Opinions on Gāokǎo exams - "countryside pigs", cheating rats and free-range farming

Slow Chinese Newsletter 每周漫闻


Welcome to the Slow Chinese newsletter 每周漫闻.

It’s a weekly serving of new words, phrases, idioms and colloquialisms lovingly prepared for learners of Chinese who don’t have the time to keep their language going.

This week’s topic is 高考 (Gāokǎo), China’s annual university entrance exams which took place on Monday and Tuesday this week. A record-breaking 10.78 million teenagers took them.

My Gāokǎo words of the week all have an agricultural theme….

  1. Video of the week: Before Gaokao - a controversial student speech

    土猪拱白菜 (Tǔ zhū gǒng báicài) - a countryside pig digging up cabbages

  2. Colloquialism of the week: what to call somebody who cheats in Gaokao

    一粒老鼠屎坏了一锅粥 (Yī lì lǎoshǔ shǐ huàile yīguōzhōu) - one rat shit ruined the pot of porridge

  3. Word of the week: Gaokao views from parents…

    放养教育 (Fàngyǎng jiàoyù) - ‘free-range’ education

    Also, some Gaokao idioms…

    奋笔疾书 (Fèn bǐ jíshū) - wield one’s writing brush energetically

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A special thank you to two readers this week who shared 每周漫闻 with a mailing list of students of Chinese in the UK. I really appreciate your help, and delighted to welcome so many new arrivals to the community!

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1. Video of the week: a controversial speech before Gaokao

This impressive ten minute speech is worth a watch for language learners.

The speaker is Zhāng Xīfēng 张锡峰, a 17-year-old high school senior from Hebei Province, in a competition for aspiring motivational speakers which aired last week.

He captures the feelings of many teenagers from the countryside ahead of the Gaokao:


We are not Gaokao machines. We want to become the pride of our parents, working hard to become the person they hoped we would become [and create a better lives for ourselves]

He dropped a metaphor that upset some netizens as pointed out in an excellent piece in SupChina:

… during the speech, he called himself “a countryside pig determined to ruin cabbages in urban areas.” This description raised a number of eyebrows among internet users, who said the statement was disturbing, overly aggressive, and possibly sexist.

What he said:

我就是一只来自乡下的土猪,也要立志去了大城市里的白菜 - I’m just a country pig determined to make it to the big city where I’ll dig up cabbages

  • It’s from the colloquialism:

    小猪拱白菜 (Xiǎo zhū gǒng báicài) - ‘a pig digs up cabbages’; it’s a derogatory/sexist phrase describing a bad boy (小猪 - pig) who finds a good girlfriend (白菜 - cabbage) that is way out of his league

    It can also be shortened to 猪拱白菜 (Zhū gǒng báicài) - ‘pig-dig-cabbage’

    Another one that means the same thing:

    鲜花插在牛粪上 (Xiānhuā chā zài niú fèn shàng) - a fresh flower on top of cow shit

  • Comments of unforgiving grumpy netizens included:

    以后我女儿一定要远离这样的人 - in the future [I will] make sure my daughter is kept well away from this kind of boy

I think this netizen and others missed the point; Zhang is talking about - in a self-deprecating way - wanting to make a better life for himself in the city.

Useful Idioms

There are at least ten idioms in the speech.

I managed to control my idiom addiction and just collated ones about the gap between rich and poor kids graduating from Gaokao in cities.

  • 寒门出贵子 (Hánmén chū guìzǐ) - it is possible to succeed even if you’re from a poor family

    人们说,寒门出贵子,这到底是不是一个笑话?- people say that it’s possible to succeed and be from a poor family. Is this a joke?

  • 纨绔子弟 (Wánkù zǐdì) - rich playboy

    富人家的孩子,就只是那些不知进取混吃等死的纨绔子弟 - kids from rich families are rich playboys not hungry [to better themselves], drifting aimlessly

    Two useful bonus idioms here:

    • 不知进取 (Bùzhī jìnqǔ) - not enterprising, not hungry

    • 混吃等死 (Hùn chī děng sǐ) - eating whatever, waiting to die

  • 不甘平淡 (Bùgān píngdàn) - reject being normal

    他的眼睛容不下黑暗,他不甘平淡 - their eyes will no longer let the darkness in; they reject [the idea of] becoming normal

  • 周而复始 (Zhōu'érfùshǐ) - ‘over and over’; here it means the life of a poor and ‘ordinary’ person in the city [very useful one!]

    拿着两三(千)元的薪水周而复始 - working day after day for a wage of 2-3,000 RMB [in the speech he drops the thousand 千 for rhetorical effect]

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2. Colloquialism of the week: what to call somebody who cheats in Gaokao

On Monday a student from Hebei was caught cheating.

He used the app, 小猿搜题 (Little Monkey Search Questions), to find answers to maths questions in his test, which in theory is not possible due to the signal blockers (信号屏蔽仪) in the area.

The media were not sympathetic:

  • 我们绝不能让几颗老鼠屎破坏整个大环境 - we cannot let a small number rat shits spoil the whole environment

It’s a play on words of the original colloquialism:

  • 一粒老鼠屎坏了一锅粥 (Yī lì lǎoshǔ shǐ huàile yīguōzhōu) - “one rat shit ruined the pot of porridge” [don’t forget that lǎo and shǔ both become second tone!]

    • What’s the English equivalent idiom?

    ‘One bad apple’ (‘rotten’ in Chinese - 烂苹果) - someone who creates problems or causes trouble for others, leading them astray.

    But, a Chinese rat shit is someone that spoils the whole environment for everyone else. Slightly different.

    • Is a rat shit a 颗 (Kē) or a 粒 (Lì)?

