The resumption of the college entrance examination in 1977 was an important turning point in history. 1977 college entrance examination was a truly unprecedented historical spectacle when students of the previous eleven were crammed together to take the college entrance examination and attend university. I personally experienced this important event. It was a piece of history that I will never dare to forget in my Life.
In the fall of 1977, I was still in the village of Factory Han, Factory Han Men Dong Brigade, Guyang County, Baotou City, Inner Mongolia, and like all the youths, I was full of ambition, full of Dreams and hopes. It was my fourth year in the brigade, and according to the policy of Inner Mongolia, after two years of labor, I was eligible to be recommended for labor recruitment or enrollment. However, due to my Family‘s poor background and the lack of social connections to “backdoor” me, all the opportunities were not available to me, and I was rejected again and again, which made me fall into extreme despair.
I worked during the day and studied at night, sitting in front of a small wooden box until late at night or early in the morning. Although I was repeatedly rejected, repeatedly taunted, ridiculed, and ridiculed, I never gave up the distant dream that never seemed to come true: to go to university. That strong desire for knowledge is indescribable.
I made a study plan for myself, and usually carried various notes in my clothes pockets, including chemical formulas, math problems, English words, ancient texts and poems. After years of doing this, it became a habit and reading became a part of my life.
Among the books I have read is Gorky’s autobiographical trilogy. The first line of the third book, “My University”, reads: I am going to Kazan to go to university. Every Time I read this, I can’t help but shed tears. I understood that going to university was the naive longing and longing of Gorky who was struggling in poverty, and it was also the naive longing and longing of me, an ordinary youth, who was struggling in despair.
In fact, I don’t know whether ambling around the wooden box, reading with a small oil lamp, can really bring me to the university. But studying made me feel full and happy, and the books led me into another magical and vast world, forgetting the worries of real life. I believe that in the future, cultural knowledge will be needed for national construction and social progress.
Forty years have passed, but the scene of the day when the news of the resumption of college entrance examination was released is still before my eyes. It was a late autumn morning in October. The mountain village was as quiet as usual. The fields on the hillside after the autumn harvest were once again an earthy yellow. The sky was overcast, the clouds were gray and misty, a light rain had fallen during the night, and the cool wind blew the chill of late autumn.
The work assigned that day was to start yams, or potatoes, in the field down the southern slope, in order to get the potatoes back before the frost. As usual, I got up early, ate breakfast briefly and reviewed my study notes for the next night. I waited for everyone to go down to the field together. Some of the youths were already leaning their shovels against the door, while others were still hurrying to finish the last few bites of Food.
As every day, I put a small black semiconductor radio on the windowsill outside the youth room so that the group could hear the news. This little radio was the size of a soap box, but it was very sensitive and had a clear tone. It was the only small box I had to keep in touch with the outside world in these mountains. The familiar Music played loud and clear on the radio, followed by the familiar voice of the central station announcer.
Suddenly, everyone abruptly stopped what they were doing and stayed put. Time and people were frozen in a moment. The news said: the State Ministry of Education decided to resume the examination system for national college admissions this winter 1977. My heart thudded as everyone looked at each other in confusion. I didn’t say a word, trying to calm myself down, finally looking forward to it! I knew I hadn’t heard wrong.
We listened repeatedly to the other radio transmissions. The news, which was a national sensation, was confirmed to the effect that the first college entrance examination in ten years would soon be held, without recommendation, without target restrictions, taking a cultural examination, on the basis of merit, with emphasis on one’s own performance. Any youths within the range of 1977 fresh high school graduates to the old three high school students who graduated in 1966 can voluntarily apply.
The day was October 21, 1977.
On the day they heard the news of the resumption of the college entrance examination, the youths still went to the ground to “raise yam”. Everyone was obviously a bit distracted. The next day, some people went Home, and in a few days, all the youths went back to Baotou one after another. One evening, I came back from work and found that the youth room was empty, and I was the only one left. The electricity in the village often went out, and at night, there was only a lone light in my room, and the youth room was terrifyingly quiet.
In the following days, the news broadcast would broadcast some clear news about the college entrance examination every day, and things gradually became clearer. The provinces were appointed, and the date of the exam in Inner Mongolia was set for December 13 to 15.
At the end of the farming season, I was still working. One day, I picked a basket of potatoes and ran deep and shallow in the field, thinking about the college entrance examination and panicking. When I thought about the political examination, the spark of hope that had just burned up was immediately extinguished again, and I felt incredibly frustrated. When I got distracted, I fell in the potato field and sprained my right knee, which was so painful that I couldn’t walk (the injury didn’t heal until a year later). I couldn’t work, so I stayed in the youth room and read a book.
More news soon came: all youths and returning youths who were interested in taking the college entrance examination should go directly to the commune school district office to get a certificate, and then go to the enrollment office of the Guyang County Education Bureau to register. No need to go through the brigade.
I remembered that I had an unpleasant conversation with the deputy secretary of the commune more than two months ago. He asserted that I was not qualified to be recommended for recruitment because of my poor family background. I didn’t expect that the change would happen so quickly.
When I successfully got the certificate at the commune school district office, I repeatedly looked at the red-stamped official letterhead and couldn’t believe that it was as simple as typing a letter of introduction for a business trip. At that time, I did not feel elated, but only sincerely relieved.
The resumption of college entrance exams instantly became a topic of heated debate throughout the country. As for the college entrance examination, what procedure is used, how to admit, all these are like a fog, there are still many unknowns. Although I had a feeling that it would be a fierce struggle, I still underestimated the degree of difficulty and opportunity of this college entrance examination.
The winter of November 7, 1977 was the first day of winter, and all the memories of the 1977 college entrance examination are associated with two words: cold. That long winter was really “cold to the bone”. From October 21 when the notice was sent to March 18 when I entered the school, the four months included the severe winter season in Inner Mongolia.
My village was located in a remote and alpine area. During the severe winter, the climate was even more treacherous, often ranging from -10 to -20 degrees Celsius. The village is 36 miles away from the commune, all the river canal road in the ravine, along the way to climb downhill, generally on foot. The commune post office delivered letters every ten days and a half months. Sometimes I simply asked someone to bring it to the supply and marketing office at the entrance of the village and went to get it myself, so the news was very closed. During the whole process of the college entrance examination, I never received any notice about the entrance examination, including the results, oral examinations, medical examinations, college acceptance letters, and I never received even one oral letter.
In order to follow the wispy clues of the college entrance examination, I had to run around in the frozen wilderness ravine in the bitter cold wind; step on the knee-high snow and go back and forth on the 36-mile-long river canal road; I once got lost in the wind and snow and rolled down the hill into a snow pit; I once risked the danger of slippery roads on the highway to catch the oral examination when darkness fell…. …My sixth sense has several times perceived the shadow of death hovering around. All the cold, anxiety, fear, fatigue, and hunger that linger in the depths of my memory have often appeared in my dreams over the years. Those clear images seem to happen yesterday. I often say that I crawled out of the snow pile in Inner Mongolia on my way to school.
The details of the 1977 college entrance exam were unimaginably cold, indescribably difficult and dangerous, but every important part of the process was an unexpected coincidence, and the process was miraculously completed in the midst of a great deal of danger. Undoubtedly, the gods of fate insisted on giving me an equal chance in the 1977 college entrance exam, and performed for me a very sad and desperate life classic.
