Cramming for graduate school entrance exams is such a serious affair for students hoping to enter China’s competitive job market that literally cramming into a seat to study at the country’s universities has become a battle unto itself. Students at one university have gone so far as to lock chains around their desks and even cause a riot.
A physical fight broke out among students at Shandong University in eastern China on Monday over a disagreement about seats, which have been particularly scarce. According to China Daily, university authorities enacted rules earlier this month that students cramming for their postgraduate exams could only use the classrooms of the departments in which they were enrolled. Students from the university’s College of Liberal Arts reportedly tried to snag seats in a classroom belonging to another college.
University students aren’t the only ones going haywire. Last month, students at a high school in Hunan province became so fed up with the pressure leading up to their university entrance exams that they burned all their books in a huge bonfire.

“There is a huge pressure to find employment in China, and many think going to graduate school is the only way they’ll ever get a job”

Cheng Wenting is a college student in the city of X’ian, in eastern China.
I took the postgraduate admission exam earlier this year. Like most students, I had to scramble for a seat. In my university, however, we usually put bags or stacks of books on the tables to claim them. It was tense, but we never physically fought!
These students must have been really stressed and not very mature. However, I do think universities need to improve access to seating. Most Chinese universities do not have enough seats in their libraries or classrooms, especially in lower-tier universities like Shandong. [For most Chinese students, studying in their dormitories is not a viable option, as these tend to be extremely cramped]. Lower-tier universities, though, have difficulty obtaining funds from the government.
There is a huge pressure to find employment in China, and many think going to graduate school is the only way they’ll ever get a job. More students from lower-tier universities apply to graduate schools because their undergraduate degree is simply not enough to get them good jobs. Besides, some of the big state-run companies and foreign companies write in their recruitment ads that master’s degrees, which generally take three years to complete, are a must.
Chained desks at Shandong university. Photo via Ministry of Tofu.
A note on a desk at Shandong university reads: “I came here to occupy these seats, and I am not afraid to fight. This row is taken. Don’t mess with me. Don’t take this down, thanks!” Photo via Ministry of Tofu.
An example of a crammed classroom where students study for the graduate entrance exam. Photo posted to Chinese social networking site Weibo.
Another ingenious way to save a seat. Photo posted to Chinese social networking site Weibo.