Xi'an police probe agencies amid angry protests by parents over exam 'immigrants'

Thousands of parents take to streets after an influx of students makes it harder to gain a place in senior high.
By Jing Wei for RFA Mandarin
Xi'an police probe agencies amid angry protests by parents over exam 'immigrants' Police guard the front doors of a building as thousands of angry parents protest an influx of out-of-town students taking the high-school entrance examination in Xi’an, China, July 21, 2023.
Screenshot from Mr Li is not your teacher Twitter

Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Xi'an have moved to tamp down angry protests by thousands of parents over an influx of out-of-town students taking the high-school entrance examination, arresting at least 10 people for "fraud” and investigating educational services companies.

Thousands of angry parents of junior high-schoolers gathered outside several government buildings in Xi'an on July 21 chanting "Let Xi'an kids go to school," amid complaints that out-of-town candidates from the central province of Henan had bumped thousands of their children below the cut-off point for entrance to senior high school.

Some knelt down to express their dissatisfaction, while others sang patriotic songs – often chosen by protesters in China to indicate that they don't oppose the ruling Chinese Communist Party, just a specific policy.

The crowd dispersed in the early hours of July 22 after city leaders promised to thoroughly investigate their claims that families from Henan were taking advantage of the city's relaxed residency rules to game the system and get their children into its senior high schools, which carry a much higher probability of a place in higher education than Henan's high schools.

According to the Twitter account "Mr Li is not your teacher," police also arrested two parents during the protests.

The protests erupted amid reports that some 40,000 out of 100,000 candidates for this year's high-school entrance examination in Xi'an actually came from Henan province, and while they could produce a household registration for Xi'an, had never attended school in the city.

The influx of students from out of town made it harder than last year for students who had been born and raised in the city to get a place in senior high school, effectively raising the threshold in a competitive examination system by 61 points.

Fraudulent candidates

Anyone scoring less than 600 out of a possible 700 points in the exam was effectively shut out of the university application process, the parents complained. Last year, a Xi'an student would only need a score of 539 points to be sure of a place in senior high school, official media reported.

Angry parents outside several government buildings in Xi'an chant "Let Xi'an kids go to school," on July 21, 2023. Credit: Screenshot from Mr Li is not your teacher Twitter
Angry parents outside several government buildings in Xi'an chant "Let Xi'an kids go to school," on July 21, 2023. Credit: Screenshot from Mr Li is not your teacher Twitter

The protests came after the Xi'an municipal education bureau claimed on July 18 that there were only 3,608 out-of-town candidates taking the test this year. But people quickly compared this year's total with last year's, finding that 20,000 more candidates took the exam this year.

"Why are there 20,000 more children?" they demanded to know.

The Xi'an police department announced later on July 22 that it had arrested 10 people and was holding six more amid an investigation into a number of educational service providers for "fraud" in connection with the sudden influx of candidates from Henan.

But the government has stuck to its claim that there were only 3,608 out-of-town candidates.

"A joint inspection team composed of multiple departments will screen the household registration, school status, school certificates, and academic level test scores of the 3,608 [out-of-town] students one by one, and cancel the admission qualification of candidates who are verified as having obtained their registration and examination qualifications by fraudulent means," the Communist Party-backed Ta Kung Pao newspaper reported on July 23.

Meanwhile, the Lianhu district police department said it had also arrested a 35-year-old man for "fabricating" information online about the number of students from Henan.

Inequality complaints

Former university lecturer Wang Deyu said public anger around education stems from a system that is already highly competitive and highly unequal.

"This conflict has been somewhat limited, and it has glossed over the biggest issue when it comes to China's educational resources -- the excessive concentration of wealth and power [among the privileged]," Wang said.

He said anyone born and growing up in Beijing, Shanghai and other privileged areas has far greater access to education than people in poorer parts of the country.

"This current conflict around ... high school entrance exam immigrants shows how much of the cake has already been given out, leaving [people in Xi'an] with a smaller share," Wang said. "There is no way to share that small piece of the cake fairly among so many people."

U.S.-based journalist Wang Jian said his parents made exactly the same move when he was a teenager, because students in Henan are far less likely to have a shot at a higher ranking university – necessary to find a job in an era of mass youth unemployment -- if they stay where they are.

"Zhengzhou University is the only [higher-ranking] 211 institution in the whole of Henan," Wang said. "It's very hard to find a job if you didn't graduate from a 211."

"I went to Shaanxi to take the exam because there are a lot of [higher ranking universities] in Shaanxi," he said. "From a sociological point of view, this is the consequence of the unfair division of educational resources."

In June 2021, the government announced a crackdown on the U.S.$120 billion private tutoring, or buxiban, industry, in a country where hothousing children to ensure the best shot at a good high school or university has become the norm for middle-class families, citing excess psychological pressure on children and financial pressure on families.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.