Winter had come. In the early morning, the fields and slopes were covered with a thin, white, cold frost and ice. Usually, the rooms of the youths are connected together for warmth. The rooms next to each other had no fireworks, so my room was especially cold. There wasn’t much coal left, so I didn’t dare to burn more kangstoves. I couldn’t carry water because of my knee injury, so I tried to save water and cooked cabbage and potatoes every day, and made rice porridge with a sprinkle of salt. It was cold on the kang, so I had to fold up a blanket and sit on it while reading a book.
At night, the temperature dropped and the wind whistled and screamed, sweeping over the roofs of the youth houses, and the doors and windows rattled from time to time, as if the roofs would be overturned at any time. The room was full of whooshing wind, I wore a cotton hat, wrapped my head with a scarf, and wore a short cotton coat. Late into the night, it was even colder. I wrapped the quilt around my body, showing only my eyes and fingers.
In those days, I received a thick letter from my Parents, a very thin paper, on which many history and current affairs review materials were densely copied. It’s a miracle that such a thick letter was not lost when it traveled 3,000 miles and was delivered over and over. The letter said that the review for the college entrance examination was already in full swing in Changshu, my hometown, and that schools were printing materials and holding review classes, so I didn’t know what other materials I needed. I held my parents’ letter for a long time and couldn’t put it down.
A few days later, a youth returned to the village to get clothes. He said that the city of Baotou was already in full swing, with many college entrance exam review classes set up and crowded with people. He asked where I was going to attend the review, and I said I would stay in the village. This was the sad reality. The youth room was my home. My heart drifted in the wind like a little grass, and I felt homeless at all times.
When my sprained right knee healed a little, I was anxious to go to Guyang County to register. I carried my backpack and limped to the three-way intersection to catch a bus. The bus stop was not marked, so if you stood on the He Cao Road and waited, the bus would stop. This was the only bus stop around the village of Mouhan, and it was where I took the bus to Guyang County for chores. That intersection was lined with rolling hillsides, with no one in sight. The cold wind in the wilderness was even fiercer, a gust of wind could push people out several steps, and it was bone chilling. I put my hands in my pockets and wrapped my body tightly in my cotton coat, while walking back and forth to keep warm. The car finally appeared, crawling slowly like an old cow from afar, and it took a while to drive up to it.
The car bumped along, the car was very cold, the whistling wind from underneath the car into. It was already afternoon when I managed to reach Guyang County, and I felt hungry and cold. In those days, there were no restaurants in Guyang County, and the shelves of small food stores were empty, so it was hard to find any food. I had no dry food to take with me when I went out, so I had to endure.
First, I had to hurry to get my picture taken, and I needed to give it to the admissions office when I registered. There is only one street in Guyang County that runs through the whole city, and I soon found a photo studio. It was crowded with young people, all talking loudly about the college entrance exam. After freezing for hours on the road, I warmed up in the hot photo studio for a while, feeling limp and a little sleepy. At that moment, I heard someone call my name to get ready. I hurriedly took off my short cotton coat and thin cotton jacket and wore a dark blue sweatshirt that I bought when I went back to the south to visit my family, which was very fashionable at the time. The photographer called my name again, and it was my turn. In a panic, I threw all my clothes and bags on the ground in the corner, which was a bit of a mess, and a nice girl next to me said she would watch my stuff. I quickly ran over and sat on the stool where the photo was taken.
The strong light was so strong that I couldn’t open my eyes for a while. Under the stimulation of the bright light, I suddenly realized: this is the photo of the college entrance examination permit, the following will be a mysterious, difficult competition to deal with. I couldn’t help but straighten my back and start to fight the spirit, my cheeks and ears were still cold. I hurriedly fixed my eyes on the camera lens, did not have time to think about anything else. The photographer was already calling out the next name.
The photo of the pass was an accurate record of the first fair chance I had ever had in my life. This photo was later used on my college application form and college registration form. Eleven years had passed since I took my elementary school graduation photo in 1966, when I applied for junior high school.
I stayed at my cousin’s house in Guyang to register. He also took time off from work to study for his homework. He only had a single room, with a single bed on the left side of the door and a single bed on the kang inside, and sometimes guests came to stay. I borrowed this crib.
When I couldn’t find a place to eat at night, my cousin took me to the canteen of the county party committee. 50 cents for a meal. I was shocked, in the team of strong labor to do two days of work can not earn 50 cents. I bought the food with a hard head, and it was really good, full of food. I have not eaten a decent meal for many days, so I finally had a full dinner. It had been a long time since I had spent the night in a warm house, so I slept heavily at night and felt much more comfortable the next day.
I went to the county school board’s admissions office to register, the office was unexpectedly cold. A middle-aged cadre was in charge of the procedures, and he said that all the applicants had basically signed up. I said I was going to enroll in chemistry, a four-year undergraduate degree. He casually said that most of the candidates were enrolled in science and technology. I was alerted and immediately asked about the registration status of arts and science subjects. The officer was patient and talkative. He said that fewer people were enrolled in undergraduate majors in liberal arts, and only a few were enrolled in English. He volunteered to take out the English major registration form and showed it to me one by one.
I saw a bright light and said I should think about it. After thinking about it for a while, I made a snap decision to apply for the English undergraduate program. The cadre registered for me, handed me the university application form, and checked several colleges and universities that enroll English majors. Only Inner Mongolia Teachers College, Baotou Teachers College, Hebei University, and two or three northern provincial universities. As for Beijing, none of the higher education institutions in Shanghai.
From the very beginning, the college entrance examination was quite dramatic: the news of the resumption of the college entrance examination had just been broadcast, and I sprained my knee in the potato field, delaying the registration. When I arrived at the county admissions office, it was already the end of the registration process before I had a chance to find out about the registration situation. I met this enthusiastic admissions cadre again and volunteered to tell me that very few candidates had applied for the English major before the dramatic change of major, which happened in just 15 minutes. I enrolled in chemistry just to avoid politics; I didn’t like the major and would probably fail the exam. Then my 1977 college entrance exam would have ended differently, and my life’s trajectory would have been diverted.
At that time, I used to carry an inkstone, a piece of ink and a fly-headed small-case pen with me when I went out, often using the fly-headed small-case pen instead of the pen. I carefully filled out my college application form in lower case, and my only choice was a teacher training college. My father was still under dictatorial control, and my family was in financial straits and could not afford to send me to college. Any college willing to accept me and leave the countryside would be much appreciated. So I didn’t hesitate to fill in the foreign language department of Inner Mongolia Teachers College as my first choice. The second and the third were Huzhou and Baotou Teachers College respectively.
The most frustrating part was to fill in the family origin. Every time when it came to my family, I was in unbearable pain and even depression for a long time. Every time I filled in my family’s origin, I was forced to relive the sins of my family, to experience the humiliation of confessing my sins, and to remind myself once again that I was a child of the Black Five. The execution of the company, which has been inherited from the feudal dynasties for 2,000 years, as a means of political rule, does have its great deterrent power.
I filled out the application form with a single stroke in lowercase and handed it to the admissions office. I didn’t expect that word of my filling out the application form in small letters would soon spread. When my cousin heard about it, he came back and said with a smile that he had never seen it in Guyang County.
I got in touch with a student not long ago, and after not seeing him for forty years, the student, who has become the head of the Education Bureau, sent me a weibo message and mentioned this incident; “When the college entrance examination was resumed in 1977, you were the first and the last candidate in Guyang County to fill out the application form in lowercase, which is still a good story in Guyang.” I was really very surprised.
After registering, I went to the city to find out about the review classes. Walking on the street, I noticed that there was a different kind of passion stirring in Guyang, and instead of the lazy, slow pace of life in the small, remote northern cities, the city was abuzz with news about the college entrance exams. When you meet someone you know, the first thing you say is, “Are you going to college?
