You think the rivalry between Pierson and Davenport gets a little out of hand? You haven’t met the students in China yet.
Before I continue, let me briefly explain how the student body is structured in Chinese high schools. When they matriculate, students are usually placed into a ban, or class. For example, Senior 1 students at Yali are split into twenty bans, each with sixty students. This seemingly innocuous step actually has an enormous impact on the student’s experience at the school. After all, the student will be taking every single academic class with other students of the same ban for the rest of his or her time at the school. Furthermore, not all bans are equal. Unlike how Yale “randomly” places its students into a residential college, Chinese students are placed into a ban based on their high school entrance exam scores. Thus, the highest-scoring students are placed in top bans and usually have more academic opportunities (along with a heavier workload, of course).
Conveniently, the ban system also serves as an easy structure for ban competitions. What are ban competitions? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Throughout the year, the school holds major events, pitting the bans against each other. Sometimes, they are academic. For example, the average exam scores from each ban are posted on school walls, ranked from highest to lowest. Students take pride in their ban performing well. Other times, the competitions involve creative or musical talents. In fact, one of the ban I teach won the grade-wide singing competition. They got to represent the school at the provincial level, where they won second place. I’d like to say that I had something to do with their success, but I would be lying to myself.
Furthermore, ban competitions are not limited to the classrooms and performance halls. More often than not, they spill out onto the field. In the Fall, classes are canceled as students sprint around the 350m track, toss javelins, and cleared hurdles. As the temperatures drop precipitously, students move from the track field to the basketball court. The boys don on matching gear while the girls make up cheers on the spot. When Spring begin teasing us with its warmth and its blooming buds, the class competition returns to the field for an onslaught of tug-of-war and jump-rope contests.
Even the students who are not blessed with athletic prowess do not sit idly by. They tirelessly write inspirational and encouraging messages to be broadcasted over the intercom, because exceptional messages are also awarded points that count towards the final tally.
Students sweat and bleed. They leave everything on the field, and occasionally, they themselves have to be carried off. This is all to earn glory and bragging rights for their fellow ban-mates. Does this all sound familiar? I guess they aren’t so different from us after all.
Editor’s Note: Students in Xiuning are also divided into ban, with similar competitions.