Lost In Translation: Did The Viral Gaokao Essay Score Zero Points Because Of Politics Or Poor Writing?

on July 03 2013 11:17 AM
Viral Gaokao Essay
A translation of a published essay from this year's annual gaokao college entrance exam went viral because of it's criticism on Chinese politics. The actual essay was less well-written. ChinaSmack

An essay by one of the some 9 million students in China who took part in the annual national college entrance exam has gone viral online. The paper, which was published along with several others, gained popularity online not because it wowed test graders, but rather because it got a zero.

The paper, which was published along with other zero-scoring essays and full-scoring essays, was passed around online because of some of the critical political opinions that it expressed. An English translation of the text, provided by ChinaSmack.com, a Chinese news-blog, even made Western media outlets.

“But I was born into this society, breathing highly polluted air, eating food that could kill you any time, watching the director of some state tobacco bureau accumulating millions. I want to ask, do you see justice? Do you believe the Chinese Dream will be realized?” the translation read.

Many commenters lauded the unknown author for his or her “bravery” for speaking up honestly and critically on the various Chinese injustices that plague the nation. People suggested that the essay received the lowest mark because the paper’s political statements were too critical of the government. The writer supposedly even wrote the essay knowing that he would be awarded a zero. “Give me a zero then, my dear grader,” the person wrote, according to the translation. “I’m not scared…”

The problem is, the provided English translation isn’t accurate. While the lengthy translation is in fact a coherent, well-structured essay on the subject of “Chinese justice,” which was supposedly the prompt, it is not how the original essay reads in the picture that accompanied the English text.

In reality the essay was written in pseudo-poetry form, and only touched upon the subject of Chinese justice. For the most part, however, the paper turned out to be an abstract rant. In addition to that, it featured a lot of slang terms and crude language. While many are suggesting that the exam grader gave the paper a zero because of the critical political message, chances are it was just because the paper was convoluted, used some poor language, and strayed from the topic.

Here’s a more accurate translation below:

“Don’t use the ladder, put it sideways. Was the teacher a stonemason? I’m not brilliant, but I’m not SB [expletive term for someone stupid] either. Which idiot came up with this dumb question? Don’t wear your shoes, put it in a pot. The taste of China is not as attractive as old yogurt! Love doesn’t come, perhaps it is divine conception. Beautiful girls only love rich guys. Poor, ugly men? No chance. Don’t wear short skirts, keep wearing super short. Ganlulu’s mother [the mother of a model who posted a nude video of her daughter to find her a boyfriend] and Guo Degang [a Chinese comedian] have everything to do with each other. Xiaosan’s [slang term for mistress, usually of officials] fight, everyone says Xiaomi [personal assistant] is wronged. There’s nothing wrong with my cell phone. There’s not much rice, but put it in your pocket. The central bank lowered exchange rate, poor second generations are even more unfortunate. Does it matter how good this essay is? Didn’t you see, kids born after the 90’s are already heading up bureaus? Time is short, so I will stop here. Give me whatever score, I don’t care!”

Do you think the real version of the essay earned a zero? Was the author of the paper “brave” in risking his grade?

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