A record figure of nearly 9 million high school graduates packed into exam halls around the country yesterday, for the first day of the National College Entrance Exam.
Each one of the 8.8 million students is vying for one of only 2.6 million undergraduate places at China's universities.
Compared with last year the number of examinees has grown by 10 per cent, but university enrolment has only been able to increase by 5 per cent, making competition for places fiercer than ever before.
In Beijing more than 126,000 students are sitting the exam, said Xian Lianping, vice-director of the city's education committee.
He estimated that more than 70 per cent of those taking the exam in Beijing would find university places, thanks to education policies that favour the capital.
But even with such good odds parents are feeling the strain.
"Both my wife and I took two days off to accompany our daughter to the exam," said a father surnamed Ning, who sat in front of the Affiliated School of Beijing University of Chemical Technology, waiting for his daughter who was taking the exam yesterday afternoon.
Ning said they had also booked a room in the nearby Huiqiao Hotel for their daughter to rest in at noon, because their home in one of the city's northern suburbs is too far from the exam hall.
To make sure examinees can take the test in peace and quiet local governments across China have urged construction sites to stop working during yesterday and today. While activities like open air Karaoke have been strictly forbidden.
High-tech equipment has been deployed in exam rooms nationwide to stamp out cheating.
Electronic monitoring devices, mobile phone detectors and shielding machines are being widely used.
More than 1,600 exam sites in Beijing have been equipped with tele-electric monitoring systems. And supervisors can watch exam halls in detail on closed-circuit television networks.
In Central China's Henan Province electronic shielding machines have been installed in all exam halls in to prevent cheating through mobile phones.
Figures from the Ministry of Education reveal that about 1,700 examinees were disqualified for cheating in last year's exam.
Before the exam began Vice- Minister of Education Zhao Qinping reiterated that any student found cheating will get a zero in that exam.
Some students in East China's Fujian Province are the only lucky youngsters to have escaped the test.
Because of flooding caused by days of torrential rain about 4, 600 students in Jian'ou have had their exams postponed.
When the exam will be held depends on the weather, the local education bureau said last night.
In South China's Guangdong Province days of heavy rain did not affect the 520,000 examinees yesterday.
In Dabu County of the city of Meizhou, 620 students from badly hit rural and suburban areas were relocated to urban areas for the exam.
Two students in the provincial capital of Guangzhou were diagnosed with chicken pox during yesterday's exams, but were transferred to a separate room to continue the test.
In Harbin, provincial capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, a father and son caught many people's attention as they walked into the exam side by side.
As the eldest examinee in the province, 46-year-old Meng Fanlian said he was excited to be taking the exam at the same time as his 18-year-old son.
"It's my first time taking the exam," he said. "I will try my best."
He said his favourite subject is English and he gets up early every morning to read English with his son, who has just graduated from the city's No 9 Middle School.
"I want to compete with my son to see who can perform better in the exam," he said. "It's encouraging for him."
Source: China Daily