Guyang High School has opened various course review classes, all free of charge. It is said that this is the only year in the history of the college entrance examination since the founding of the country that offers free review for the whole community. On the dirt road leading to Guyang Middle School, there was a steady stream of young people going to classes, some on bicycles. Everyone was in a hurry, carrying a school bag or clutching a book. In the late afternoon, the tide of people poured into the campus, and then into each classroom separately. The campus was bustling with people, and I chose a history and geography review class. When I arrived at the door of the classroom on time, it was packed to the brim with people, and even the aisles and doorways were filled to the brim.
For the first time since 1966, I saw this kind of enthusiasm for cultural learning in full swing in the community. In the past few years I never dared to walk down the street with a book in my hand, I had to roll it up and tuck it in my sleeve.
When the one-hour review session was over, I decided to go back to the village to review. The students were of varying levels and the class was too little and too loose. I would rather pick my own priorities and study on my own. Besides, I couldn’t stay in Guyang for a long time.
After I went back at night, I always felt restless and repeatedly thought about the registration. In fact, it was a habit that I had developed since childhood, and I couldn’t get rid of my fears and worries about the political trial, like a bird in fear. The political trial could have killed my life in an instant. Is it a meritocracy, or is it “all about personal performance”? The more I thought about it, the more panicked I became. Drawing on past experience, the emphasis on performance was just lip service. What can I do? I had been instructed to write a statement about my family to show that I had a clear line of “political thought” with my family, which could be considered performance-oriented.
In fact, I have written numerous times, in various forms, about my family and confessed my sins. I have confessed for sins that were not my own. For example: the fight against private criticism, ideological study report, learning the highest instructions experience, must be linked to their own family origins, in this regard, but also to improve the skillful writing ability. However, each time I had such an experience, I was like a whipping, being whipped, flesh and blood, leaving countless potholes.
I had no choice but to lie down under the lamp again and write a paragraph in small print, to the effect that I myself grew up under the Party’s education and drew a clear line between my political thinking and my family. I was able to educate my children well and to receive serious re-education from the poor peasants. Family is not an option, taking the revolutionary path is an option, etc. My narrative is calm but not without arguments and earnest wording.
In the college entrance examination, the cultural examination did not put me under great pressure. I had the attitude that I would try my best to make a go of it. The huge mental burden came from the fear and apprehension of the political examination. Even though the new policy is that “emphasis is placed on my own performance”, who can guarantee it? How I wish the political examiners at the admissions institutions would show me some leniency and mercy.
Since I was a child, I knew that I was not entitled to the same treatment and rights as other children, and it seemed only natural. This experience left me with a deep-seated sense of aggravation and shame. Gradually, reading and thinking cultivated in me a strong spirit of refusal to submit, and an equally strong sense of justice and pride.
Facing the college entrance examination, the first fair chance given to me, seemed to open the window of hope, a ray of warm and bright sunshine penetrated into my almost cold and desperate heart, illuminating my whole life. I have longed for this warmth, for this light, for far too long. I’m going to follow that ray of sunshine regardless of what I do.
I went back to the admissions office and slipped my written Perception of my family into my college application. Any time I look back on it, I’m haunted by it. What I really wanted to say, but could never say, were two things: my father was innocent, and I was innocent. At the end of the Anti-Rightist Movement, my father was falsely accused by jealous villains, and in 1979, he was rehabilitated and returned to work in education. That was an afterthought.
I was particularly excited to change my major to English. It was a chance to do what I had wanted for many years. I immediately returned to my village and began to work hard to review my English. My emergency strategy was to force myself to write 100~200 words and phrases silently every day, memorize individual sentences by rote, practice writing short essays, and at the same time systematically organize the rules of grammar and translate texts or stories, which I would remember very well after translating them once.
I have loved English for a long time. Since I was a child, I have been partial to foreign literature, and my family has a lot of small books, such as Hamlet, The Snow Queen, How Steel is Made, and Soviet fables and fairy tales. When I was in junior high school, I secretly borrowed a lot of foreign literature from my classmates, and I found the style and content of foreign works rich and novel.
When I was young, I used to listen to my mother sing English songs. With the door closed, my mother would sing to us softly “Old Negro”, “When We Were Young”, “Lovely Home” and so on. My mother said she read the original English books she chose for her college studies, which made me long for them.
My initiation into English came in early 1968, during the martial struggle of the Cultural Revolution. I went to my grandmother’s house in Jinan. My talented great-uncle taught me English, and I learned it with great interest. Unfortunately, my great uncle soon returned to Sichuan. This short period of English learning left an extremely profound impact on my life.
My maternal grandfather was an old English teacher of great reputation in Jinan. He graduated from the Department of Spanish at Peking University in the era when Cai Yuanpei was the principal. There were so many English books in my grandfather’s house that I could only look through the illustrations. I often looked up at the stacks of books, thinking that I would come back to read them in the future when I had learned English. The mysterious stories surrounding my family about learning English made me obsessed with learning English.
When I missed school after junior high school, the radio station started teaching English. I listened along at home. Soon I was temporarily assigned to a knitting factory to learn how to work in the ironing room. The machines roared deafeningly all day and night, and I could not help but recite English aloud over the roar, memorizing English texts such as “I Love Beijing Tiananmen” and the words I learned every day. Years later, when I was studying in the United States, I could still say words that even American students did not know, such as “proletariat” and “poor peasant”.
In the early 1970s, people were often accused of eavesdropping on enemy stations and communicating with foreigners. I was afraid of being falsely accused, so I didn’t dare to listen to them often and read and write in secret at home. During this period, I was repeatedly ostracized and made difficult in the countryside and in my job assignment, and I was very depressed. One day, my father opened an old English textbook and encouraged me to persevere in my self-education. I was 16 years old at that time, and since then I have been studying English on my own. But there were still many difficulties in learning a foreign language on my own.
There was no time to review Chinese and I just browsed through the books I kept during my breaks. I never stopped reading after I graduated from elementary school in 1966. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, I got a copy of “May Fourth Essays”, and I started to read this 1956 reading book of the Chinese Department of Peking University, which summarized the works of Lu Xun, Zhu Ziqing and other writers. For nearly a decade, I read these texts by heart and was able to recite most of the chapters. There were also many college textbooks, “Knowledge of Writing and Rhetoric,” “Ancient Prose,” “Lychee Honey,” a collection of essays, “Chekhov Short Stories,” “Review of Dream of the Red Chamber,” books on Tang poetry and Song lyrics, history, and foreign literature. In this critical time when books are hard to find, my book box is simply a “treasure chest”.
In those days of studying for the college entrance exam, the source of living was on the verge of exhaustion. There was very little food, potatoes, cabbage and coal left. Before the winter, the production team sent wagons to the Yinpanwan coal mine to pull charcoal for each family. I was so busy with the college entrance exams that I forgot about the charcoal. Most of what was left was broken charcoal, and some of it looked like rocks. The fire did not burn, the bed was cold, and the water tank was filled with ice. Going to the well to carry water once became the biggest headache. I couldn’t spare the water. When I was thirsty, I took the ice cubes in my mouth and boiled potatoes in plain water to eat all day. Sometimes I was so absorbed in reading that I didn’t even know I had cooked the pot, which later became a village anecdote, and more than 40 years later, children in the village still remember hearing about it from adults.
I never felt that reading was hard, and being able to read from morning to night was something I could only dream of. The real hardship was the cold, the hunger. Even without the college entrance exams, the life of a youth was just as difficult. What was lacking every day to overcome was the basic needs of life.
