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Editors’ note: This column was written by a 2014 alum. Due to its politically sensitive nature and the author’s Chinese citizenship, we decided to run it anonymously.


At a 2010 G20 summit press conference, Rui Chenggang, a journalist from China Central Television, pushed a question on President Obama, who wanted to reserve the final question for Korean media. “I’m actually Chinese, but I think I get to represent the entire Asia,” he said. No one at that time expected Rui — the Western face for the “entire” continent — to see his downfall this July, as a result of a highly praised anti-corruption movement waged by the new General Secretary Xi Jinping.


As I faced Brown’s Admission Office as a high school graduate, I was to remember that distant morning when my father took me to attend the entrance exam of an “elite” high school in Nanjing, China: the onset of my journey.

At that time educational reform was taking place — in 2003, candidates had to first attend a “lottery”: Half of the candidates would be randomly sifted out, and one-eighth of the remaining students would pass the entrance exam.

Luckily, I managed to get in. The exam was the watershed of the lives of many people of my generation. It also heralded the gradual formation of a new double-track educational system.

We matriculated. We, as students within this system, were truly benefiting. We were able to circumvent “gaokao,” the National Higher Education Entrance Examination. In 2009, approximately one third of the students in my grade were recommended to China’s top colleges for immediate admission. Half of the students went abroad for undergraduate programs. Only one of the 54 students in my class ended up taking gaokao. Due to these stunning figures, our school is sometimes referred to as a “super school” in China.

Thus, we were proud of ourselves. We claimed that our success was due to our encyclopedic knowledge and “elite” education. Someone said we were a paragon in educational reform. But was it true?

In January 2009, I visited my former middle school teacher. She told me that a former classmate’s parents had just sent her a message confirming their daughter’s admission to Tsinghua University and expressing their gratitude.

I interrupted, “Tsinghua’s final-round interview has not been held yet. How could they confirm the result?” I remembered the gossip four years before: This girl’s mother had been in charge of a state-owned communication company’s business in our province and had resided in a “seven-star” hotel when she had attended a conference in Dubai.

Gaokao at least ensures some equality between rivals. Its partial revocation would only breed rent-seeking: Those in power would monopolize the best educational resources for their offspring by making exchanges with the secondary schools with immediate access to those resources.

But what happened to the people sifted out in the lottery? Some exceptional students were sifted out not because of their ability, but because of their “bad luck.” Nevertheless, who could ensure that this “lottery” was truly determined by the hand of God, while so many corrupt officials under probe today were still in office in the early 2000s? For those sifted-out students, their only way out was to excel in the extraordinarily difficult gaokao. As a result, the intensive and repetitive schoolwork prevented them from doing anything else other than preparing for the exam — including applying to U.S. colleges.

Thus, when U.S. colleges hosted China summits, and when admission officers visited China to introduce their schools, those students’ voices could never be heard. They were the unrepresented.

Overall, in this double-track system, gaokao was made extremely difficult to block students from rural areas and urban working-class families from entering top colleges. Meanwhile, most students from “super schools” were “independently” admitted without taking gaokao. A striking result is that the proportion of rural students at Peking University decreased from roughly 30 percent to 10 percent in the past decade, while 82 percent of vocational college students in 2012 were from rural areas, according to a column in Nature.


Rui Chenggang distinguished himself among those exam-takers. In the 1995 gaokao, he ranked first among the tens of thousands of students in Hefei, capital of Anhui Province. Later, during his brief but brilliant career at CCTV, he directed and anchored several programs in English and interviewed hundreds of elites of world renown: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, George Soros, etc. From the western intellectuals’ point of view, Rui acted as bridge of Sino-American communications and represented China’s new generation, despite his staunch chauvinism and skepticism toward Western politics.

Indeed, Rui is not the voice of the voiceless that westerners might think he is. On July 11, he evaporated just before airtime, leaving an empty seat and his co-anchor alone on live television. It was reported that he was detained due to his close link with the corruption in CCTV, allegedly related to a disreputed former Politburo member.

If Rui supposedly represented “the entire Asia,” the western intelligentsia should focus on the “unrepresented.” Suffering from China’s unequal educational system, they are the salt of the earth and the real future of the nation. Today, I am telling my story about some of these people I knew. It was mainly because of those “representatives,” hypocrite mouthpieces like Rui, that the western observers could rarely hear the voices of those unrepresented and witness the reality of their dreams behind the Bamboo Curtain. Not until Xi’s widely acclaimed anti-corruption campaign, which has already caused the investigations of two former Politburo members, was the western world fully aware of those mouthpieces’ moral decadence.

No one can ensure that similar situations do not exist at Brown. It is beyond question that Brown strives to promote China’s development by admitting more Chinese students. In addition, many elite students today are playing the role Rui once assumed, acting as agents promoting China’s communication with the West. Nonetheless, are the potentially corrupt activities Rui once privately engaged in, which caused his abrupt downfall, uncommon among those elite “representatives” from China nowadays? Do we agree with such activities?

Furthermore, is Brown’s admission process truly fair, so that only the intellectually exceptional foreign students are chosen? By making need-aware admission decisions, to what extent are we contributing to the unequal allocation of educational resources in China discussed above, and therefore the overall social inequality, whether inadvertently and indirectly? Those are the serious problems that Brown and other elite colleges will soon face as international academic communications deepen.


To close, I would like to tell another true story that I experienced.

In May, June and October, flights from Nanjing to Hong Kong are filled with students from my school taking the SAT. In May 2008, one of my classmates waited in the first-class lounge with her parents. Her father boasted to the parent of another student: “I am a member of the Harvard Board of Trustees!”

One year later, this girl got offers from nearly 30 top U.S. colleges. However, having watched her interview on CCTV, my former chemistry teacher commented: “Who is she? I never knew this girl in our grade.”

In 2011, another interview of this girl and her friends, by Rui — incidentally, their fellow Yale alum — was broadcasted on CCTV Financial Channel.



The author graduated from Brown in 2014 with a degree in computer science-economics and is starting his career in Menlo Park, California, this fall. To contact him, email


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