon as possible, so he has decided not to fix his goal on Sichuan University in 2023.

“I’ll be ok with a key university. If my score is sufficient for a key university, I’ll attend it,” he said. — China Daily/ANN

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