Chinese parents are literally giving their own blood for their children’s test scores

What some parents will do for their kids.
What some parents will do for their kids.
Image: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
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It’s one thing for parents to shell out for cram schools or private tutors for their children, but parents in China’s Zhejiang province are taking it a step further. There, parents can give their own blood to earn some extra points on their child’s zhongkao, or high school entrance exam.

Four liters of donated blood will get your child one extra point; 6 liters adds two points; and 8 liters, three. One 28-year-old man on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, posted that he had surpassed the 4-liter mark, a gift to his unborn child: “[I] want to tell my future son: No worries with the high school entrance exams, Dad has already got you bonus marks!” the man said, quoted in the South China Morning Post. The policy began this July, but parents are able to take into account the blood they donated in the past. The 28-year-old had started donating when he was 18. 

Four liters is a lot of blood for one point in a test that with a possible 580 points. The human body only has 4.5 to 5.5 liters of blood in its circulatory system, and the average adult donating half a liter (a little over a pint) twice a year would take four years to bump up their child’s score by that one point.

But in an incredibly competitive academic environment, every point matters—especially when students can earn up to 30 points extra if they are an ethnic minority or their parents are disabled veterans. And some of the 580 points come from performance in athletic competitions.

The hope is that the program will help build blood supplies. In China, donations have been scarce, perhaps due to lingering fears following an HIV scandal in Henan province in the 1990s, where tens of thousands of farmers contracted HIV-AIDS from improper needle care and blood collection—as well as cultural beliefs that giving blood saps a person’s qi (or “vital energy”). To encourage donations, China enacted its Blood Donation Law in 1998 (pdf)—which “encourages healthy citizens from 18 to 55 years of age to donate blood voluntarily.” Still, in 2011, less than 1% of China’s population donated blood, according to the World Health Organization, which recommends that 1% to 3% of a country’s population must donate blood to maintain an adequate supply.

The Pujiang County’s test points program is just one of many regional efforts to encourage blood donation, including one that reportedly leans on locals to donate blood in order to obtain a driver’s license, get a high school graduation certificate, or apply for a marriage license. Some studies have suggested, however, that using incentives for blood donation can attract at-risk donors and undermine people’s altruistic motivation to donate blood—reducing blood supplies in the long run.