I am glad to announce that the panel I organized for the upcoming Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) in 2018, “Displaced Youth: Migration, Education, and The Young Generations in China’s Post-Mao Era,” is accepted by the conference.
Here is the abstract of my paper, “Changing Fate: Rural Youth and the Resumption of the Merit-based Examinations in the late 1970s and the early 1980s.”
In 1977, Chinese government resumed the College Entrance Examination (gaokao), which by then had been abolished for 11 years. The College Entrance Examination, together with other merit-based examinations held by local governments in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, created new life chances for rural youth to cross the urban/rural divide and achieve upward social mobility in post-Mao China. This paper examines the life histories of those rural youths who succeeded in the merit-based examinations. It focuses on their experiences of taking the exams and receiving higher or professional education—according to their own words, the decisive events that “changed their fate.”
Based on ethnographic data, historical archives, and life history interviews with 41 then-rural-youths, the paper probes the meanings that underpin these former rural youths’ claims that the exams have changed their fate. I argue that “changing fate” for the rural youths involved a profound shift of value orientations and the experiences differed along the gender line. While the state’s grand narrative emphasizes the new educational opportunities provided by the exams, the former rural youths’ narratives focus more on the adjustment to an individualistic value and an emerging sense of uncertainty triggered by a mechanism of competition. Meanwhile, although both male and female narrators framed their life stories similarly, female narrators constantly encountered more structural obstacles in their pursuit of life opportunities and their fate-changing endeavors were very often compromised and incomplete.