Rooted in faith, family and community

by Guest Contributor

A Columban in China who wishes to remain anonymous explains a little more about the importance of education in China and how the country's state examination for senior high school students is seen a major event in life, not only for the students but for their families too.

China’s state examination for senior high school students is seen a major event in life, not only for the students but also for the extended families of the students. As Lily Zhang awaits the results of her recent exams, the news that will arrive very soon is seen by her and her family as what may decide many aspects of her life in the years ahead.

As is the case with about ten million other students of a similar age in China this year, the shared hope for many students is that a suitable place at a good university will be secured, each point from the recent exams increasing the possibility of receiving a place in the most desired third level courses.

Six months ago, as I shared the New Year meal with the Zhang family at Hongwei village near Wuhan, Lily’s uncle mentioned that she was preparing for the June exams, this leading to the customary discussion about how her studies were progressing and what university place she would like to receive.

During the conversation a number of family members emphasised that they would be praying for her during the months ahead, a reflection of how the family’s faith over several generations is a deep support to them.

On occasions like this, many families in China like to refer to the number of generations prior to themselves who have been members of the Church, this aspect of family history providing genuine affirmation for them in the face of the multiple challenges that they face on a daily basis. Lily also commented on her hopes for what might happen following the exams.

Those discussions during the New Year meal took place in a simple room with a bare concrete floor, the room opening out through wide double doors to a street of similar simplicity and colour. It was also mentioned by one member of the family that doing well in the state exam is like a double-edged sword.

Good results in the state exams lead many people to receive a good place in university, possibly leading to well-paid jobs, the better jobs usually removing them further from the possibility of returning to their humble places of origin.

In general, the villages of China and the surrounding farmland are places where employment is available but is poorly paid. These are also the places where the possibilities of education for the next generation are more limited that what is available in the bigger population centres.

Recent years have seen rural student numbers decline significantly, with many schools being amalgamated. Even in rural areas where a well-established family business might provide a secure future for the next generation, the big city often holds a stronger attraction for the younger generation, even though the new life in the city can burden people with trying to secure a place to live in a setting where property prices have risen exponentially over the past twenty years.

When I spoke with Lily’s uncle on the phone earlier this week, he mentioned that she will soon receive the results of her exams, the detail being mentioned that the results will be available immediately after midnight of the particular day in question.

While Lily will be the first to see the exam results, it is likely that the entire family will share in the news soon afterwards. During the following few days, the possibility of a university education will receive their full attention.

Like the ten million other students on a similar journey in China this year, Lily’s future will be influenced at some level by what the next few weeks will bring. Part of what is in the balance is the question of how it will affect her long-term connection with the place she calls home.

Irrespective of what will unfold during the next few weeks, it is likely that each New Year celebration in the years ahead will still see her return to the village of Hongwei, the bond with the home area being one that has endured for hundreds of millions of people in China all through the changes that have seen so many people leave the rural areas in favour of the larger centres of population.

For Lily, there will also be the benefit of the enduring Catholic faith of her family that has seen several generations of her own people face so many deep challenges in recent decades, an affirmation that their trust in God will see them step once more into an unknown future with hope, open to what may emerge for the next generation.