Anxiety sends Chinese to temples as college exam nears

2008-06-05 04:13:35 GMT       2008-06-05 12:13:35 (Beijing Time)       Xinhua English

BEIJING, June 5 (Xinhua) -- Lately, gray-haired grandmother Sun Qiantui has found herself in the company of teenagers as she prays to the Buddha in Yonghegong (the Lama Temple) in northeast Beijing.

"They are holding Buddha's feet (a Chinese proverb meaning seeking help at the last moment), with only two days left before the national college entrance exam," the 70-year-old pensioner said, smiling, as she burned joss sticks at the temple gate.

"This is for my grandson, who will take the exam from June 6 to 8," said Sun. She was praying because the boy was too busy do it himself.

Ministry of Education statistics show that more than 11 million people have applied for this year's exam, which will enroll 5.99 million students.

But for Chen Tianfei, Sun's grandson, those big numbers don't mean much.

"I applied at Tsinghua University, but I hear that it has not enlarged its intake this year," said the 17-year-old boy. "My chances are slim."

He said that many of his classmates went to temples in Beijing." Hongluo Temple, Tanzhe Temple and some small ones," he said, adding that most just want to relax before the most important exam in their 18 years of life.

Sun said that she had originally planned to go to the Confucian Temple in east Shandong Province but heard that joss sticks were forbidden there, so she turned to Yonghegong.

Confucian temples, also known as Scholar temples, were built in many cities to commemorate Confucius (551-479 BC), the renowned educator of ancient China and "teacher of all teachers."

It's a centuries-old practice in China to pray to Confucius before a major exam, and Confucian temples get large crowds of high school seniors and their parents before the annual ritual of college entrance exams. For example, Biluo Temple in Nanjing received about 200 visitors daily in the past 10 days, more than twice the number on normal days.

In the souvenir shop at Yonghegong, matriculation themes are popular. Golden plastic plates trimmed with red silk lace are priced from 50 yuan (about 7 U.S. dollars) to 1,600 yuan.

Plates are not always enough. Some students turn to on-line fortune tellers to predict their scores.

Psychologists seem to agree that temple visits can release tension, but there are other things to consider.

"Sometimes, children may become low-spirited after returning from the temple, and it will interfere with their performance in the exam," said Ma Ziyue, an expert of the Beijing Psychology Consultant Center.

"Maybe it's a bit late, but it's still necessary to tell children that God only helps those who help themselves," said Ma.

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