Call it multiple-choice Mao. Just what did the Great Helmsman expound in his article, "Against the Party: eight-part essay"?
This is no idle query. For some 242,000 would-be Chinese postgraduate students, ticking the correct answer box to this and other such questions last is still a requirement for entry to any post-graduate course.
As the bleary-eyed faces of some of my friends can attest, the national examinations for postgraduate courses were held over three days last Friday to Sunday all across China. And the one compulsory paper for all those who sat it was still politics. No candidate who fails this paper can be accepted onto a postgraduate course. Be your choice chemistry, English literature, or computer science, you had better have known how to define "the three characteristics of nationalisation after 1949". And it came worse than that. One of the two compulsory long essay topics this time was "Analyse the wave of migrant workers from a Marxist dialectical materialist point of view". (The other one was no light relief either: "Analyse the problems of China's state-owned enterprises from a Marxist dialectical materialist point of view".) For the whole of December, these Chinese friends disappeared every second evening to attend three-hour cramming lectures in politically correct thinking. With 242,000 applicants competing for 51,000 postgraduate places, the 60 per cent pass mark for the paper is no pushover. Unlike the other subject examinations which are set by individual universities, the same politics paper is taken by everyone. But it is hardly an exercise in encouraging critical and independent thought. Each question, whether set as multiple choice or short essay, has a "right" answer which the cramming courses teach by rote. This is fair enough when asked to name the three main battles against the warlords in Guizhou province in 1927. But it places something of a limit on philosophical rigour when faced with short essay questions such as: "What is the main difference between idealism and materialism?" (The correct response, quoting Mao's edict "Seek truth from facts", is that materialism is right and idealism is wrong.) So what is the point of it all? …