It was getting colder and colder, and the situation was getting worse and worse. At night, the temperature in the house was several degrees below zero, and I wore a short cotton overcoat from morning to night, and then wrapped up in a quilt. Wearing a cotton hat and scarf. Fingers were too frozen to write. I read with my eyes and read with my mouth. It was too cold behind my back on the bed, and I often woke up from the cold, so I leaned against the wooden box and slept for a while. I couldn’t buy kerosene, so I bought diesel fuel from the supply and marketing agency, and when I lit the lamp, a black smoke was dispersed in the room, and it didn’t take long for the hut to be filled with black smoke and my nose was black. I had to put on a mask. Shortly after, two black holes appeared on the white mask.
There were still more than ten days left before the entrance exam date, and it seemed very unsettling to be isolated in this snow-capped mountain village. I put on a big bag of books, with the cold wind, stepping on the thick snow, and again went to the Sanjiakou station to take a bus to Guyang, where my cousin kindly agreed to lend me a room for the college entrance exam.
The small room next to the table stood an iron stove, the fire burned, the house was warm. There were books on the small table, and we each took half, each reading his own book.
In the middle of the table sat my little radio, which kept blaring. In addition to the news broadcasts, many movies, plays and literary works that were criticized as big poisonous weeds were starting to be played. Every day I heard movie episodes and songs I had sung as a child that had been banned during the Cultural Revolution. After more than a decade, the songs of “Hong Hu Shui Waves”, “Nan Nai Wan” and “My Motherland” sounded so familiar and friendly. While reading a book, listening to the long-lost beautiful music.
Although these had nothing to do with the revision of homework, I perceived that the music and literature on the radio were sending a promise, a brightness and a ray of hope. It was clear that the social atmosphere was changing rapidly with the resumption of college entrance exams. I felt the dawn of a new era.
At this time in the city of Guyang, enthusiasm for the college entrance exams rose to white heat, while the weather temperature plummeted in the opposite direction, well below the freezing point of minus.
One day, I went out and met a young girl. Something looked familiar. She looked up at me, and then lowered her head. Isn’t that the daughter of the former commune secretary? I saw her filling out an application form for admission to the Beijing Foreign Language Institute in 1974. However, she was denounced as teaching in the commune school instead of going to the countryside for training. I heard that she got schizophrenia after her enrollment was cancelled. Then the commune secretary was transferred away as well.
I watched in amazement as her slightly bloated body walked past, saddened. Many cadres pave the way to perfect ideals for their children, giving priority to leaving the countryside through enrollment and recruitment. But she was not as much of a victim as she should have been. I still felt great sympathy for her.
I met another girl on the street whom I had met before. Her father was the secretary of the county committee, and she was hurrying back to Baotou City to attend a refresher course. I thought to myself, “If it was 1976, where would the children of cadres like you need to go for a refresher course? There is an admission quota will also send you, and where will I get my turn.
I knew there were a few other troops, and the children of senior cadres from the big industrial companies in Baotou were also taking the college entrance exam, which seemed to me to be a novelty.
The college entrance examination was resumed in 1977 to provide equal opportunities for all young people, and the children of cadres lost their priority. But most children of ordinary families were not capable and mature enough to seize this opportunity; they had been deserted for too long during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution.
I brought some rations to the Guyang Food Bank in exchange for a little cash and food stamps to cover the cost of food during the Guyang college entrance exam. I calculated that the money and food stamps around me were very tight, so I found a canteen in a hotel along the street. The food was sold every evening. The counter was packed with people, but it was cheap, 1 pound of food stamps and 5 steamed buns (mixed with cornmeal) for just over 10 cents.
In order to save time, in these last ten days, I simply went to buy five steamed buns every evening before the canteen closed. I ate two steamed buns for dinner because I had to stay up late. I got up in the morning and ate one, and ate only two steamed buns at noon and drank plain water until the end of the exam.
On the morning of December 13, there were many students on the dirt road leading to Guyang Middle School, flocking to the campus to find their respective examination rooms. The science exam rooms were on the left side of the campus, with the arts on the right. The classrooms for English exams are on the right side near the school playground.
Two classes were taken each day, with a break at noon. I was not very impressed with the History and Geography exams, and I was not impressed with the Politics exams either, but they went well beyond expectations and I got a high score. I think one of the reasons for this was that I often wrote reports for the Factory Han brigade, and I was sent as a representative to write summaries for the political study meetings in the commune.
There was a miracle on the math test. It was a morning. I got up early in the morning and drank plain water and ate a steamed bun. I don’t eat salt for many days, my mouth is bitter and sweet, and I feel a little nauseous. I had only half an hour to browse through the study materials in the morning. But I didn’t have time to review cubic geometry. I thought of a way to copy a few complicated cubic geometry formulas on a small piece of paper and memorize them as I walked.
When I arrived at the entrance of the examination room, I stared hard at the pieces of paper, eager to engrave the formulas in my brain. When the examiners arrived, I tore up the little slips of paper outside the door and threw them away. When I entered the classroom and sat down, the teacher gave each person a piece of blank paper for their draft. I had an idea and wrote the formulas I had just memorized on the white paper, including the formula for calculating the volume of a cone. A few minutes later, the exam paper was handed out, and I took a general look at it, stunned and overwhelmed. The last big question of 20 points was exactly the application problem of calculating the volume of a garden vertebra.
I immediately calculated this topic carefully and made a review. Over the years I have often thought about this matter, whether God is watching me in the dark. Why was this formula placed in the examination paper and set to 20 points. As you can imagine, this 20 points weighed heavily on the end of the scale that admitted me.
The afternoon of the 15th added an English test. There were 18 candidates from all of Guyang County at the time of registration. However, there were less than 10 people in the examination room that day, and some people had already given up. Not long after the test started, a boy sitting to my right pushed away from his desk and left the test room in stride. I looked up and watched him walk out of the classroom, the sound of his leather shoes was very firm and decisive. It seems to have decided not to be attached to the battle.
There were not many vocabulary words on the English exam paper. But the grammar section was not familiar at all, so I had to deal with it haphazardly. There were two short essay topics, and I chose “my friend”, and I basically used all the sentences I had memorized during my revision. I was confidently writing about the life, work and study of a friend who was a youth. I didn’t stop writing for the whole test. I wrote until the end of the test. However, I guess there were many grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
The most impressive part of the test was the essay. From the first day, the two invigilators often took turns to stand beside me and watch me answer the paper. I was a little uncomfortable at first, but then I couldn’t care less about that and just kept my head in the paper.
There were two essay topics, and I didn’t hesitate to choose “Talking about truthfulness”. I had practiced writing various small essays during my self-study in the countryside, and one of them was “Talking about seeking truth from facts”. This concept has been familiar to me since I was a child. I watched my father write his trial complaint for more than ten years to appeal his wrongdoing. He always said, “Let’s be truthful. Because someone had put a trumped-up charge on him.
In the examination room, I felt the blood rushing up in my body and my head was hot. A picture came to mind: my father sitting at the table in a smoke-filled home, facing the political outsiders and answering their questions. I was huddled in the hallway outside the window, just in time to hear my father talking. …… I had to be truthful, and that’s what happened. I can’t make it up. I don’t know how many times these words have been repeated.
I thought carefully for a while and made an outline. Then I wrote it down. There was no draft, and it was too late to revise. I sat in the middle of the classroom, and the teacher started collecting papers from the first row, and when she came to me, I still had two or three sentences left to write. I said, “Teacher, it will be ready soon, wait a moment. The teacher didn’t say anything and went to the back of the room. I quickly finished writing, hurriedly put my name on it, didn’t care to take a second look, and immediately handed the exam paper up. At this time, there were still two or three students lying on their desks in the classroom.
