In an unconventional display of determination and ingenuity, a secondary school student in China has become a sensation on social media for his unique approach to studying for the country’s rigorous university entrance exams, known as the gaokao. In a bid to find a peaceful study environment, the student set up an unusual living space under a staircase in a Shanghai shopping mall, which he occupied for over six months.
The video clip showcasing the boy’s compact living quarters, measuring around 10 square meters, went viral on October 30. His makeshift home included a tent with a mattress, a desk, an office chair, and essential electronic devices powered by an inverter attached to a power bank. Despite the limited space, the student maintained a clean and organized environment.
Initially, a mall security guard discovered the boy and learned about his need for a quiet study space to prepare for the highly competitive gaokao exams. The guard, understanding the student’s plight, initially allowed him to stay, expecting him to leave after the exams. However, the boy remained in the space beyond the exam period for reasons unknown.
Netizens on Douyin, a popular Chinese social media platform, expressed admiration and surprise at the boy’s resourceful study arrangement. One user commented on the cost-effectiveness of his choice, noting the high rent prices in Shanghai, where the average monthly rent is 109 yuan (approximately US$15) per square meter. Others highlighted the advantages of free electricity, internet, water, and access to multiple restrooms, which made the space even more appealing than some rented apartments.
Amidst the admiration, there were also calls for empathy and kindness towards the boy, recognizing his challenging circumstances and commendable self-reliance. This story sheds light on the immense pressure faced by students in China, particularly regarding the gaokao exams. A record 12.91 million candidates registered for the 2023 exams, with only about 47% securing university placements.
The intense competition and high stakes of the gaokao have led students to seek innovative solutions for study spaces. In 2020, a railway station in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region transformed its waiting lounge into a temporary study room for passengers preparing for the exams. The story of the Shanghai student living under a staircase reflects the lengths to which some are willing to go to optimize their study environment and the broader societal pressures associated with educational success in China.