This year, passing China’s biggest exam involves waxing eloquent about Xi Jinping’s philosophy

Zheping Huang:

This morning in China more than 9 million students across the country took the notoriously grueling college-entrance exam that will, for many, set the course of their lives. The first part, anyway—part two of the gaokao, as it’s known in Chinese, comes tomorrow.

The morning session was about Chinese language and literature and entailed writing an 800-character essay—a test of one’s writing and argument skills. In recent years, topics have ranged from choosing a life path to describing one’s feelings about a buzzword. Politics have not been front and center.

The big topic this year? The philosophy of Xi Jinping. Of the nine essay questions asked across the nation—there are some regional variations—five were directly related to propaganda terms put forward by the Chinese president. The questions were published today by state media (link in Chinese), shortly after the test. The ideology-oriented themes echoed those from the era of Mao Zedong, who once terminated the gaokao for a decade as part of a movement against intellectuals.