Mr Shi, a self-made millionaire, has taken the gruelling “gaokao” exam dozens of times over the past four decades.
After failing to achieve a high enough score on China’s dreaded college entry exam for the 27th time, 56-year-old Liang Shi is beginning to wonder if he will ever make it to his dream university.
Mr Shi, a self-made millionaire, has taken the gruelling “gaokao” exam dozens of times over the past four decades, hoping to earn a place at top-tier Sichuan University and fulfil his ambition of becoming “an intellectual”.
By most measures, Liang has had a successful life — he worked his way up from a menial job on a factory floor to establishing his own construction materials business, making millions of yuan in the process, but his university dreams have so far eluded him.
In his quest for a prestigious higher education, he has put in 12-hour study days, abstained from drinking and playing mahjong, and endured the media mocking him as the “gaokao holdout”, as well as online suspicion that it is all a publicity stunt.
But despite months of living like “an ascetic monk”, this year Liang was 34 points short of the provincial baseline for getting into any university.
“Before I got the result, I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be able to get a high enough score to enter an elite university,” he told AFP.
“But I didn’t expect to not make it into the ordinary ones.”
Shortly before 10 pm Friday — along with hundreds of thousands of high-school students across southwestern Sichuan province — the grey-haired businessman carefully typed in his exam identification information and nervously waited to find out how he’d done.
Several local media reporters live streaming the scene were also avidly checking for updates — and from their disappointed expressions, Liang knew before he even saw the screen himself that the result was not ideal.
“It’s all done for again this year,” he said to himself. “It’s very regrettable.”
In the past, Liang’s repeated misses failed to deter him.
Every time he fell short, he vowed to try again the next year.
Now, for the first time in decades, he is wondering if his hard work will ever lead to anything.
“If I truly can’t see much hope for improvement, there is no point doing it again. I really did work very hard every day,” he said tiredly.
“It’s hard to say whether I will keep on preparing for the gaokao next year,” he admitted.
But a life without gaokao preparation is almost unthinkable to him.
“It’s a hard decision to make. I am not willing to give up either,” he mused.