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Symbol of grit and hope are these quake pupils
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Shi Lu has braved a number of aftershocks to take her National College Entrance Exams in Ningqiang county of Shaanxi province.

Though the May 12 earthquake devastated Sichuan province, it caused damage in Shaanxi too. And aftershocks have rocked that province since then, sending shivers down residents' spine.

It's under such circumstances that Shi and 1,920 other middle school graduates wrote the tests in 70 makeshift centers yesterday and on Saturday.

Though Ningqiang, bordering Sichuan, was the epicenter of a 5.7 magnitude aftershock on May 27, Shaanxi decided not to follow Sichuan and Gansu in postponing the all-important exams.

Students in Lueyang, another badly hit county, also took the exams.

Shi, a graduate of Ningqiang No 1 Middle School, says: "I'm not nervous because of the aftershocks. The pre-fabricated structures are quite safe and the exams are important they can change my life."

Despite her conviction, an element of fear is evident in her and other students' eyes. And there is nothing unnatural about it.

The makeshift exam centers on the sports ground of Ningqiang No 1 Middle School were completed on Tuesday, after which the authorities held a drill for emergency evacuation.

"Passing the exams is the only way we students in the mountains can get into a university," says Shi's schoolmate Wang Guoshan.

For Shen Chuanjun, a student of Ningqiang's Yanzibian town, the exams mean something more. "I want to change my family's fortunes by entering a university," the middle school graduate says.

Another student, Bai Huajun, is fairly satisfied with the composition he wrote for the Chinese test on Saturday. "The title of my piece was 'Facing the disaster'. I hope people in my hometown, as well as in Sichuan, will overcome the grief soon and rebuild their lives," says the 18-year-old.

He wants to enter Southwest Normal University in Chongqing to study education. "Higher education is free there. More importantly, I want to learn Sichuan dialect and become a teacher in one of the quake-hit areas."

The courage shown by the students has surprised even their parents. "We haven't slept peacefully in the makeshift shelters We get jittery whenever we experience an aftershock. And it's disturbing to see my daughter study in a tent under temperatures above 40 C and without enough sleep," says 42-year-old Wang Wanying, waiting for her daughter Chen Chunnan outside one of the exam centers.

"That's why I was really surprised when my daughter told me that she wanted to enter a university in Sichuan so that she could help people there in her spare time. I was moved to tears to know she was more concerned about the quake victims in Sichuan, even though she had suffered in the quake."

About 10.5 million students have written the national college exams, the highest number for such an exam in the world, and according to the Ministry of Education, only 5.99 million will be able to enter college.

(China Daily June 9, 2008)

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