County town Test takers / “小镇做题家”们

In Series …
Local (personal, potentially shallow, and subject to change) outlooks on science, technology, growth, and occasionally culture and history. I aim to write an essay every Sunday, but whether it can make its way to FWPhys is random. Hence the series title.

“County town test takers” is a negative term that recently saw an increase in popularity on the Chinese Internet. I regard it as a lens through which one see an ongoing social stratification process, and would dedicate this short essay to stand in solidarity with the individuals so-derided.

The phrase is largely thrown around by self-regarded “high society” individuals — celebrities, politicians, business moguls, and their mouthpieces and puppets in public services — to refer to the students (and the workforce those students become) who dedicate their youths in solving exam problems and passing the educational filters. In other words, people who spend significant effort and struggles trying to climb up the emerging socioeconomic ladder. The phrase county town in a way serves as a euphemism for those people’s lack of riches, connections, and status.

This sounds similar to the derisive “nerd” callouts in American high schools. But I — disclaimer: who never experienced that kind of dynamics first hand — think that the two arise from fundamentally different circumstances. To me, the American “nerd” name symbolizes a recognition that the people being made fun of — those who value their own continued education — will more likely go on to successful careers and enjoy a higher standard of living. While in the Chinese case, “county town test takers”, is more commonly emerging from people waiting near the end of the individuals’ struggles — as I hinted at before, already established figures, and controllers of big corporations. These people up top, many resting on their statuses and riches built on historical windfalls, would rather not value a generation of individualistic, highly motivated, highly driven, and critical-thinking-equipped workers, lest their own cheese be moved in the process.

While I am fortunate to have come from a big city, and have followed a pathway among the best my homeland’s public education system has to offer, I see myself in my peers in smaller towns. Our pasts, but more importantly, the futures. By saying that I also welcome criticism if I am grasping this from a skewed angle, or if I sound condescending:

The young and emerging “test takers” are gradually moving on to central roles of our civilization: scientists, engineers, industrialists, littérateurs, philosophers, economists, strategists, and so on. And their ability to solve problems so thoroughly and intensively forged by the mountainous tests and assignments in their student age, will become powerful tools with which they lead and transform an industry, a region, and a country, shaping humanity’s future history.

And I welcome such a future.