The American Dream and The (Ancient) Chinese Dream

One thing I like about America is the idea of American Dream. This idea is empowering to many people because in the land of the opportunities, if you work hard, you have a share of opportunity to success. And one major part of this success is pretty much simple- a life with better living standards than that of Mom and Dad's.

So I think, is there a similar idealism in the Chinese culture?

Growing up in Hong Kong, I watched so many TV dramas of Chinese history. There were usually three kinds of heroes that were featured in different shows- the general who fought hard to protect the country, a young martial artist who accidentally learned a powerful martial art skills, or a poor scholar who studied really hard for the Imperial examinations and became the number 1 first class in the exam. (狀元)

I think the Chinese Dream has a significant tie to the Imperial Examinations. As you know, China has always been a vast and populated country. In order to manage the country well, it needs a number of government officials. Since there are so many people in the country, one of the easiest way to select the best is through a fierce examination system.

So if you can do well in the Imperial Examinations and be the #1 in first class, that's your ticket to success, (if you were born in China two hundred years ago).

According to the Wikipedia,

"there are vast numbers of examples in Chinese history in which individuals moved from a low social status to political prominence through success in imperial examination...

In late traditional China, then, education was valued in part because of its possible pay-off in the examination system...

Even though only a small fraction (about 5 percent) of those who attempted the examinations passed them and received titles, the studying and the hope of eventual success on a subsequent examination served to sustain the interest of those who took them."

(Hmm....5% of the pass rate? That will make the "difficult" actuarial exams appear to be child play as an average actuarial exam pass rate is around 35-50%. )

The Imperial Examinations has been existed in China for about 1300 years. To me, if something can exist that long in a nation, it is deeply rooted in the culture. Though the Imperial Examinations has been abolished in 20th Century, the concept of success through advancement of success is still widely spread.

Every year, when the Hong Kong A-Level results release, the HK newspaper interviews those who had straight As and referred them as 狀元. Sometimes I wonder where the straight As students end up working at 10 years from now. ;)

Looking back at this piece of Chinese history, I believe that my ability to survive through the school exams and hopefully all the actuarial exams is culturally-related. (It's in my blood! :))

Here's a pair of dui lian (Double sentences) (对联) that describes the student's attitude towards the Imperial Exam:

十年寒窗没人问, 一举成名天下知

It means, "Nobody cares if you studied very hard for 10 years, but everyone knows it when you become a Number 1 in the first class."