The end of the college entrance examination, the examination room is not a person, I sat frozen in my seat. The three-day exam was like a dream. Not long after, the female invigilator came in and reminded me that it was time to lock the door, let’s go. I followed her and walked out. By some miracle, I suddenly asked, “How do you think everyone did in the exam? She shook her head and suddenly turned around slightly, while saying softly, “You’re okay.
The classroom doors were locked and the campus was empty. I dragged my weary steps towards the school gate. Suddenly, a strong emotion seized my whole body and my legs became limp and I couldn’t walk anymore. I sat down at once on the stone at the side of the classroom and cried out loud. The torture I had endured for so long, the grievances I had held in my heart, all came rushing back to me.
I covered my face with a scarf. Tears wet a large part of the scarf. The winter dusk is more obscure, the empty playground is silent, only a harsh, biting wind whooshing through, as if there is a sense of desolation for the ages.
The actual fact is that you’ll be able to get a lot more than just a few of these. It seems to be a boxer who has gone through repeated life and death struggles, covered in injuries and blood, without a single tear. When I got out of the ring, I had to cry for being alive.
This evening, I walked straight to the hotel canteen for dinner. With the intention of treating myself, I stood in line to buy a vegetable and steamed bun. In Inner Mongolia, there is only cabbage and potatoes in winter. When I received the bowl of vegetables at the counter, even the Soup and vegetables were cold, and the mutton fat had condensed into small white flakes floating on top. I asked the chef at the counter if I could heat it up, and he poured me some boiling hot water.
I was finally able to have a real dinner, sitting at the table, drinking hot vegetable soup with salt and eating steamed buns. The saltiness smelled so good! It was delicious! I hadn’t eaten salt for ten days, and the bitter, sweet taste in my throat and mouth all day long was very nauseating and unpleasant.
The next day after the exam, I went back to Factory Khan Village. I dragged my feet, exhausted. Someone told me on the path uphill that the potatoes I was given were still in the ground, and I was afraid they were all frozen. The potatoes counted as my ration, and I wondered how much food was left on the team’s books. I was so tired that I didn’t have any energy to take care of these things.
When I returned from my ten-day absence, the youth house was like a frozen clay sculpture. It stood on the hillside against the wind. When I opened the door and walked in, a cold air hit my face. The earthen bed was cold and there was a layer of ice in the water tank. The ground beneath my feet was frozen hard. There was not even a speck of dust. I realized that I was back in this mountainous situation, starting my lonely and poor life again. The hardship was not over yet.
I counted the days and looked down the hill several times a day to see if the post office had come to deliver the mail. I often went to the supply agency to ask if someone had brought a letter. I would often stand in front of the youth house and wonder if someone would bring news about the college entrance exam. In fact, I didn’t know what the procedure for the entrance exam was and what kind of news should be delivered.
During this period, I walked 36 miles to the communal school district every few days in the harsh cold wind to inquire about the news. There was no movement for more than a month.
The whole winter months were spent in torment, and the youth house was frozen like an ice queen’s palace, with a layer of snow on the roof and ice clinging to the eaves, making it look short and low. At night, I put on all the sweaters and pants, cotton coats and short overcoats I could put on. Then I wrapped the quilt around me.
One day, I was lying in a daze and saw a few faint glimmers of light where the wall and the roof of the beam met. After a closer look, a few cracks opened up in the wall. In the cracks, I saw stars twinkling. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness. I drifted off to sleep but didn’t dare to sleep too deeply. I woke up in the middle of the night freezing, got up and added some broken charcoal, and walked back and forth on the floor.
In order to keep warm, I simply went to my folks’ house during the day, took my books with me, and sat on the hot bed of my folks’ house. Sometimes the sun came in through the window and it was hot. Since I couldn’t sleep because of the freezing night, I often took a long, deep sleep on the hot bed of the old folks’ house. Sometimes a few young people from the village got together to play poker, forgetting their troubles for a while.
During this period of time, I spent the whole day like a refugee wandering, finding an old villager’s house to keep warm during the day and only returning to the youth room at night to freeze and survive those long dark nights.
The sun shone brightly on New Year’s Day, January 1, 1978. In the early morning, I put on my only unpatched, cool summer pants and scrubbed my shoes to give myself a first day of the New Year. Facing southeast, I gazed longingly at the rolling hills. My plan for the New Year was to start studying right away, and if I didn’t get in, I would take the July 1978 exams and make sure I got into college in the new year.
At this time, there were several heavy snowfalls, and the mountains were covered with snow, and the snow was so thick that it froze hard. Not far from the door, there is often a group of black crows flying to feed, cawing. I was nervous, this is not a good sign! I splashed the water towards the crows and threw a few snowballs at them to drive them away. Sometimes I saw a few black magpies flying in, chattering and chirping, which was quite lively. I was so happy that I watched them through the window, hoping to identify any signs of luck.
Finally, on this day, I couldn’t wait any longer. Why this day. It was always a mystery. On this day I experienced one of the most dangerous and terrifying scenes of my life.
In the morning, the sky was overcast and gray. I was feeling a little restless and fidgety. I couldn’t read any more. Suddenly I thought I should go to the commune and ask for information.
Outside the cold wind whistled, like a whip on the face, blowing through the cotton clothes on the body, a burst of cold through the heart. I hesitated for a moment, but my anxiety urged me to move quickly. Before leaving home, I learned from the villagers to put a band around the outside of the small cotton jacket a few times to tighten the jacket around the body, and then put on a short cotton coat, thick and solid. Then the two woolen pants together, plus the big-headed shoes, bloated look. Walking like a stupid bear.
The weather was bad and there were no trucks to pull the ore. There was no sign of vehicles or pedestrians on the ground with the white snow. I walked one step deeper and one step shallower, and sometimes one foot sank into the snow puddle. I got snow all over my shoes. I tied up the trouser legs tucked in the top of the shoes. Little by little, go forward very slowly.
All the way up and down the slope, with two hands to climb up, downhill simply sitting on the frozen snow, sliding down. After walking for a long time, I saw a few snow-covered houses on the right side of the river canal road halfway up the slope, with a few cooking smoke on the roof. My heart was instantly grounded, that is the kiln bay. The village of Yaoziwan is close to the river canal road.
I did not dare to delay and continued to rush through the snow. In vain, the sky became more gloomy, gray and thick clouds overhead to move quickly, bringing large swaths of goose feather snow. From a distance, snow flakes fell densely, the only sound heard in the silence was a clattering sound. I looked up towards the sky, between heaven and earth muddy, all angry snow masses flying, very frightening. To this day, I am afraid to see the sky when the weather changes.
The wind wailed one after another, and the snow flakes swirled violently, hitting me head on. The snow was all over my hat and body. I was about to be swallowed up in the blizzard. chaos in all directions, my vision is blurred, I can only see a few meters away, can not distinguish between the north and south east.
After a while, my hands and feet were numb, and I suddenly thought I could not stop moving, or I would freeze to death in the snow on this barren slope. I kept moving forward a little, the front is a slope, I have to climb up to be safe. The cotton gloves were wet and frozen hard, and the injured right knee hurt as soon as I made an effort, so I couldn’t climb, so I lay down on the snow to catch my breath. Somehow a slip, I slipped down the slope, rolled and fell to the bottom of the slope, fell in the snow. The bottom of the slope is white, as if falling into the sea of snow, the cold wind kept scraping up the snowflakes of broken particles rotating and dancing. I have no strength at all, lying on my back in the snow, a thought suddenly flashed in my head: I’m going to freeze to death, I’m going to freeze to death here.
