When Gaokao (the toughest exam in China) meets IP

This Kat sees her role as ‘Asia correspondent for The IPKat’ as (at least) twofold: reporting on specific laws and court decisions, and explaining the social context in which the law stands. With that in mind, this post presents you with an issue that has a bit less of an IP flavour per se, but is nonetheless useful to understand IP education in China. This post is about the common nightmare life-changing exam of our generation: Gaokao. 

Gaokao (高考) is the college entrance examination in China. It is comparable to the American SAT and the British A-levels, though is arguably even more difficult. In recent years, Gaokao scores have been accepted by a handful foreign universities, e.g. Cambridge University, University of New Hampshire, New York University, University of Sydney, though gradually more and more Western institutions are following suit.

Every June, third grade Chinese high school students attend this two-day nationwide exam. If you have ever been to China, you may have noticed the two days of sudden strict silence: no honking, no construction work, no ambulances, policemen diverting traffic around schools etc. Such unanimous peace and quiet shows the love and dedication of every citizen to those students who are trying their best to grab the opportunity of attending a good university and enjoying brighter career prospects or, simply put, achieving a better way of life. 
Volunteers maintain order outside the exam rooms. The sign reads: 'Please keep quiet during Gaokao.'

Gaokao competition is extremely fierce: often it is compared to ‘thousands of soldiers and horses trying to get across a foot log’. The reality is certainly harsher than ‘thousands’: this year alone a total of 10.31 million students registered to sit Gaokao (source: The Ministry of Education of China). In 2018, the number was 9.75 million, an increase of 350,000 on the 2017 figure. 

The overall annual acceptance rate seems to have improved significantly (around 80% in the past 4 years), yet what everyone wants is undoubtedly not only a ‘basic’ admission, but a good one, meaning gaining a place at one of the top universities in China, i.e. the ‘211 or 985 Universities’. The chance of winning? Taking Shandong Province (this Kat’s hometown) as an example, in 2018 there were 592,000 students who signed up for Gaokao, and the acceptance rates for 211 and 985 universities were just 4.44% and 1.47%, respectively. This Kat can still vividly remember those days when she and her classmates studied from 7am–10pm, six and a half days a week, for three years (my palms still get sweaty thinking about it now). 



On the 7–8th June the 2019 Gaokao took place and, as usual, it quickly became one of the hottest topics in China. What caught this Kat’s eye is the rise in IP questions on this fate-defining exam. 

In 2018, IP questions (worth 12 points out of 750) appeared in the Gaokao test papers for the first time, and concerned the importance of IP in the transformation of development mode. It asked examinees two multiple choice questions and one essay question: ‘What are the related parties in the promotion of the transformation and industrialization of scientific and technological achievements at colleges, and how should they cooperate to that end? Briefly describe the exact roles of the related parties.’ 

The 2019 Gaokao asked more IP-related questions, such as: 
  • What are the roles of IPRs in promoting the open developments? 
  • Write a proposal for your school on how to strengthen IP education and enhance IPRs. 
  • Explain why the protection of IP entails both legislation and enforcement.
  • Explain why patents should be protected, and why the term of protection should not be indefinite (below is the translated figure). 

What do you think of these questions? Compared with last year, the difficulty has obviously increased. They touched upon not only the concept of IP, but also the top-level design of the related legal system, with an extension into the rational basis of IPR protection. The basic logic lies in that such an important exam would not ask questions that have never been taught in the classroom, which encouraged this Kat to find out how IP education is conducted in China, in particular in the period leading up to Gaokao. 

It is well known that, for a variety of historical reasons, China established IP education programmes at a relatively late date. There was no specific IPR school until June 1995, when the very first one was founded at Peking University and later, in 1996, the first IPR training centre was established. Despite the late start, it is noted by a report published by the Centre for IP Understanding that, ‘it appears that the availability of IP training and education in China has been ramping up quickly and that the nation has consistently improved its score in each edition of the Chamber of Commerce IP index’. By March 2018, 76 universities across the country had set up IP majors at undergraduate level (source: CNIPA). 

China has been committed to raising IPR awareness among young people as well. In 2008, in the Outline of the National IP Strategy, the State Council stressed the importance of the popularisation of IP education. Soon, specific requirements and standards were refined and issued as the ‘IP troika’, namely the Action Plan for the in-Depth Implementation of the National Intellectual Property Strategy (2014-2020) (No. 64 [2014], State Council), the Several Opinions of the State Council on Building a Powerful Intellectual Property Nation under New Conditions (No. 71 [2015], State Council) and the National Plan for the Protection and Use of Intellectual Property Rights in the 13th Five-Year Plan Period (No. 86 [2016], State Council). 

Therefore, in 2015, SIPO (now the CNIPA) and the Ministry of Education jointly launched the Pilot and Demonstration Project of IP Education in primary and secondary schools, to put a clear emphasis on the leading role of IP education. Now there are around 1,000 schools, which cover most of the provinces, being rated as (nationally or provincially) excellent in this topic (for more information visit the ‘IP Education’ section on the CNIPA’s website. Google Translate may be helpful here). IP knowledge has been evident in textbooks for years, so its appearance in Gaokao is hardly surprising. From a utilitarian perspective, since Gaokao is the most important selective examination in China, its great guiding power will definitely motivate the drive for IP education for the youth of China, in a very efficient way. 



Photo courtesies:
The 1st photo: people.com/ChinaNews.com
The 2nd photo: Qianjiang Evening News
When Gaokao (the toughest exam in China) meets IP When Gaokao (the toughest exam in China) meets IP Reviewed by Tian Lu on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 Rating: 5

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