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The Cult of Gaokao

Gaokao, which is the National College Entrance Examination, is a standardized test held annually in the People's Republic of China. 
As a standardized test, Gaokao purposes to ensure a happy life in the future. However, is it the right path to happiness? 
Happiness means the right to choose, but standardized tests even disable some people's potential possibilities.

The situation seems like being in a cult. Cult is when people accessively admire something. An attribute of cult mentioned by Steve Hassan is that cults intend to make people believe the outside world is not happier than the inside.

This cultural concept of Mianzi imprisons people's happiness. Mianzi is a word that originated from Chinese that means a cultural understanding of respect, honor, and social standing. People may give up anything to save mianzi, which the successful outside look is more important than their own quality of life. In Gaokao, the test score is the way to gain Mianzi. 

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Thesis Statement
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The two main deliverables are:

The two main solutions are:

1. a way to simulate real life. So I developed a game called Life Test.

2. a playful way to learn about other essentials that are missing in the test. So, I created a book called Post-Gaokao Atlas.

I divided both solutions into two parts: the hot magenta part and the cool teal part.

The main audience of my project is the test takers who have just come to their adulthood. Rather than providing a solid answer or knowledge, my project is more inspirational.

Both the game and the book are available in both analog format and digital format. Here are some views of the Post-Gaokao Atlas Website Interface.

The game is ideally delivered in the digital format which is more accessible and intuitive.

There is also a demo of part of the game I coded with Javascript that is ready to play. The playable game is here:

(Recommend using a laptop. Might not work perfectly on phones.)

Playing on phone, copy this link: 

Basketball code reference: rjgilmour

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I divided both solutions into two parts: the hot magenta part and the cool teal part. Red banners are often used in China to promote agitative ideas. I changed from the old slogan "if you didn't die yet because of studying, study until you die." to "live for your own happiness" even on a round green banner.

Post-Gaokao Atlas
book design

These two parts of this book are back to back when given to the students.

The content of the book is mainly developed by myself. Yes, I am the original author and editor of the book.


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In the magenta part, I showcase the existing phenomena in different aspects. The color magenta represents the color of the scantron card students use in their Gaokao test so that it has a strong visual connection. I am Using this visual element to reference the red banners in China.



In the other section, I am using teal color to contrast the first section. 
Spreads are reflecting each other in both parts. Here, I wrote two versions of the Gaokao Doctrine that reveal the existing and ideal Gaokao thoughts.



You can find the two slogan spreads. "if you didn't die yet because of studying, study until you die." and "live for your own happiness".



Last, you will see the odd way high school students in China speak English and the right way we use English.


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For every chapter of the teal part, I designed some icons to reflect their themes. Mirrors for Know Myself, phones and gifts for Know Others, houses, cars and, bills for The Real Society, and a space scene for Broad Mind because there is nothing broader than space.



Previously in the magenta part, I designed a sudoku game metaphorically shows how high school students fill their lives with the nine subjects they study.


Click the following images to see more details.


tabloid design
Post-Gaokao Atlas: Attached Tabloid

This is the attached tabloid that comes with the Post-Gaokao Atlas.

It is also interactive, which includes a Stress Relief Scantron Card for creativity and a QR code blind box for exploring the world.

The students can go wild with it.

table game design
Life Test Game (Table Game Version)

The game Life Test has a secondary target audience who is not entirely familiar with the test. to know how life with Gaokao would look like.

Let's start the game!

This image is the starting point of the game. The students will try out a hypothetical life from high school to the age of 33.

This is how you take the test in this game, answer questions on the question cards.


There are also answer sheets mimicking the real aesthetic of the scantron cards.

You also can take a soccer test in the game.


You also will see a card in the game using the exact book cover of a Gaokao training bible book that students have a strong connection to.

Then, you become an adult. You can experience life in colleges.

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What will happen is not always determined. By drawing from this card deck, students will meet a lot of occasions.

I included events such as sexual harassment and employment discrimination. Every selection they make during their Life Test will change their life qualities in different aspects.

There are assigned values to the aspects in the game to visualize the effects. However, they are not evaluable in real life.


At last, the game asks them to look back on the life path, see everything they've owned and lost, and finally judge whether they had a happy life or not.

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Other Works

other works
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