BEIJING: China's pressure-cooker college entrance examinations may be over, but talk about it is far from over, not least on the essay topics.
In Beijing, the poser was 'Looking up to the starry skies and keeping down-to-earth', which many students interpreted as meaning that one should have lofty goals and a pragmatic outlook, the Global Times reported.
In the north-eastern province of Shandong, would-be undergraduates had to grapple with 'The change of light and shadow in one's life', while their counterparts in Jiangsu, the prosperous coastal province, were quizzed on how to live a 'Green life'.
The essay accounts for 60 out of a total of 150 points awarded for the first part of the Chinese paper in this year's two-day exams, which ended yesterday.
Given that every point counts in an exam that is the sole determinant of whether students get into a university, nationwide discussion - and sometimes criticism - invariably follows as soon as the last script has been collected.
This year's topics have generally been praised as more relevant to real life, unlike previous years' 'overly abstract' questions, the Global Times said.
'In the past, students were asked to summarise a paragraph of reading material to get their inspiration and then write on a topic of their choice, but this year the given topic is easier to understand,' Beijing candidate Yang Mengdi told the Global Times.
Another youth, Wang Boyan, said he was 'not very nervous' after finishing his Chinese paper. 'The test is not very hard,' he said, according to Xinhua news agency.
Mr Liang Xinjie, a Beijing senior high school teacher with 17 years of teaching experience, said the topic presumably aimed to imbue in teenagers a sense of responsibility.
'The topic for Beijing students teaches us to be responsibility- conscious and not be fastidious and demanding,' Mr Liang said.
While every province chooses its own essay topics, the themes generally focus on trends and traditional moral standards, a report by Beijing Youth Daily said on Monday. About half of the topics were about current social affairs.
The essay topics are very close to the current situation in China, which is in a transition period, Mr Yu Da, a scholar of ancient Chinese literature at Beijing Normal University, told the China National Radio.
The topics were meant to prompt students to observe society and reflect upon some social phenomenon, Mr Yu added.
Lin Shaohua, a student in Shandong, said he found the 'light and shadow' subject very philosophical.
'This topic is about the ups and downs one will experience in life. One needs to be strong when having low ebbs,' Shaohua said.
Indeed, many candidates will need the strength: About 68 per cent of the 9.57 million students taking the test this year are expected to pass, but for many of the rest, failure means a future of low-paying jobs.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.