The Meaning of Life


Yiwen Zhang said her elementary school in China had a rigorous routine.

Yiwen Zhang, Contributing Writer

The following is from a class assignment titled “My 100-word memoir.”

Get up at six in the morning, brush my teeth, wash my face, eat breakfast and go to
school. At school, the group leader of each subject accepts yesterday’s homework, then
starts reading until the bell rings to go to the bathroom. The math class teacher hands
out the last test paper and criticizes the students with low grades. Today’s PE class is
gone, again. Go to math cram school after school until nine o’clock, go home and do
homework……. What’s the meaning of life?

Some background to this memoir:

Before I left China, in my elementary school, we had to do a lot of things. 

Every day I went to school, we would have a group leader come to collect yesterday’s homework and give it to the teacher. There was a team leader for one seating column. The teacher of each subject would choose a different person, and the team leader might not be particularly good at that subject. Some teachers taught the three subjects of Chinese, Mathematics and English, which are the main subjects of elementary school.  Therefore, the status of those teachers was very high. If any of those teachers thought that they wanted an extra class instead of the original class that was scheduled of Music, Art, or Physical Education, they would tell those teachers that they would take their classes because they were superior.  Generally, these teachers of other subjects did not have much say, and some of those teachers secretly complained to us.

Sometimes teachers liked to take up our recess time to talk about the content that had not been finished in class. Even if you really wanted to go to the toilet, you still could not, and the toilet in our school was about half as far as the playground, and the break was originally only ten minutes.  The time would be occupied by the teacher, and it was not enough to go to the toilet.  If you were unlucky enough, some teachers would not even let you drink water in class. They would say, “I haven’t had a sip of water during my lecture for so long, and you can’t either.” If you drank water without permission, the teacher would make you stand in front of the blackboard at the back of the class during the lecture.

Some parents thought that their children were not good enough in any subject, so they sent their children to cram schools after school. The cram school had some teachers to teach you, but it had nothing to do with the regular school. It was outside of school and needed to be paid for. Sometimes you would learn some things that were more difficult than school.  Sometimes I went to a cram school after school, and it would end after nine o’clock p.m., which was relatively late, and then I had to eat before I went home and did my homework. Some teachers didn’t give a lot of homework, such as memorizing texts, writing exercise books, copying vocabulary, etc. but some teachers assigned eight to ten hours of homework, and sometimes the teacher assigned four-paged papers, or near the mid-term, the final exam that was assigned was eight pages long. On weekends the teachers often assigned essays – the older you were, the more words you had to write. Living this kind of life every day really made me wonder: What is the meaning of life, such endless learning every day?

This is just my personal experience. Every school is different. I worked so hard because my province has many cities, but there is only one double-first-class university, so we have to try our best to get into universities in other provinces and cities. Because of the large number of people in our province the total number of people taking the national college entrance examination is 10.78 million, and Henan Province accounts for 1.15 million, including 750,000 repeaters, and an increase of 100,000 students in 2022. So there is a lot of competition, and a difference of 0.5 points will drop a lot of rankings. If students are from other provinces the scores have to be higher than the local students. The locals may be able to get into a good university with a score of 400 or 500, but we outside students need 600 or 700. Of course in other provinces, it is similar.