After having had for a long time admiration of those who went to school, with school bags and red scarves, I joined them at last in February 1973. My excitement was indescribable.
The school was newly established. In the first year, there were no decent classrooms or offices. Rooms for these purposes were borrowed from local residents.
Even so, all the usual rules and regulations were there to follow. For example, no lateness for classes, no early leave from school, no talking and no playing in lessons. We had to show respect for the teachers. When our teacher entered the classroom, we should stand up and say (shout, actually): "Good morning (or afternoon), Teacher." And the teacher would reply "good morning/afternoon, boys and girls". Only then could we sit down.
Every day after school, we would have to sweep the floor and wipe the desk. We did this by turns. Those who did the cleaning were called "pupils on duty". Even today, schools in China don’t employ cleaners to clean the classrooms. Pupils take the responsibility for keeping their classrooms neat and tidy.
Our form teacher was a pretty young lady, Miss Mao. She was very strict, so all the children were afraid of her, but our parents were impressed by her firmness. Indeed, there is a saying in China: 'a strict teacher has good students'.
Miss Mao looked after everything for us while we were in school. She often visited the pupils' houses to communicate with the parents about their children's school performance. These visits to our homes were even more scary than seeing Miss Mao in the classroom: We feared that Miss Mao had come because she had something bad about us to report.
The school started early, about eight in the morning. We had to do morning exercises followed by 20 minutes morning reading - and this was before the start of class. The class monitor - chosen by Miss Mao - took care of the morning reading. Morning reading means the whole class reading aloud whatever was being taught. It could be anything: Chinese texts, poems, times tables; sometimes even English words and phrases. It was boring for the children and sometimes I just pretended to do it, moving my mouth without making any noise. Even so, it was really very useful, and to be honest it gradually became a daily habit for me. I followed this habit until I went to university.
Primary school life was easy and happy. Five years later, I took the middle school entrance examination in Anqing city and got the highest marks, which guaranteed me a place in Anqing No.1 Middle School (a provincial key school). In the 1950s this school was inspected by Chairman Mao, something which made the school very proud indeed. My family moved to another city in Anhui Province, Huaibei, the next year and I joined Huaibei No.1 Middle School.
The last year in junior and senior middle school was stressful. In order to get a place in a senior middle school and a good university, most of the students worked very hard. The pupils in Chinese School are no different from the way we were - the Gao Kao has always been the most important task for teachers, students and parents. We were immersed in a sea of a range of studying and exams.
My parents did almost everything for me, allowing me to have more time to study. The flat we lived in at the time was so small my parents even gave up watching the television for fear it would distract my attention. Life was simple and dull. We were not expected to think or do anything else but study. It was worth it, though, as I passed all my exams and won a place to study for a degree. I didn’t realize that life could be colourful until I went to university.