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Janus Dongye, Coding Peasant at Universityof Cambridge (2012-present)(剑桥码农,2012至今)
Updated Mar 25
I grew up in a small town in Shandongprovince, Eastern China.
It is a small town with just 4 millionpeople. Most of the Chinese people have never heard of my hometown. By itspopulation, it is ranked at 130th among all 250 cities in China. Of course, itis considered a 4-th tier city.
My family was relatively poor compared toothers. And I was the only child of the family thanks to the one-child policy.


At age 7, I successfully passed theentrance exam of primary school so that I joined the best primary school in mytown. At that time, there were around 6000 students in the school with 72classes over the six grades. Each class has around 80 students. For each grade,there were two “experimental” classes allocated with better teachers andresources. Again, my parents were poor and my entrance exam results were notenough to put me in the experimental class. So I was allocated in class 9, oneof the worst classes of all.


However, my parents were really strict andserious about my education. Although my teacher quality was not as good as the“experimental” classes, I was sent to an after-school supplementary class orcram schools for additional education. During the weekends, I was also forcedto enrol in an art and calligraphy school for “extracurricular activities”.
With the help of cram school and my hardwork, I successfully ranked 20th among the 80 pupils in my class from the1st-grade final year exam. Later on, my ranking improved significantly.


At age 11, for my 4th-grade final exams, Imanaged to get a 1st among my classmates. For top students in the normal class,they could be granted a privilege to join the “experimental class”. So that’swhy I then transferred to the “experimental” class, where all the best teachersand classmates in school. After joining the experimental class, I realised howcompetitive it was. I ranked 29th in the experimental class but my result couldhave been the first for normal classes.
I got frustrated and let down, at the sametime I fell in “love” with my crush in the same class. At that time, I thoughtwe were going to be married and live a happy life after. But the reality wasthat my results fell significantly during the 5th midterm so my teacherthreatened me that I might transfer back to the normal class if I did worse inthe final exam. My teacher also told my parents about this. After so muchpressure, I cheered up and successfully nailed it in the 5th-grade final exam.And I got an 11th among the 1000 pupils of my grade, 4th in my class.


My middle-high school had around 7000students over the 7th, 8th and 9th grade. Each grade had around 2300 students.There were around 70 students per class. Students have to study from 7am to9pm, six days per week. We have to strive for an entrance ticket for the besthigh school in town.
This is exactly what my classroom lookedlike. One of the best memories in my life.
Since I was the 1st in my class, I was heldhigh expectations from my teachers, because teachers got bonuses if theirstudents get high ranking in exams. So I was selected to participate in various“extension classes” in school including mathematical olympiad and writingcompetition.


I managed to maintain my 1st ranking on allthe next three years of midterm and final exams. My whole-grade rankingmaintained 10ish among the 2300 students. My picture was always posted on thefront panels from our building. My teachers were so proud of me for not justthe bonuses they got.
At age 15, it was time for high school. InChina, each city has its own unified high school entrance exam. And many highschools in the city use the same test questions but with different bars toaccept students. Most of the students were from rural areas with much worseeducation. However, this entrance exam is their only chance to get a muchbetter education in the city.


So I participated in the high schoolentrance exam in my city. There were around 34,500 students enrolled in theentrance exam. And I managed to achieve the 19th place in the exam among the34,500 students.
After the exam ranking released, my parentsgot multiple phone calls from different high schools. They all wanted me tojoin their high school. Of course, one of the calls was from the best highschool in the city. And to our surprise, we also got a phone call from the besthigh school from the province capital - Jinan. I was told to enrol in theprovincial high school entrance exam for better opportunities.


At age 16, I moved to Jinan, the capital ofShandong province with 7 million people. I was thrilled to live in such a bigcity and in the best high school in Jinan. There were a lot of new things thathad broadened my visions.
My high school is said to be the top highschool in Shandong with around 7000 students from grade 10th, grade 11th tograde 12th. There are a total of 170 classes and each class has around 40people. This is obviously much better than my middle schools with 80 studentsper class! So we can get double attention from the teachers.


And it was also my first time to see aforeign teacher in my school - a Canadian English teacher. It was my first timeto see a living creature that can actually talk in fluent English, a foreignlanguage that we were forced to learn since childhood.
Also before starting the 10th grade, wehave to participate in the military training and learn what is like to be asoldier and prepare to work hard for the incoming college entrance exams.


Over the next three years, my exam rankingsfluctuated from 20th to 200th among the 2000 students in my high school.Although I studied so hard and tried my best for each exam, there is alwayssomeone that is smarter and hard-working than you. The even bigger challenge isthe fierce competition of college entrance exams in China. We have to studyreally really hard in order to get admissions from the best Universities inChina.At age 18, I participated in the nationalcollege entrance exam, which was the once-in-lifetime experience. There werearound 700k students in Shandong that sat the exam. However, I was so nervousat that time and did not go well with my Chinese literature. The result turnedout to be terrible for me: I only ranked 2,326 among the 700k high schoolgraduates.


This failure has made my dream universitiespretty distant. Tsinghua and Beijing University only select the top 100 amongthe 700k students. The rest of the top ten Chinese universities then select thetop 2000 students. With my terrible performance, I barely made it to the 12thuniversity in China.At the same time, my high school offered mea second opportunity to study in the UK to compensate for my failure in theexam because I had a good record previously. This was from a foreign foundationthat represented the University of Cambridge. So I sat their exams, attendedtheir interviews and successfully got an offer from Cambridge.


After that I have finally escaped theChinese circles of exams, ranking, competing and selection from thousands. Ifound life in Cambridge village was much much more relaxed and quiet. I wasused to a class with 80 people and it suddenly switched to a class with only 10people, I felt so shocked culturally.But for the remaining students that wereselected to enrol in Chinese universities, they still faced even toughercompetition for exams, credits, scholarships, fundings and ultimately — jobs.Each opportunity is only selected from hundreds or thousands of greatcandidates already.


Poor Chinese families with no backgroundcould actually make their life better through hard work, competitions andexams. Though discrimination and corruptions do exist, the path to success forthe poor is actually not blocked.


Vikram Shenoy Handiru
Mar 23 · 43 upvotes
A lot of Indians can relate to it.Especially those who prepare for IIT-JEE (Indian equivalent of GaoKao exam).Only difference is, our system is not strictly rooted in meritocracy.


Janus Dongye
Original Author · Mar 26 · 12 upvotes
That’s why all my Indian friends inCambridge are so clever. India has meritocracy too!


Avinash Sanghvi
Mar 31 · 1 upvote
We do, but our system is not that orderedor strict. Our engineering entrance exam JEE has about 1 Million to 1.2 Millioncandidates appearing each year. To get a seat in the best colleges (IIT) with agood engineering branch, you have to figure in the first 5000 students.