By Shi Jing and Chen Jia
SHANGHAI - Blessing cards reading "wish me good luck in the upcoming national College Entrance Exam" were waving in the summer breeze at the Confucius Temple in Shanghai on Sunday.
"The exam season is our busiest period every year," said a middle-aged lady selling tickets at the entrance of the temple.
However, on Sunday there were few people lining up to kowtow or burn incense in front of the figure of Confucius, in sharp contrast to the bustling second-hand book market located right inside the temple.
But the blessing cards hanging on the shelves outside the Dacheng Hall, the major hall of the temple, were explicit signs that a great number of students, as well as their parents, had been seeking blessings from the sage for the forthcoming exams. As there were too many wishes and too little space, some of the cards had been attached to the twigs of the camphor tree outside the hall.
This year's national College Entrance Exam start on Monday and judging from the dates written on the blessing cards many of the candidates had visited the temple a week ago.
Addressing Confucius as "Your highness", the supplicants wrote carefully their wishes, the target universities and even the candidates' exam registration numbers. And almost every card had such words as "Wish me quick thinking and an extraordinary performance in the National College Entrance Exam". Some of the cards had clearly been written by anxious parents.
Aside from blessing cards, key rings with a portrait of Confucius printed or carved sold extremely well this year. Priced at 9, 29 or 35 yuan each, most of the buyers are parents of the candidates, according to the middle-aged owner of the souvenir shop.
Similar stories can be found in many other cities in China. Besides visiting the Lama Temple, a lady, surnamed Cheng in Beijing, worships in a Catholic Church once a week and pays homage to Buddha at her house on a daily basis.
To make sure that her daughter can have an extra half-hour sleep every day, the mother has rented a house near the girl's school, leaving the father to live by himself for about six months.
Zhu Yu, a candidate from Guangzhou, said her first mission after being admitted to university would be to lose weight. Although she sleeps only five or six hours a day, she has gained 20 kilograms because of her eating habits in her senior year.
"My mom believes that whatever I eat will help to build up that part of my body. Therefore, pig brain appears in my exam diet every week. Although I hate the food, I eat it every time to make my mom feel at ease," said Zhu.
Blessing gel ink pens, either with the Chinese characters qifu (seeking blessing) printed on them or said to be blessed by Confucius, have seen their prices online almost double as sales soared last month.
Cui Tian, a student from Qingdao, recently received five such pens from his relatives as gifts to bring him good luck. But he said he feels nervous every time he sees the pens, for he fears that he will let his parents down if he cannot meet their expectations.
"I am not sure whether the pens will bring me good luck or not. But I am bringing them to the examination room anyway," said Cui.
Bao Leiping, a research fellow with the youth research institute of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said the blessing cards and gifts reveal the stress of attending the national College Entrance Exam still exists despite the ongoing education reforms.