I remember a cold day two years ago, Kuchigou commune near the pass under the slope, lying in the snow, a woman’s body, I heard it was frozen to death. Staying outdoors when the weather is 20 to 30 degrees below zero, once you stop moving, people will freeze or freeze to death.
I stood up and kept stomping my feet back and forth. I still had my school bag slung over my body, which contained my precious English books and notebooks that I had brought with me. I had ice in my hair and was covered in snow and ice.
Human courage and strength come from the instinct to survive. I tried my best to climb again, but fortunately it was a difficult slope, and I finally climbed up slowly. Although I was almost numb from the cold, my sixth sense kept telling me to stay awake. Mechanically, I kept taking steps forward. Slowly, I found that the wind and snow gradually became less and less, and the view gradually opened up clearer. I did not go far, according to their own judgment, I struggled towards the direction of a few familiar hillside, following the ditch. Finally, my feet hit the hard road and I breathed a sigh of relief. The commune of Khujigou was just ahead.
Khujigou Commune is located at the highest elevation in Guyang County. In winter, the temperature is lower, the wind and snow are more unpredictable. When I stumbled into the commune school area, I realized it was already more than 4:00 pm. The usual two-hour road took six hours to travel.
When I got to the school district office, the staff said there was a notice for you. What! I was stunned. He said you have to take one more test for English, an interview. I had never heard that there was an interview for English. I asked when was the test? He said tomorrow. I asked, where to take the test? He said, in Baotou Kun district.
I was dumbfounded. How could there be such a coincidence? He gave me the exact address and time.
I still don’t understand how it happened that I suddenly insisted on making the long journey to the commune on this day. The snowstorm, fortunately, stopped again. Was God testing me?
I started shivering when I heard that! I was angry and anxious. The cadre took a look at the time and said, bad, the last bus to Baotou has passed, you have to quickly stop a car to Baotou.
I rushed to the highway side of the barrier, standing on the side of the road to stop the truck. Far from a car came, I did not care that my feet were slipping, rushed to the middle of the highway full of snow and ice, while waving to indicate. Since the vehicles had to stop for inspection, I ran to the checkpoint again and explained the reason to the staff inside, asking them to help.
As it was getting dark, a truck arrived, and it just so happened that the back of the truck was empty. The driver heard that a young man was going back to Baotou to “catch the exam” and agreed without any trouble. But there were already two people in the driver’s room in front, full, so I had to sit in the back of the open car. The truck started, the whistling hurricane wind instantly made me suffocate, as if I had no clothes on. The wind was ready to rip me apart and pick me up and throw me out of the car. I curled up tightly into a ball, buried my head in my arms, leaned my back against the driver’s side, and closed my eyes tightly. I thought, “I don’t know if I’ll make it to Baotou alive. It is up to God. My mind is not thinking about anything, a blank.
After a while, the car stopped, I was a little surprised. I was a little surprised. I had taken a truck before, and it was raining and slippery, so the driver wanted us to walk down the circling road and wait for him at the bottom for our safety. I thought to myself, “This is bad, it’s so dark and it’s all snow and ice, how can we walk. Unexpectedly, the driver gave me a hi and threw me a big sheepskin jacket, saying, “Put it on, it’s too cold. Be careful not to freeze a ah!” My nose tingled. Hurry up and put the large and loose sheepskin jacket back on the body, put the arms into the sleeves, the head in the long wool collar. This sheepskin jacket almost covers my huddled body. All the way to hear the wind whistling in the ears. I did not dare to move. The temperature at this time was at least minus ten to minus twenty degrees.
The truck stopped, I heard the driver say arrived, parked just into the Baotou Donghe District of the interchange street called Red Star. The street lights were dotted, dim and showing yellow. Baotou apparently much milder, the wind is calm.
My body is stiff still curled up, and my legs can not straighten, can not stand up. I slowly straighten up, holding the carriage board, little by little to move the step, walk a step body pain. When the driver got out of the cab, I handed him the leather jacket and said thank you. When I jumped off the truck with my feet on the ground, I was shaken to the point that all the bones in my body fell apart, and a sharp pain rose from the soles of my feet to my lower back, shoulders, ears, and the top of my head. It was as if the electrocution caused every part of the body to crumble. I crouched on the ground for a long time, unable to move. I couldn’t breathe. The driver asked me how I was doing, and I barely answered, “I’m fine. By the time I slowly slowed down, the truck had already left.
Red Star, the street corner of the East River district, how can not forget.
By this time, the East River District was already full of lights. I felt half dead and hungry. Fortunately, my brother’s workplace is not far away, I went to his factory to borrow a night. The next morning, it was hazy, and took the bus to Kun District. When I found the examination room of Baotou Nine Middle School, there were several candidates waiting. A teacher from the foreign language department of Inner Mongolia Teachers College was interviewing candidates in a room inside. There was a female staff member in the outside room who remembered that no books were allowed.
I looked at myself all dusty and ashamed of myself. I still have palpitations when I think of the hardships I experienced this past day.
I talked to a few of the candidates a little bit to understand what the oral exam was. Most of them were English teachers who had been teaching for several years, and were colleagues or classmates of each other, and some were high school students from the old Beijing-Tianjin class. The foundation was solid. I was very envious. I taught myself dumb English and could only read and not read aloud much of it. All the candidates present later became almost all classmates of the Class of ’77.
I waited bravely, slumped over my desk and drifted off for a while. One by one, they all left, and when it was my turn, the attendant said that the oral exam was over for today. We will continue tomorrow. I was very disappointed. What about the night? I didn’t have the energy to run to the East River district anymore.
I remembered that I had been to his house once, and I felt my way to his house. He and his wife kindly stayed with me and gave me the outer room. It was nice to have a real home, and the house was as warm as spring. The night was quiet and I took my English books and notebook out of my bag and read them gently, one by one, wondering what questions I might be asked tomorrow and how to answer them.
Early the next morning, I returned to the ninth grade, and the exams continued. I was the last candidate. Originally, book bags were not allowed to be brought into the exam room. The attendant said she needed to leave, so I asked her what to do, and the attendant hesitated and said, “You can bring it in. Just put it aside. I agreed. Later I learned that there was a new group of candidates coming for the oral exam.
When I pushed the door into the examination room, three teachers sat across from each other, an older Professor Liang Shoutao (I learned his name later) in the middle and a young female teacher (Wang Ke and Hu Ping) on each side. I answered good morning in English. They asked me to sit on the chair first, and I didn’t feel nervous facing the three teachers, I just felt confused and didn’t know what to do, and answered mechanically according to the few words I understood.
There was a small blackboard on the floor to my left with some phonetic symbols written on it, and I thought I heard the teacher say read it. I hurriedly stood up, went to the small blackboard and read them one by one. Then I was handed a box with some cards inside, and I touched one myself. There was a small English story on it, and I remembered it was about small animals. I read it.
The last part of the oral exam was a free talk. I hadn’t had a conversation with someone in English in years. At this point, I listened carefully and took the opportunity to use familiar words. When I heard “you” at the beginning, I introduced myself as best I could: I am a youth in the countryside. When I heard “family”, I hurriedly said that my family was in the south, in Jiangsu. When I heard “parents”, I said that my father and mother were teachers. When I heard the word “learning English”, I hurriedly said that I liked English very much and taught myself English in the countryside.
