2009 Gaokao Essay Questions

As many of you know, this past weekend was the gaokao (高考), China’s brutally long standardized college entrance exam. The test differs from region to region and student to student (depending on whether they have focused on sciences or the humanities), but all students are tested in Chinese, Math, and a foreign language (usually English). All students also choose and answer one essay question from a bank that includes some that are the same nationwide (in addition to some questions that differ locally). Here are this year’s national questions. How would you do?

(Translated from the questions published by Xinhua here)

Question 1: The Rabbit from the Sporting Event

The rabbit is the sprinting champion of the small animal sporting games, but he cannot swim. Once, the rabbit was chased by the wolf to the riverside, and nearly caught. For the sake of developing the animals, the management enrolled the rabbit in swim training. He was in the same class as the cat, the tortoise, the squirrel, etc. The cat and the tortoise learned to swim, and having acquired another skill, were very happy, but the rabbit and the squirrel still couldn’t swim even after spending a long time studying, and were very worried. Class instructor Duck said: “We, with our two legs, can swim, and you, with four legs, still can’t? 90% of success comes from effort! Come on! Quack quack!”

Critic frog sighed: “What rabbit is good at is running! Why are you only training the weaknesses and not developing the strengths? Thinker Crane said, “Life requires more than just one skill! If the rabbit can’t learn swimming he should learn burrowing, if the squirrel can’t learn swimming he should study tree climbing.”

Choose the correct perspective, firmly establish your point, choose your own style and heading, don’t write anything outside the scope of the provided material, don’t interplant or plagiarize.

Selected Question 1 Comments

Going along with what you’re good at is best, why would you bother ‘hanging a dead person’?

I’m looking forward to when the essays that got zero points come out. Every year the zero points ones come out and make a good show!

Embody one’s values, create values, use the good things and ignore the bad!

Your strong points [should] decide how you develop, but your weak points will influence your life.

There are a million paths on the road to success, choose the one that suits you. Use your good points and ignore the bad, look for the bright spots in yourself and choose a direction that suits you, that is moving towards the road to success.

Question 2: Respond to One of the Following

[It really isn’t clear from the page we’re translating exactly what the students are meant to do, but it seems they’re meant to choose a section and write a response to it.]

Section 1: On Christmas eve, Dalton bought gray socks for his mother as a Christmas present. When his mother saw the sock, she thought it was too brightly-colored, and said to Dalton, “you’ve bought me such bright red socks, how do you expect me to wear them?” Dalton felt very strange. The socks were obviously gray, so why did his mother say they were red? Feeling strange, Dalton took the socks to ask his brother and some other people what color they were. Aside from his brother, who agreed with Dalton, everyone else said the socks were cherry red. Dalton didn’t let this go lightly, he began to seriously analyze and compare, and discovered that he and his brother’s sense of color was different from everyone else’s. He and his brother were colorblind! Dalton, although he wasn’t a biologist or a doctor, became the first person to discover colorblindness, as well as the first-discovered patient. Because of this, he wrote an essay called “On Colorblindness”*, and became the world’s first person to raise the topic. Later, to memorialize him, some people called colorblindness “Dalton illness”*

Section 2**: After World War II, there was a serious food shortage in Japan. One day, Ando Momofuku randomly came upon a stall selling pulled noodles and saw people wearing simple clothing lined up for twenty or thirty meters in the cold wind. This gave him a great interest in noodles as he felt it noodles were something the masses needed badly. In the spring of 1958, Ando Momofuku built a simple room (10 sq. meters) in the back courtyard of his Osaka residence. He found an old noodle machine, bought flour, cooking oil, etc, and immersed himself in the development of instant noodles.

The instant noodles Ando Momofuku imagined were the kind that could be be eaten after just immersing them in hot water. When he started researching, and he was really just groping about in the dark, he would get up at 5:00 and go immediately to his small room, researching until one or two in the morning; he often got less than four hours of sleep. This went on for a year. Later, his wife fried something and inspired him. The surface of fried noodles has lots of holes in it. This is because the noodles are made with water, but during the frying process the water disperses, creating holes. Then, when put in boiled water, it changes. In this way, by first soaking the noodles in soup for flavor and then frying them to dry them out, one can resolve the problem of cooking and preserving them at the same time. He quickly got a patent for the process of making instant noodles.

in 1966 Ando Momofuku took his first trip to Europe and America for sightseeing. When he wanted to give some supermarket employees in Los Angeles the chance to taste pulled noodles, they couldn’t find any bowls. All they could find were paper cups, so they split the noodles up into paper cups, added boiled water, and ate it with chopsticks. When they finished eating, they just threw the paper cups away. Ando Momofuku suddenly realized he’d just developed the concept for disposable instant noodles. On the flight back, he discovered the container of pistachios the flight attendant gave him was sealed with paper and aluminum foil. At that time, he had been puzzling for a long time over how to find a material that air wouldn’t penetrate. The aluminum cover of instant noodles was discovered and decided upon in that moment.

Section 3: An American peasant, so poor that he had no food to eat, was forced to go to odd jobs for a local rich person. One night he borrowed the kerosene lamp so that he could wash clothes, but accidentally overturned the lamp, making some expensive formal clothes dirty. When she found out, the woman of the house was furious, and deducted two months’ salary from him. From then on, the peasant hung these clothes in the window, and would begin his work each day with an eye on the clothes, to show that he didn’t mean to be careless in his work. One day a few weeks later, he got up and looked to the clothes as he always did, but he found the clothing that had been stained was miraculously clean. The stain was gone. [This is apparently a reference to the discovery that kerosene takes out stains. We know nothing about stain removal. All glory to Danwei, Hypnotoad.]