    Both are used to count small round things, such as grains of rice, or rat turds. Combined (颗粒 - Kēlì) also means small round things.

    A is slightly bigger than a , and used more broadly and to count bigger things such as a heart (一颗心) or a bomb (一颗炸弹).

    So this boy is not just any rat shit, but a big one.

Useful words

Two good Internet words….

  • 槽点 (Cáo diǎn) - internet word for ‘what people are ranting about’ - from 吐槽 (to rant - 8 May newsletter).

    可以说这是一次槽点满满的作弊 - one could say that this is an issue that lots of people have a problem with [and are ranting about in different ways]

  • 网传 (Wǎng chuán) - rumours on the Internet

    此前网传这位同学拍照用的是高科技微型眼镜 - there were rumours on the Internet that the student used some kind of high-tech glasses [to cheat]


  • 拍题作弊 (Pāi tí zuòbì) - cheating in an exam using an app [you could say this is a modern idiom]

    湖北考生拍题作弊 - a Hubei exam student was found to have cheated by using an app on his phone

    Older ‘proper idioms’ with the same structure:

    • 徇私作弊 (Xúnsī zuòbì) - cheating to win favour

    • 营私作弊 (Yíngsī zuòbì) - cheating for personal gain

  • 事情败露 (Shìqíng bàilù) - the crime has been discovered, exposed

    工作人员监测后台时发现了,直接向相关部门举报,事情败露 - back-end workers found out what was going on and reported him, he was exposed.

  • 匪夷所思 (Fěiyísuǒsī) - incredulous; incredible [see 17 April newsletter]

    所以说这名学生到底是怎么做到的,实在令人匪夷所思 - how this student even managed to do this is something that has got people wondering / thinking


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3. Gaokao views from parents - free-range education (放养教育 - Fàngyǎng jiàoyù)?

Readers of this newsletter will know about 内卷 (Nèi juǎn) ‘involution’ - intense social competition - and 鸡娃 (Jī wá), ‘chicken babies’ - kids with pushy parents (both in 1 May newsletter).

Interviews with parents outside a pilot test centre in Hefei, in which several hundred students get a fast track into the province’s Science and Technology University, explained that not all parents are chicken-baby-ers.

Useful words

Three useful words about different approaches to education:

  • 练兵 (Liànbīng) - ‘military training’, opportunity to grow and improve

    It’s used for individuals but more often for teams as a way to persuade young 996-ers that working intensely for long periods is good for them.

    考不上就当是一场‘练兵- if they fail it’s still a great experience

  • 放养 (Fàngyǎng) - ‘raise livestock’, breed animals or free range.

    In this context it means ‘free range’, or allowing the child to have more freedom

    不是“鸡娃”而是“放养” - it's not chicken baby-ing, it’s free-range cultivating [of kids]


    • 放羊教育 (Fàngyáng jiàoyù) - ‘free range education’, [the opposite of chicken baby education (鸡娃教育)]

  • 秘籍 (Mìjí) - tips, special tricks, tricks of the trade

    虽然都没有“鸡娃秘籍”,但小孩需要引导是两人的共识 - I don’t have any special ‘chicken baby tips’, but the need to guide the child [properly] is agreed by us both


Three idioms you need to know to talk about Gaokao (and pretend you know what you’re on about):

  • 奋笔疾书 (Fèn bǐ jíshū) - wield one’s writing brush energetically

    孩子们在考场内奋笔疾书,家长们也在考场外闲聊 - children are in the exam room, writing franticly. Parents are outside chatting aimlessly.

  • 金榜题名 (Jīnbǎng tímíng) - passed the exam; one's name was put on the published list of successful candidates

    小朱今年中考金榜题名,乐得一家人欢天喜地 - on seeing the published exam results, Little Zhu’s parents were over the moon

  • 名列前茅 (Míng liè qián máo) - amoung the best

    上次考试,他的成绩在班里名列前茅 - in the last test, he was amoung the top students


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Finally, two corrections from recent newsletters spotted by expert readers:

  • 段子 (Duàn zi) from last week’s newsletter

    I translated this as ‘text’ which is wrong. It’s a versatile word which can mean: meme, post, joke or banter.

    So, the sentence should be translated as:

    段子更是漫天飞 - this meme/post was everywhere online

    It can also mean a ‘gag’, or even standup comedian. For example,

    • 杨笠是讲段子的 - Yang Li is a standup comedian

    • 这段子什么梗? - what’s the gag here?

  • 种草 (Zhòng cǎo) - ‘planting grass’ from 29 May newsletter. I translated this as ‘targeted selling’, which could not be more wrong….

    From a reader who speaks brilliant Chinese and knows her stuff when it comes to influencer marketing:

    种草 is better translated as ‘seeding’.

    And 李佳琦 is not really 种草.

    It’s really the idea of mass seeding by ‘KOC’ across Red (小红书) etc.

    Seeding and KOC definition from Jing Daily - edited for brevity:

    “Product seeding” through KOCs is the process of identifying potential KOCs [Key Opinion Consumers - or micro-influencers] on Xiaohongshu sending out gifted products to them. The idea is the brand can get free exposure from KOC reviews and arrange future KOC paid campaigns.

    [Two experts quoted in this article are also readers of this newsletter!]

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That’s it for this week. 

Thanks for reading. 

I’ll see you in your inbox around the same time next Saturday. 


  1. Please do help share this newsletter with fellow Chinese learners and China watchers… this really helps me.

  2. If you discover any interesting new words, or find articles or news stories you think would be good for this newsletter please share them! (the second article this week was a tip off from one plugged-in reader).

  3. And if you spot any mistakes please tell me where I’ve got it wrong. I’ll correct them.

Thank you!

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