Hong Kong CNN
Liang Shi has led a very successful life. He has worked in many different industries and eventually started his own business. He was married and has a son.
He hasn't achieved one goal, but it's not because he's given up. It's getting a high enough score in China's college admission exam to get into a top university.
Liang, along with nearly 13 million other students, took the two-day, grueling exam known as the "gaokao" in early June. He took the gaokao for the 27th time, and has been unhappy with his scores ever since he first took the exam in 1978.
Most candidates are only allowed to take the exam once per year.
Liang's persistence has made national headlines.
It has not paid off yet. After completing the gaokao he recorded a video for Douyin, China’s equivalent to TikTok. He said he was "not very satisfied" with his performance.
In the video, he says: 'It might be difficult for me to get into a good college this year.
His fears were confirmed by the results released on Friday. He scored only 428 out of 750 points, lower than the results he had achieved the year before. This was not enough for him to be admitted into any college, much less an elite institution like Sichuan University that he has been aiming for since decades.
He said, 'I think the score can't be this bad,' in a livestream on social media hosted by local media outlet Sichuan TV. The video showed him viewing his results in real-time.
"Although this test seemed like a failure to me, I never thought I would get a lower score than I did last year."
The gaokao includes four subjects: Chinese (including math), English (including English), and either science (physics, chemistry, and biology) (or liberal arts, including politics, history, and geography). Liang expressed his disappointment in all subjects in the livestream but particularly in Chinese and liberal arts.
The enduring effects of a lifetime's trying
Liang, who is a native of Sichuan, first took the gaokao in 1983 as a student, but did not meet the minimum scores for college admission. This was reported by China Daily, an outlet run by state. He repeated the process for two more years with similar results.
He attended a technical college in the decade that followed, but left shortly thereafter. He worked odd jobs at a lumber factory, got married and did other odd work. He continued to study and take the gaokao, even achieving high scores enough to get into a Nanjing university in 1992, according to China Daily.
Unsatisfied with the offer, he declined it and kept trying.
China Daily reported that after he no longer met the gaokao requirements for eligibility, he stopped taking tests and worked as a salesman, before opening a successful manufacturing company. In 2001, the government removed the age restriction for the gaokao test. He was able to take the test again, at first sporadically, and then more consistently.
Since 2010, he has taken the gaokao each year.
According to China Daily, he had been working hard for the past year. He left home at 8 am to study in a friend's house, and did not return home until late that night. He had even decided to accept that Sichuan University was out of his reach and attend any 'key universities' that would take him.
He sounded defeated as he reviewed the results on Friday. He did not know if he would retake the test in 2024. He said that if he didn't achieve his goal by next year, he might give up.
He said, 'I think I'm OK in all aspects, but my results show me that I'm not.' If I can find the problem, fix it and improve my score, I will not give up.
Test your pressure cooker
Students who have spent months preparing for the gaokao are under a lot of pressure.
For many generations of Chinese, and for thousands who live in rural China even today, a college degree was the ticket to success and upward movement.
Many students went to temples before this year's exam, lighting incense for good results. On the big day, officials imposed restrictions around test centers in order to reduce noise and disrupt test-takers. For example, they prohibited nearby cars from honking. Restaurants and other businesses temporarily suspended operations during the test.
Support staff, traffic officials and residents were seen in photos wishing good luck to students as they entered exam centers. They flashed thumbs-up and gave high-fives. Families gathered in front of test centers to cheer on their children. Some held flower bouquets, while others displayed banners containing encouraging slogans.
The competition to get into select universities will likely increase in the next few years as the number of applicants increases.
The number of candidates this year is up 980,000 from last year, causing concern among some students who are already struggling with an uncertain economy and diminishing opportunities.
Although young Chinese are more educated than ever before - many of them now pursue master's or PhD degrees to gain an edge – they enter a tough job market that is being impacted by the pandemic, and government regulations in key industries.
Experts warn that the youth unemployment rate in China could remain high for many more years.