From Professor Liang’s eyes, he seemed more and more curious about me, and he asked more questions. I knew that the conversation had long exceeded its time limit. He asked me how I taught myself. I then said I had old English books. He pointed to my school bag and asked what I carried in it. I said I had my English book with me to learn by myself. He asked if he could see it. I only understood a few words, and I understood it by looking at his expression. I immediately took out my notebook from my school bag, one was full of densely mimeographed words. The other book was neatly written with English texts, grammar, translations and mini-essays.
Professor Liang carefully looked through the pages and asked if I had written it, and I said yes. I said yes, and then said something like; I work during the day and study at night, I like literature, and so on. Professor Wang Ke and teacher Hu Ping also took turns to take a look at it. By this time, I was getting calmer and calmer. I can’t remember what else was asked, but I remember my mouth kept answering. I think it was a lot of grammatical mistakes, and I didn’t dare to mention my voice intonation.
So, I was brave beyond my expectation, and the conversation took a long time to end.
After I entered the foreign language department in the spring of March, I talked to Mr. Hu and Mr. Wang about the oral exam respectively, and I learned that after I left the examination room, Professor Liang was very excited and said one after another: give her high marks, give her high marks, such a candidate we must accept. It is said that I was the only youth who was still working in the countryside among the candidates for the oral examination in the Baotou area. I guess my pair of men’s shoes, and the appearance of a gray head, may also make them surprised.
After the English oral exam, I went to my uncle’s house. The first time I entered the house, my smart-tongued cousin shouted out my college entrance exam results door to door. I was unprepared and watched dumbfounded as this little girl laughed and revealed all of my college entrance exam “privacy” piece by piece. This is the only way I received my college entrance exam results.
Now I know that my uncle has an acquaintance in the Baotou Admissions Office. He went to inquire about my results. The admissions office looked at my materials and said that my total score exceeded the score line of the foreign language department of Jilin University. I could apply to Jilin University instead, depending on what I wanted to do. I was very excited to hear this, but then I thought of my parents’ inability to pay for my education, and then I dismissed the idea. I didn’t dare to have any extravagant hopes, teacher training colleges were my only choice, and I looked forward to the reply from Inner Mongolia Teachers College with all my heart.
In 1977, the college entrance examination was held on a voluntary basis, followed by an examination. If the results exceeded the score line, there was a possibility of being admitted to a better college, which I heard sporadically after joining the school in 1978. This also coincides with the recent CCTV program “National Memory” in December 2017 about the recollection of the 1977 college entrance examination, and in admissions not necessarily arranged exactly according to the volunteer initially filled by the candidate.
Incidentally, admissions in Inner Mongolia come out in a different category. The state listed four types of institutions as key admissions institutions. Among them are teacher training colleges. Inner Mongolia Teacher’s College in the cities enrolled, take away all over the score line, the application volunteer fill in the Inner Mongolia Teacher’s College candidate information, to be preempted, especially the old Jinjing and Shanghai three candidates. No wonder there are a lot of talents in the 77th grade of each department of the Inner Division.
Just stay in Baotou, heard around a lot of talk about the college entrance examination. The most frightening thing is still the political trial. Even though the Cultural Revolution has ended, people’s mindset has not changed. Over the years social class divisions have emerged around political movements, leading to political discrimination and inequity. Especially at critical times like recruitment, admissions and recruitment, political trials can either send you straight to the top or send you straight to purgatory. Every time I thought of political examination I was like ants on a hot pot of anxiety. One day, I suddenly came up with a bold idea: to break into the foreign language department of Inner Mongolia Teachers College alone. Since my grades were on line, I should be able to pass the political examination according to the new admissions policy. I had to go there myself and try to pass the political examination.
I immediately took a train from Baotou to Hutong. A young relative named Jianguo happened to work at the police station in the area where the Inner Mongolia Teachers College is located. He volunteered to find out the address of the secretary of the foreign language department. That night, he took me to the family courtyard, Jianguo was younger than me, and we both recklessly went to Wang Cui’an’s house in the dark.
When we knocked on the door, the secretary’s wife answered the door. She politely invited us into the house. The furnishings in the house were very simple, and Wang Cui’an, a tall man, appeared in front of me with a smile and a kind look, which was totally unexpected.
When I explained the purpose of my visit. Secretary Wang laughed, he said decisively, you do not worry, we mainly look at the results and my performance. The admissions policy is to focus on the person, in the past, it is not right to do that. Secretary Wang also asked me about my test area and results, and I told him one by one. He said, you can rest assured. The number of people who enrolled all of you in the first batch is not enough. We lowered the score line and recruited another batch, the oral examination notice has been sent out.
Secretary Wang’s attitude is kind, sincere and very decisive. He sounded like he knew everything about the college entrance examination enrollment situation and had a clear view of the enrollment policy regarding family origin. His vigor and sense of justice were evident in his words. It was the first time in my life that I was surprised to hear a leading cadre speak boldly and fairly on the issue of family origin. We talked for a while and soon left. Before going out, Secretary Wang smiled and said to me, go back and wait patiently.
All the way out, I was very excited. Hope was rekindled in my heart. Looking back on that adventure forty years later, it was really a lucky “petition”.
From the information I read later, I learned that in the 1977 college entrance examination, many provinces, cities, colleges and departments across the country still controlled the political examination very tightly, and did not really implement the policy of “mainly based on their own performance”, and many excellent candidates were denied admission due to their poor family background. In my opinion, instead of saying “this is purely a mistake in the implementation of the policy”, I would say that this is “a long-standing customary practice inherent to the political examination” that will not be changed soon by a new policy. This is one of the major regrets left by the 1977 college entrance examination. It is generally acknowledged that the political examination improved in 1978, and was only really relaxed in 1979.
In this regard, I have a sincere gratitude to the Foreign Language Department of Inner Mongolia Teachers College, my alma mater. In the process of admitting new students, they protected some innocent young people like me, who had major problems with their family background. They showed the goodness and integrity of human nature.
After I entered the school, I learned that there was a large group of “typical” academic white students who were exiled from Beijing and Shanghai in the 1950s to support the frontier. This was also true for the English and Russian majors in the Foreign Language Department, where Professor Liang graduated from the Foreign Language Department of the Southwest United University, and several teachers came back from studying abroad, and Secretary Wang Cui’an was the president of the department’s student union and stayed on to work in the school. To this day, I realize even more how lucky I was with my 1977 college entrance exam.
The remaining days of January were spent in patient waiting. The cold was still raging at will before spring came. There was no other choice but to grit my teeth and persevere.
Spring broke on February 4, 1978, followed by Chinese New Year on the 7th. I wrote in my diary that I spent this miserable Spring Festival alone. There were many things piled up in a haphazard manner in the hut. Sometimes I looked at the window paper that was torn by the cold wind, the firewood sticks in front of the stove, the charcoal noodles that were about to burn out, and the potatoes, and the wretched state of the house, and I couldn’t help but think of “Fan Jin Zhong Jiu” in a somewhat self-deprecating way. Day by day, in the extreme cold, hunger, and anxious waiting.
The cost of running around for the college entrance exams all winter long depended on gradually handing over my rations to the Guyang County grain depot in exchange for some food stamps and cash to sustain me, and at this time I was no different from any authentic farmer.
According to the customs of rural Inner Mongolia, families rush to make dry food, fry oil cakes, stew pork and store it in the cool room in the waxing moon. In the first month of the lunar calendar, they enjoy relaxing, visiting relatives and warming up the cooked food. I often warmed up at the homes of the old folks, who would enthusiastically keep me for dinner. But I was so proud of myself that whenever it was time to eat, I would find an excuse to slip back into the youth room and cook something for myself. There was dampness in the kang stove if the fire was not burned often, and the dampness made it even more difficult to burn the fire. The charcoal that was put in was like a stone, so it didn’t burn at all, and sometimes the water didn’t even heat up. Cooked potatoes and rice porridge is often half-cooked and swallowed.
