Whatever you think you know about China and the Chinese, forget it. It's time to think again. The children and teachers of the rural town of Xiuning are about to welcome you into their lives, and reveal a place full of vitality, challenges and great humour.
Chinese School discovers just what makes Chinese people tick, what they dream of and what gets a laugh. This is China as the Chinese know it and as the West has never seen it.
This extraordinary series follows a year in the life of Xiuning, from boiling summer to freezing winter. Xiuning is proud of two very different things - tea and teaching.
This is a place where planes are rerouted so they don't break pupils' concentration during exams; where every senior school has its own permanent Communist Party Secretary, and the school year begins with military training from the People's Liberation Army.
But it's also a place where even the coolest children play Mah-jong with granny and traditional gods are worshipped alongside mobile phones, pop music and movie stars.
Episode 1, The Year of Golden Pig, starts as mocks begin for the world's most dreaded exam; the Gao Kao. Pass with flying colours and your future's bright; Fail and you're a peasant for life.
17 year old star student Wu Yufei bears a heavy burden – her school expects her to finish top of the entire Province of more than half a million students. Her mother gives up work purely to cook and care for her daughter in this crucial year.
All the little children at the local charity primary school are boarders selected from the poor mountain villages surrounding town. Leaving families behind is tough, but it gives them a shot at a better life. Recruitment time approaches, but who will the headmistress pick this term?
The town's Middle School students are going on a school trip. With exams looming, one of them invokes an old Chinese saying; "Only happiness learned from suffering is true happiness". But when the class bursts into singing the latest pop hit, for a few minutes at least, the pressure is off and they're like teenagers the world-over.
First broadcast: Tuesday 8 Apr 2008 on BBC TWO