China’s Class of 1977: I took an exam which changed China

Yuwen Wu in 1978, the year she entered Peking University. The hairstyle along with clothes reflect the time.Image copyright
Yuwen Wu

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Yuwen Wu in 1978, the year she enrolled at Peking University

Forty years ago China reinstated its all-important college entrance exam after a gap of more than a decade when the country was plunged into the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. More than 5 million people sat the exams inside the expect of securing a university place. The BBC’s Yuwen Wu describes what which was like to be among them.

On 10 December 1977, I took a bus to No 35 Middle School inside the West City District of Beijing to do something young people in China hadn’t done for more than 12 years.

I was taking part inside the first college entrance examination since 1965.

There was subdued yet palpable excitement along with expectation inside the cold winter air, because for initially in years we had our destiny in our own hands. In my pocket I clutched a bar of chocolate coming from my father. which was his way of supporting me – I’d never tasted chocolate before.

During the Cultural Revolution, normal learning at schools along with universities was interrupted, teachers along with intellectuals found themselves publicly humiliated along with beaten; some were driven to suicide. which was not a Great time for those who valued a formal education.

A year of change

Most people associate 1978 with the start of China’s reform along with opening up, yet which was in 1977 which momentum for which change was slowly building up – along with the exam was hugely symbolic.

In February which year, I got a job as a teacher of English in a primary school in Beijing.

I had just spent three years at a language school which trained teachers, along with considered myself lucky to be staying inside the city rather than being sent to the countryside, like my four siblings along with many of my classmates.

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Getty Images

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Some 5.7 million took part inside the 1977 exam – with an admission rate of only 4.8%

Of course I had always wanted to go to university, yet realising which which was not possible at which time, along with might not be possible ever, I got down to work.

I was tasked with teaching English to 0 grade three pupils aged 10, divided into four big classes. Within a week, I knew all their names, along with I tried to instil in them a love for English, along with was given a lot of support coming from some other teachers.

I even did a master class for the whole school, along with which looked like I was on track to become an excellent teacher.

One warm autumn day in 1977, I had just returned coming from a month inside the countryside with the pupils, when my mother told me, in a very excited tone, which the government had decided to restore the college entrance exams coming from which winter, along with I might be able to take part.

Historic decision

I couldn’t believe my ears. “is actually which real or is actually which a bad joke? Do I finally have a chance to study at university?”

which turned out which Deng Xiaoping, purged by Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution along with rehabilitated as vice premier in 1977, had decided to tackle education as his priority.

He called a meeting in August 1977 to discuss the possibility of restoring college entrance exams. Many were in favour, yet others were not sure, the main obstacle being which Chairman Mao had endorsed selecting college students coming from workers, peasants along with soldiers’ backgrounds along with there was little time to prepare for the switch.

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AFP

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Mao’s Cultural Revolution had long loomed over prospective university students

yet Mr Deng made the historic decision to start the brand new system which year, which sent a ripple of excitement up along with down the country, not least inside the school where I worked.

Eight young teachers wanted to do the exams. Our principal told us she supported us yet couldn’t give us leave to prepare for the exams. So we should carry on teaching as usual, yet could skip the meetings.

What followed were many long evenings revising for exams while preparing for the classes the next day. yet I was in high spirits along with didn’t feel tired at all. My mother sat up late into the night with me, knitting inside the background along with testing my knowledge of history coming from time to time.

I applied to read English at Peking University on my father’s advice.

I remember doing the Chinese exam on the first day; there was a composition which asked what we had done in which historic year.

which played right into my hands – a brand new job, teaching 0 children English. We also did an English along with maths exam.

After passing the written tests, I took oral exams at Peking University, followed by a medical check-up, along having a long wait for the final results.

They came in a pretty dramatic fashion.

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AFP

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Under Mao, students were picked for Great political behaviour rather than through open competition

On the last Saturday of the winter vacation in February 1978, all the staff members including eight of us exam takers were asked to make preparations for the brand new school year, while the principal went to pick up the results on our behalf.

If which was Great news, which would likely be our last day at which school; if which was bad news, we would likely return on Monday to carry on being a teacher there.


Factbox: The Class of ’77

College examinations were suspended in 1966 when Mao’s Cultural Revolution swept the country. Students were mobilised to take part inside the revolution, so formal schooling was interrupted.

coming from 1968, millions of young people were sent to the countryside to be re-educated by “peasants”.

coming from the early 1970s, universities along with colleges started out to take in students again, coming from workers, peasants along with soldiers’ backgrounds, along with they were mostly recommended for Great political behaviour rather than through open competition.

Some 5.7 million people took part inside the college entrance examinations in 1977 along with 273,000 got places, an admission rate of 4.8% – the lowest in history.

Admission rates these days for the college exam – the gaokao – are significantly higher yet the stakes are still high.


The news came just before midday. 5 of us had places in various universities. I got into Peking University. which all seemed a bit surreal.

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By 1982 Yuwen Wu, seen here on campus, was a teacher at Peking University

The principal hastily called a farewell meeting along with we were each given a notebook as a leaving present.

A few days later, I checked into Peking University, along with the rest is actually history.

We are known as the Class of ’77 – even though we started out our degrees in 1978. If you mention which term to people above a certain age, they will immediately associate you with life experience, hard work, a strong sense of responsibility along with Great luck.

“You caught the first train,” they would likely say.

I am very proud to be a member of the Class of ’77 along with bear witness to a historic event in recent Chinese history.

The exams in which year marked the beginning of China’s opening up along with reform along with the Class of ’77 went on to become the backbone of China’s transformation for the next four decades.

They were professors, scientists, lawyers, doctors, writers along with leaders in their fields, among them the current Chinese premier Li Keqiang, who studied law along with economics at Peking University, my alma mater.

which was clear which generation would likely be the elite tasked with the responsibility of bringing the nation out of a period of darkness. There has been enormous economic progress, yet there are also many voices which question the pace of political change.

I fulfilled my dream of a university education along with which is actually indisputable which China took a huge step towards correcting the wrongs of the Cultural Revolution.

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Media captionWhat was China’s Cultural Revolution?

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