|A student dances before taking part in an entrance exam for the performing arts major at the Beijing Film Academy on Sunday. About 18,000 students applied for the exam, which allows only a small number of them to study at the academy. (China Daily/ Wang Jing)|
Students who want to enter film or drama academy face daunting exams
Each February, China witnesses a rush of applications for performing arts schools, with tens of thousands of students taking exams and demonstrating their performance skills in a process known in Chinese as yikao.
This year is no exception, with many students traveling to educational institutions across the nation to prove their worth.
However, the yikao process seems more daunting than usual this year, after the Ministry of Education announced in October that it will reform the selection process, putting more emphasis on applicants' general academic abilities.
All applicants for the yikao must now gain higher scores than previously on the national college entrance exam - or gaokao - which covers a wide range of subjects, including history, culture, math and science.
The policy is aimed at raising the standard of China's performing arts.
Competition is already tough for prospective performing arts students, and applications far exceed available places.
On the morning of Feb 7, thousands of students braved the snow in Beijing to attend the exams at the Central Academy of Drama. Of the 6,894 students who applied for the bachelor's degree course at the acting department, only 50 will be admitted.
The Beijing Film Academy, meanwhile, started recruiting on Sunday, and the competition at the prestigious university for performing arts is no less fierce. As the most popular major, only 50 out of more than 5,000 candidates for the acting department will be admitted. About 19,000 students applied for the academy online, 2,000 more than last year.
Some students opt for performing arts because they perform badly at those subjects tested by the gaokao exams, meaning they have little chance of getting into a university by that route.
Some academies have already made the adjustment required by the Ministry of Education, asking students to have good gaokao scores if they want to win a performing arts place.
The Beijing Film Academy has added an extra hurdle with an oral exam to test students' knowledge of the arts, history and general knowledge.
Many students are worried about the new recruitment policy, not least because it means doing better on the gaokao, something they had not previously prioritized.
"I'm very worried about the news," said Yang Yuepei, 18, of Sichuan province, who applied for acting departments in more than a dozen of universities. "Many arts students have poor scores in the gaokao. I have to work very hard to prepare for it when I finish my arts exams. If I fail, I'll have to try again next year."
Some parents are also complaining about the policy.
"The requirement for general academic subjects should not be so high. Kids focus a lot on their professional learning. If they put too much energy into general academic courses, they will be distracted," said Zhang Xiubing, 42, of Jinan, Shandong province.
She has been traveling with her daughter to performing arts exams in Beijing and Shandong since January.
Zhang Na, deputy director of the dean's office in the Central Academy of Drama, has sought to manage the expectations of many performing arts hopefuls.
"It's not right that people turn to studying the performing arts just because they can't learn general academic subjects well. Not everyone can master the performing arts, because people usually need some talent to do so, especially for the acting major," Zhang said.
She said the academy attaches great importance to the overall qualities of its students.
"Even those enrolled as arts students need a certain cultural literacy. For example, an acting major should not only recite the lines, but also understand all the sentences."
The Central Academy of Drama's enrollment policy for most of its majors has not changed much from last year. For those students who pass the professional ex