At this time, I heard that a big red list was posted in front of the Guyang County Board of Education, which was the preliminary list for the college entrance examination, and the actual admission list later. There may be some changes in the final admissions, I am not sure. The county’s preliminary selection of colleges and universities to more science and technology, arts undergraduate only 28 people, English undergraduate 1 person. In other words, 18 people applied for the English major, and I was the only one who made the preliminary selection. My name was listed on the red list.
It is said that the whole city of Guyang was abuzz with excitement. Every day, many people gathered around the red list to watch and talk about it. I was already exhausted. I no longer had the strength to rush to Guyang to see the red list. Looking back now, I really wish I had gone to see it at that time.
It was about the middle of February when I went to Guyang County to do some work and learned that all the candidates on the list had to go to the People’s Hospital for a medical examination. A female youth in front of me took the science and technology course, very strong, rough skin, red face, a look at the long years in the field by the wind and sun. The doctor said she might have a congenital heart defect, the girl said she had never been examined and had been a strong laborer for several years in the army. She was so anxious that she pleaded with the doctor repeatedly. This female doctor pondered for a while, walked to another office and came out again with a pen on the checklist, passed! But this female doctor seriously urged the girl to go for a checkup as soon as possible.
At the end of the medical examination, a young man from my commune returned to his hometown was found to be color blind and had to give up his first choice, Beijing Iron and Steel Institute, to go to Inner Mongolia Teachers College. For the family of the young man who returned to his hometown, getting into college was a great joy that was a step up.
After the medical examination, there was another endless wait. At the beginning of March, a rare snowstorm had just fallen. There was no news about the results of the college entrance exam, and I was once again in deep despair, as if the sky was falling. At the same time, I feel that my physical strength is gradually unable to support. At this time, I felt that the body single win weak youth room and I, barely standing in the winter wind.
On March 6, I was “warming up” at an old folks’ house, thinking: I wonder what kind of rough road of life God has planned for me? At this time, a child hurried into the house, a look of surprise, but also nervous, said “Xiao Lu, you may have passed the exam! He said he heard that from others.
I jumped off the bed and went outside, determined to go to the commune and ask for clarification. Although it was the beginning of March, the river trough road had been frozen all winter, and there was still a lot of hard residual snow. It was another 36 miles of hard road, and I struggled to get to the commune, and I rolled and crawled all the way to the commune, getting all the broken ice and snow.
Just arrived at the commune compound, someone recognized me and shouted at me from afar, Xiao Lu, you got into college! At that moment, I don’t know whether I wanted to cry or laugh.
I asked, “How come I didn’t know? Where is the notice? The man replied that he had also heard about it, and reported the names of other candidates who had gotten into college.
The cadre enthusiastically took me to the school district office to look for it. I was so nervous that sweat was coming out of my head. Finally, in a drawer of the school district accountant, I found the acceptance letter, a kraft envelope with my name on it, addressed to “Inner Mongolia Normal College”, and pulled out the white hard paper inside, with a line of large black letters “Notice of Acceptance to Higher Education Institutions “. I read this line, tears blurred my vision.
I was in the Khuji Gou commune on six, three of them are local young men returned to the countryside, were admitted to a polytechnic in Beijing, Inner Mongolia Medical College, Inner Mongolia Teachers University Department of Physics. The other two male youths were admitted to the Department of Physical Education of the Inner Division and a university in Northwest China. I was the only female youth in the commune who went to university, and the only candidate in Guyang County who got into the English major.
At that time, there were more than 600 young people in the whole commune. I know several talented young people who were not accepted. I am very sorry. I sincerely hope that they will win the college entrance examination later and get on this train of history, and I hope their life path will be smooth and safe.
The early spring sunshine in March with a hint of flirtation brought a different kind of warmth. I look forward to seeing the youths return before I leave. I understand that this winter must also be very difficult for them, they have to face the unacceptable disappointment.
Xiao Yang came back, he was very quiet. He only said he didn’t take the exam. Nothing else was said. I know that many young people feel confused in front of this rapid change, too late to make the right choice.
The company’s main business is to provide a wide range of products and services to the public.
In fact, I couldn’t open my mouth to say that I got into college, let alone hear any words of congratulations. I felt a lot of guilt and an indescribable feeling of sadness.
On the morning of March 16, I left the village of Hanmun-dong. It was a sunny day. Xiao Yang, always helpful, took the initiative to take my luggage to the village entrance at the bottom of the slope, a luggage roll and two wooden boxes.
There was a large group of folks at the entrance of the village, and an old man in the team drove a donkey cart to the commune, taking me along the way. I sat backwards on the donkey cart and watched the village fade away and disappear from view. My eyes were moist. In the quiet ravine, a small donkey cart squeaked and twisted, taking me for the last time on the silent river canal road that I had walked countless times before, heading for the commune.
The Inner Mongolia Teacher’s College started to report on March 18. Early that morning, my brother pushed my luggage with his bicycle and took me from Donghe District Railway Station to the train to Hohhot.
When the train I was on was heading to “my university”, I was very calm and not happy. The exhaustion after all the hardships, the gratitude after the desperate struggle, and the anticipation and longing for a new life were all mixed together in a very complicated way. I looked peacefully out of the window at the passing scenery, as if I saw nothing at all.
At the railway station in Hohhot, the foreign language department’s orientation staff was waiting at the entrance to take me to the teacher training college as the first group of new students.
Mr. Li Weicheng, the political counselor, joked that you were the first student of the class of ’77 to arrive at the school. This remark touched me with a little sadness. Because I left the youth room, I had no place to stay but to go to the college dormitory as soon as possible. The first thing I was eager to do was to get a good night’s sleep and have a good meal in the cafeteria. It was too tiring to go through these 4 months of college entrance exams.
Just settled down in the dormitory, a graceful old professor gently pushed in the door and asked, “Which one is Lu Dingqian? I was sitting on the edge of my bed and immediately stood up and said I was. She came over and smiled and said, I heard Mr. Liang introduce your self-education in the face of adversity, and he said he must recruit a student like you. She is another authority in the department, Professor Jin Longju.
A few days later, when I occasionally met Professor Liang in the school building, he was very happy and looked at me like he did during the oral exam and said, “You used to study by yourself in adversity, but you can study well in good times in the future. I replied that I did. After saying that, Professor Liang hurriedly left. It is surprising that this sentence has been clearly remembered for decades.
Shortly after I entered the university, an anonymous letter was sent to the foreign language department, which read: Lv Dingqian concealed her family’s origin to get into the university. Her father was a historical counter-revolutionary. The letter was sent from Changshu City, Jiangsu Province without a signature. Secretary Wang read the letter and rejected it with disdain, saying that such letters were ignored. The Department of Foreign Languages enforced the principle of “emphasis on one’s own performance,” with a righteous spirit. It was more than three years later that I learned of this “anonymous report” by chance.
Every day in March, I walked out of the girls’ dormitory building of the Neiji division with my schoolbag on my back and a new English-Chinese dictionary in my hand, and walked along the path towards the foreign language department’s school building. The sun was bright and shining outside. Almond trees were planted on both sides of the path, and the garden showed a passionate pink color, with green buds and red buds on the branches. I left the path and walked to the lush flowering trees, leaned back slightly, closed my eyes, and let myself bask in the sunlight, soaking up the warmth of spring like never before.
Dingqian Lu in Briarcliff New York
February 24, 2018