Quotes from Chinese leader Xi Jinping have been used as essay prompts in the country’s highly competitive university entrance exams, known as gaokao, for the first time.

A Chinese exam paper on Wednesday asked students to write more than 800 Chinese characters on their “understanding and thinking” of two Xi quotes said to “vividly point out universal principles.”

Xi Jinping publication
Books about Chinese President Xi Jinping are on display at a bookstore in Yan’an city, in China’s northwest Shaanxi province on October 15, 2022, one day ahead of the 20th Communist Party Congress. Photo: Jade Gao / AFP.

The paper, designed by China’s Ministry of Education, applied to students across 12 provinces and regions, including Xinjiang, Henan and Jiangxi. Students elsewhere worked on different essay topics related to technology development, the meaning of exploration, the power of stories and classics from philosopher Chuang-Tzu.

It was the first time quotes from Xi were used as gaokao essay prompts, BBC reported. Among all the Chinese leaders, only Mao Zedong’s poetry had appeared in gaokao previously. Mao, the founding leader of Chinese Communist Party, is also widely considered a good poet.

One of the Xi quotes used in this year’s gaokao was: “Blowing out others’ candles will not make yours brighter while blocking others way will not take you further.” Xi uttered it while attending the CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-level Meeting in Beijing in March.

The second quote was: “‘Spring is not only a single flower in bloom, but the blossom of hundreds all at once.’ If there is only one kind of flower in the world, it would be tedious no matter how beautiful it is.” This came from a 2014 speech delivered at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

china exams
Students taking national college entrance exam in China. File Photo.

The essay prompts sparked discussion on Chinese social media platform Weibo. Many users said it would be easy to get high scores by analysing China-US relations and mentioning “how the US suppresses China.”

“The US is good at blowing out others countries’ candles,” one Weibo user said, while another said: “The US tries hard to hinder the great rejuvenation of China. It goes against the trend of globalisation and would not benefit oneself by harming others’ interest.”

“It is said that they long for the ‘blossom of hundreds’, but actually what they want is ‘all at once’,” one person commented on Weibo, subtly criticising the quote by saying that the government did not want diversity but homogeneity.

Weibo is a heavily censored by its parent company Sina, the Chinese government and also the official accounts of media and institutions, which vet users’ comments before publishing them on the platform.

Into the minds, hearts and souls

Beijing has been working hard to strengthen ideological control and promote “Xi Jinping Thought.”

The Chinese Ministry of Education published a textbook for primary and secondary students, Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, which has been used since 2021 for a mandatory course.

Xi Jinping
Chinese leader Xi Jinping officiates in Hong Kong on July 1, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

Xi’s speeches, lectures, and instructions have been complied and published as a four-volume collection Xi Jinping: The Governance of China.

Two volumes of Selected Works of Xi Jinping, edited by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China’s Literature and History Compilation Committee were published in May.

Cai Qi, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and secretary of the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, said that studying the two volumes should be regarded as “a major political task,” and education should be carried out to promote the “infiltration” of Xi’s socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics “into the minds, hearts, and souls of the people”.

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