[Both pages also note that these questions aren’t necessarily accurate and invite students who have taken the test to offer corrections]

*These are my translations of what are obviously translations from other languages into Chinese. I haven’t bothered to look up the originals because they aren’t particularly relevant to the post, but it someone wants to I’ll be happy to edit them in.
**The way this section begins in the source material doesn’t make much sense; I’m assuming the first phrase was meant to be a title and translating beginning with the second phrase.

More Gaokao stuff can be found on Danwei, Granite Studio, and ChinaSMACK.

UPDATE: Danwei now has much, much more.

0 thoughts on “2009 Gaokao Essay Questions”

  1. Pingback: Hao Hao Report
  2. 安藤百福 is Ando Momofuku, the late founder of Nissin Food Products, and the inventor of instant noodles/ramen/方便面.


  3. A small correction: students answer one essay question (worth around 60 points out of 150 for the Chinese segment). Many provinces prepare their own test papers, but those that don’t can choose one of the two national papers, or they can assemble their own exam using questions from a national question bank (Shaanxi seems to have done that — although it’s listed separately in the Xinhua and Sina round-ups, it uses the essay question from the National (I) paper).


  4. No plans to translate anything math related, sorry. I find math incomprehensible and boring even in English; I fear that attempting to translate Chinese writing about math might kill my love of Chinese somehow.


  5. I have no authority or deep insight, but reading the three sections, I would imagine they are all part of one question. Rather than responding to only one of them, I believe the response they are looking for is to note that scientific progress and advancement is made largely by accident or through group processes, even when it appears that some individual had gained fame and notoriety as the inventor.


  6. this essay scored zero marks

    Oh rabbit, after reading this report, I can’t help but call you one thing from deep down in my heart: Stupid!

    Haven’t you thought about what a zoo is for? Controlling animals! Isn’t the wolf an animal? You were nearly eaten by him, how is it that the zoo didn’t do jack about it? Why didn’t they punish the wolf and force the rabbit to study swimming? If there was justice, would there be any incidents of wolves catching rabbits in the zoo? Justice Lion is part of the Zoo Management, stupid rabbit!

    The wolf chased you to the river, so the zoo tricked you into reporting for swimming class; next time when the wolf chases you to a cliff, will they make you report for flying class? Is the wolf chasing you just to scare you into taking this or that class? What is the relationship between the wolf and the zoo? Do you have a brain? Stupid rabbit!

    I’m calling you stupid because you are stupid. Do you know who it is that runs these training classes? The zoo! Coach Duck is Park Director Tortoise’s2 son-in-law. [They sent the wolf to chase you,] and now you’ve turned it around and are giving them money for training! 90% of success comes from effort, come on, quack quack! Bah! He’s a duck, are you a duck? Has it occurred to you that no one in your family can swim, from your grandfather’s grandfathers on down? After a few classes run by the zoo can they really teach you to swim? Is swimming in a rabbit’s nature? Weren’t your course entrance fees a waste of money? The golden retriever and the tortoise are even more stupid; they can swim naturally, did they spend all that wasted cash just to get a certificate? Without a certificate can they stop you from swimming? With one, will the wolf not dare eat you? Here, I need to address the golden retriever: you’ve always been a famous dog, but when running into a bad person you invariably flee, and you still spend money to study being a drowning dog? Aren’t you ashamed?

    When encountering lawless people, why doesn’t the zoo encourage you to unite and rise as one to resist? Instead, they just teach you how to run. Running into the threat from a wolf isn’t a question of swimming ability, nor a question of all-around development, it’s a major question of right vs. wrong! Making money without doing any work, I think there’s no reason the zoo even needs to exist! The administrators do nothing, and conspire with the wolf, stupid rabbit!

    Rabbit, I’m cursing you because you’re disappointing, why don’t you show a little independent spirit instead of just parroting other’s words and believing what others say? The duck says that if his two feet can swim, your four feet must be able to, does that make any sense? According to that theory, the centipede would be the fastest swimmer. 90% of success is effort, bah! He just became a duck, is that “success”? Is he a peerless duck? Study from him, stupid rabbit!

    Then there’s the two experts, those charlatans. I have disliked that frog since last year when he came out with tears in his eyes, but at present I can’t be annoyed by it, as ‘there are more important things to attend to’. Isn’t that what he said last year? Isn’t the current threat of the wolf a “more important thing”? But he jumped out of this weak spot too, that’s his special ability, it’s called diverting attention and muddying the waters. Stupid rabbit! They’ve conspired to brainwash you, can’t you see?

    And that crane is even stupider, living requires more than just one skill! If the rabbit can’t study swimming he should study digging! Bullshit, if you’ve already been chased to the river’s edge, is there time to dig a hole? You even believe this kind of expert advice, stupid rabbit!

    If the wolf chases you, is that your fault as a rabbit? You don’t even have the opportunity to report it; if you report it justice lion might charge you with trying to subvert the zoo. The wolf and the lion are instruments of the zoo’s government, how could you report them? But if this kind of bad egg can’t be eradicated, is there any path for you? Studying swimming, could you avoid the wolf? I’m telling you, dogs can doggy-paddle, wolves can swim! The wolves are the dog’s forebears! Going to class is useless, next time you’re better off grabbing a pedicure knife3.

    Listen to me, I’m not wrong, stupid rabbit


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