A miner’s entrance exam.

Because I grew up in an environment of higher education, it seemed to me that going to university was a natural or logical and inevitable stage from elementary school to high school to university, and there was no special or even ideal level of aspiration for me.

However, when I entered secondary school, the various initiatives that bombarded me with the implementation of the class line showed me that the ability to go on to further education did not depend on the individual’s ability to receive knowledge, or how much effort he or she made to acquire it, but on the presence or absence of a red family background.

This harsh reality forced me to change my past perceptions – I’m afraid that for people like me, going to university is no longer a matter of course, but a dream that I can’t get out of in my life. Later on, my rough experience also fully proved this point.

In 1977, I had been working as a miner in the Chongqing coal mine for six years. That year, the state restored the entrance examination system for higher education institutions. At first, I was very skeptical about the reliability of this news, and I thought there must be some other criteria to choose from other than the examination.

It had been several years since the university had resumed enrolling students, but the students were all recommended by their employers and were called “industrial, agricultural and military students”. This kind of enrollment was similar to the recruitment of workers by industrial and mining enterprises in the countryside, and it was impossible for people from my family to be recommended for university.

I remember that in 1973, the state made an attempt to revive the cultural entrance examination. At first, it was said that everyone would have the opportunity to apply, but later on, it was still a unit recommendation, which in fact showed us a “no way” notice. At that time, I was in the coal mining team recommended a migrant miner recruited from Ba County.

If the original policy had been followed – he had to pass a cultural test and be accepted or rejected based on his grades – the recommended person would have had to go home and continue his career as a miner. However, he had the luck to meet Zhang Tiesheng, the “hero of the white paper”. Zhang Tiesheng, who could not do the test questions, wrote a letter of complaint on the back of the test paper denouncing the examination system, with which he entered the university as he wished, but sent many long-suppressed candidates from the countryside, who had the luxury of fair competition, back to the wide world.

My sister was mercilessly brushed out of the university because she failed the political examination. The peasant miner in our coal mining team became a university student in a dignified manner, thanks to Zhang Tiesheng’s blessing. By the time we took the college entrance exam in 1977, he had already graduated and returned to the coal mine to work as a technician, completing an unorthodox transition from peasant miner to state cadre that was admired by countless people.

When the news of the resumption of the college entrance examination in 1977 spread, I was not sure that the examination results would be the only condition for admission, but I also had a certain premonition – the opportunity to change my fate had finally arrived, perhaps the only chance. So, from the first moment of preparing for the college entrance exam, I warned myself that this was a battle against backwaters, and only victory was the way out.

After the official announcement of the resumption of the college entrance examination, I knew the requirements for the candidates: no family origin restriction, no more than thirty years old, graduated from high school or have the equivalent academic ability (this is the first time I heard the concept of equivalent academic ability). After analyzing my own situation, I felt more confident.

I was less than 28 years old, and although I was already a little older, I was not yet over the required age limit. In fact, the age was later relaxed to 35, mainly to accommodate the older third-year students who had graduated from high school and were already over 30. As for the “equivalent”, although I only had three years of junior high school education, I never wasted my time playing cards, drinking and bragging after work like other miners did during my years in the mine.

The miner’s work is not only very dangerous, but also extremely difficult, every day from the underground, just want to put their heavy and tired body to bed. But I’ve been an avid reader since grade school. When I couldn’t find any valuable reading material in the coal mines, I picked up the Russian language I had learned in middle school and studied it, then I studied it in high school and even in college, so as to add some nourishment to my spiritual life and some color to the poor life of the miners. As time went by, I was able to learn Russian to a certain level.

At that time, in order to support my studies, my mother went to the library of the Western Division from time to time to help me borrow books, including “Selected Short Stories of Gorky”, “Selected Novels of Chekhov”, “Crime and Punishment”, “War and Peace” and other Russian originals and the Russian version of “Les Miserables”. An acquaintance at the library told my mother that such books were for college sophomores. I translated all but the bulk of War and Peace into Chinese, and my sister took them to her workplace to circulate with some friends.

Later, when I went to the university, I realized that most of the fourth-year students would not be able to read such original works. In addition to Russian, I studied English and high school mathematics on my own, mainly cubic and analytic geometry. Unfortunately there were not enough conditions for further high school courses in physics and chemistry.

