From Where I Sit - Art of the Matter: News

Article excerpt

"It is parents' sorry lot to ensure the well-being of their children." This is a household saying in China, typically put into practice by the tens of thousands who accompany their kids to art examinations (yi kao) in the icy winds of early spring.

Nowadays, huge numbers of parents seem to be encouraging their offspring to take art exams and to major in such subjects so that they might gain an advantage in China's cut-throat national university entrance exams, the gao kao. The tactic makes sense, on the surface at least: the nation's colleges set significantly lower admission scores for art subjects in all their forms (performing arts, painting, animation and so on).

Students in their third year of secondary school can choose to take art exams arranged by various colleges, which are usually held between February and March (much earlier than the gao kao, sat in June). Applicants are evaluated by tests in separate art and culture sections, the latter of which include Chinese language and other subjects common to the national exams.

There is no escaping their date with destiny: after sitting yi kao, students still have to take the national exams. However, there are potential advantages to following the art route: those who do exceptionally well in the art-specific section enjoy privileges and may be admitted even if their grades fail to meet the standards demanded by the China-wide entrance tests.

This could explain why one sees so many children these days practising their piano-playing or singing without enthusiasm. It is also why at this time of year local and national media outlets churn out bucketloads of statistics and news analysis of art exams, complemented by human interest stories and appealing pictures of students and parents. …