Almost 9 million Chinese students flocked to hundreds of thousands of examination venues across the nation on Wednesday morning for the annual national college entrance examination.
With more people sitting than any other examination in the world, 8.8 million candidates started the paper simultaneously at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, with many of the venues guarded by police and anxious parents waiting outside.
The Ministry of Education announced earlier that universities and colleges this year will enroll 2.6 million freshmen for a four-year higher education -- just one place for every four candidates.
At 8:15 am, with 45 minutes to go, hundreds of parents were standing in front of the Beijing No. 35 Middle School. Many waited till their children came out.
"I asked for a three-day leave to accompany my son," said Guo Yusen. He woke up early this morning and cooked breakfast for his 18-year-old son.
At least five policemen were patrolling the 200-meter stretch of road in front of the school, with a parked police car flashing emergency lights. The street was choked with people and cars.
"It's not very difficult," said Wang Chaowei, a student with the Beijing Xingtao School, referring to the content of the exam, as he left the exam venue after taking the first test on Chinese which ended at 11:30.
"I was a little nervous in the morning," Wang said, seemingly more released than his parent. "But as everything went smoothly, I'm quite OK now."
Exam takers in Tianjin, a municipality adjacent to Beijing, however, are not as lucky as Wang.
"Daddy, I've let you down," a girl choked with sobs in front of her parent after the first exam. "The required subject of the composition is totally indigestible to me. It's a doomed failure."
Each student is supposed to write a composition with an assigned subject in the national exams. The subjects vary in different provinces, municipalities and regions.
Outside the exam halls, travel agencies are also cash in the opportunity to distribute pamphlets to the parents waiting outside as many students plan to tour in China and abroad which are gifts for their years of laboring.
Across the country, high-tech equipment was deployed to ensure fairness and honesty during the exam. At the headquarters of the Education Bureau of Beijing's Haidian District, staff workers were able to see each examination hall in detail on large screens operated by remote control.
Mobile phone detectors and electronic shielding machines were also widely used to prevent cheating.
The annual exam is scheduled to be held Wednesday and Thursday. In some places, like Shanghai, and Jiangsu and Guangdong Provinces, it will last for three or four days depending of variations in the academic subjects.
However, 4,565 students in Jian'ou, a city in southeast China's Fujian Province are not as lucky, since their exam were postponed due to floods that have been tormenting the city, according to Chen Xingu, leader of the city's educational bureau.
The exams have stretched hundreds of millions of Chinese's nerve, as many families now have only one child due to the family planning policy implemented since the early 1970s and passing the college entrance exams is the only way for Chinese youth to gain access to higher education,
Many parents book their children into hotels in the vicinity of exam halls, order taxi days before the exams, and even hire chefs to cook for their children. Construction sites nearby are also required to stay silent.
Many middle schools in Beijing have handed out pamphlets advising parents what to include in their children's diet and which words should not be spoken to their children.