The 1977 entrance examination stipulated that for applicants to the arts, the subjects were language, mathematics, and politics, in addition to history and geography combined into one course, making a total of four subjects. In addition to these four subjects, a written and an oral examination in a foreign language was required if you were applying for a foreign language course. I didn’t have to spend time and energy preparing for the language; I had a good foundation in language and history and geography, so I could just study a little; in politics, no one studied or studied it seriously as a course, so I just memorized it a few days before the exam; the only one I wasn’t sure about was mathematics. As a result, I had to spend most of my time and energy preparing for the math test.

When the entrance exams were just resumed, unlike later when there was an overwhelming amount of various types of test guides and revision materials, there were as many as you needed, only to find that candidates didn’t have time to choose or read that much. Back then, whenever someone found a slightly newer revision material, it would be regarded as a treasure by those around them who were preparing for the exam. In the past, there was no photocopier, so we took turns to read a piece of information, and those who wanted to have the information could only copy it by hand, and staying up until midnight was not an isolated phenomenon. I got some review materials through various channels, mainly the old high school textbooks before the Cultural Revolution.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve forgotten when this life-changing event began, and how I began to review it. I only vaguely remember that the time left for preparation was not very long, maybe one or two months at most. During that time, I was in a state of excitement and nervousness, after all, I had been away from school for eleven years, and in those eleven years I had not experienced any cultural examinations, and suddenly I was faced with the college entrance examination, which I had known and recognized as the biggest hurdle since I entered secondary school.

It was only when I entered university that I realized that my estimation of my strength was a little too low. I scored more than 310 points in the exam, which was a “top-notch” score among the candidates in Chongqing. This score could have been reported to Peking University, but I was to leave the coal mine desire is very urgent, coupled with their own age is considered too old, for insurance purposes, fill in the volunteer, basically only consider how to successfully cross the threshold of the university, the other are ignored, so I did not report to Peking University.

My first choice was Southwest Normal University (later changed to Southwest Normal University, now merged with Southwest Agricultural University, called Southwest University), which I knew well since I was a child and where my parents worked. After I entered the university, I learned that I had the highest entrance score among all the foreign language candidates of the 77th Western Normal University. Many old senior high school students, who were also called “top students” in the college entrance exams, scored 290 points. After the college entrance exam, I also went through the entrance exams, graduation exams and thesis defense of master’s and doctoral students, and so on. It was probably a good start for me, and I never failed any of the exams I took after that.

In retrospect, I don’t have any special memory of the 1977 college entrance exam, but I remember only two details: one was a question on analytic geometry, which I calculated to be a dotted circle, but my heart was never solid. I was a little upset when I asked some of my old senior high school students about it, and they confirmed that it was indeed a dotted circle. The other was a language exam. In the morning, before I left the house to go to the exam room, I hurriedly browsed through the language review materials and remembered one particular question in particular.

Shortly after the Common Subjects test – I can’t remember exactly how long – I was told to go to Qijiang to take a foreign language test. The test (written) was easy enough for me, and I finished it in less than 20 minutes. On a whim, I translated the whole paper into English, including the questions and answers, to prove my actual “learning power”. I don’t know what the result was.

After I entered the school, I didn’t hear any anecdotes from my teachers about people answering the entrance exams in two languages. I forgot about it when I got back to normal school life. One day, a teacher who had been involved in the admissions process came to my house and casually mentioned my college entrance exam in a casual conversation with my parents. She said, “We had no problem with Jiang Guohui’s test scores, but we had to go through a lot of trouble to get him in. He applied for a foreign language major, but he didn’t have a foreign language written exam paper, and we couldn’t find it no matter how hard we searched.

We found out later that I had answered in two languages, and the examiner couldn’t figure out whether my paper was in Russian or English, so the answer sheet was shelved. I almost ruined the whole thing by trying to prove my “equivalency”. The written foreign language test was followed by the oral test. The woman who conducted our oral exam, I met her again four years later when I was studying for my master’s degree at Chuanwai, and I found out that she was a teacher of the Russian language department at Chuanwai.

After the examination, we waited anxiously. I can’t remember how long the wait was, it didn’t seem like a long process. But for me, every day was so long and difficult that I felt that it was like a year and a half. I think I’m different from others, I’m a coal miner, but I’ve never identified with this industrial worker’s identity.

When it came to recruiting workers from the coal mines to the countryside, I had to work hard to get the kind of job openings that were disdained by the intellectuals with a red family background, and came to the coal mines as a miner who was scorned as a “coal negro” because of my family background. I had no other way to leave the mine, but I didn’t want to be a coal miner forever.

During the six years of my life as a miner, I felt not only the danger and hardship of the job, but also the humiliation of being discriminated against. More than 2,000 days and nights, as a “pariah”, I encountered a series of humiliation and persecution, which made me feel like an object pulled by a rope and spinning at high speed, anxious to break free from the rope and fly out far away and never turn back. Therefore, the gaokao took on a more unusual significance for me.

My mind was filled with anxious thoughts every day – if I failed in this exam, would I have another chance to take it in the future? How can I settle down and work in the mine again? One more chance to take the test, can you guarantee not to fail? And so on.

One day at the end of February 1978, my friend who worked in the mine and took the college entrance exam with me suddenly received a telegram from his home, informing him that he had been accepted to the Foreign Language Department of the Western Division and that the admission notice had been sent home. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to do, but I’m sure I’ll be able to do it. I was almost a complete fool. The reasoning was simple: if I had been accepted, I should have been notified along with him.

I carefully recalled what happened after the exam, including my feelings about my exam and the results of checking the answers after everyone left the exam room. All sorts of questions and speculations ran through my head like a trap: it seemed that the problem might be the political trial again, and I wondered if the mine management had tampered with my appraisal in some way. I can’t control the repeated imagery of people leaving the mine in high spirits, and the frustration I felt when I had to stay. ……

That night, it was just a dizzying night of tossing and turning and no sleep.

The next day I worked the middle shift. Buy lunch out of the cafeteria, fifteen buckets are still in the chest seven up and down the bump. When passing by the post and telecommunications, I wanted to go in and was afraid to go in, struggle for a while, before the scalp step in. Although I was also afraid that my foot would miss the mark and I would once again be plunged into the bottomless pit of despair, I still summoned up the tragic courage to ask if there was any mail for me, similar to my generous death.

The man in the post and telecommunications office was exceptionally nice that day, he took out all the mail that day to look through, and soon found a letter for me, a registered letter in a brown paper envelope, I saw with a sweep of the corner of my eye was the official letter envelope of Southwest Normal College, when a burst of ecstasy, all the worry, anxiety and depression swept away, my life made a dramatic turn, from the imaginary tragedy step into the reality of the comedy.

I took a deep breath as I walked out of the post and telecommunications office, and looked around me at the vast expanse of land, the sky, the mountains, the green water, and everything around me. I shouted in my heart: I’m leaving. Farewell, the hard life of a miner.

The bitter journey of mental humiliation that had begun from the moment I entered middle school because of my family’s background finally came to an end with an admission notice to a university. “If you miss the sun, there’s still the bright moon; if you miss the moon, there’s still a sky full of crystalline stars”. Once again, it turns out that God doesn’t leave you with nothing when he puts you on this earth. I got a sky full of stars.

The already cold lunch in my hand was gulped down into my stomach, and I charged straight to the place where the wellhead was dispatched, amusement and pride overflowing from my face and dripping all the way down. When I arrived at the wellhead, I saw the captain in charge, who was already there, and I said only one thing: from now on, I will never come to work again. After saying so, I turned around and left.

Under the circumstances, the admission notice from the university was like an imperial edict, and I was full of energy. If you’re a general work transfer to leave the coal mine, get the transfer order and don’t dare to make too much noise, because there are many joints in the process of handling various formalities, as long as someone is a little bit of dissonance on a joint, you may let your cooked duck also fly without a trace.

The college admission notice is different, and with it, any department that needs to do the paperwork can only fulfill its formal authority – get what it needs to do done. No one dared to despise me any longer, as I had been regarded by most of the leaders at all levels as a “pariah” for many years, and the sun finally shone on me.

I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to do, but I’m sure I’ll be able to do a lot more. I spent the next few days running around, just as I did when I was transferred out of the countryside, going through the relevant procedures at various departments of the mine, going to the police station to transfer my household registration, going to the grain company to transfer my grain relations, and so on.

I was not able to see or think or remember anything in time, so many of the specific things did not leave a trace in my mind, except for one detail that is still vivid in my mind.

I finished all the formalities to stand in front of the mine straight organ building, where the construction waste was piled up. I didn’t look around in a tumultuous way, but looked at the pile of rubble by my feet and thought, “Going to college is a major turning point in my life journey of nearly 28 years, and what will my life be like four years from now when I graduate from college? Can I still remember these thoughts in my mind today as I stand by this pile of rubble in front of the building that opened up the coal mine?

Now, the decades are only a snapshot away, and that pile of rubble, along with the feelings I had at the time, is still as clear in my mind as a multi-megapixel digital photo.