One of the more depressing features of the Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 era is the progressively tightening restrictions on academic freedom, and growing hostility to foreign influences on campus. The latter is only likely to get worse amid the trade war tensions.
Last week, the Ministry of Education ordered a suspension of history exams run by Advanced Placement (AP), “a U.S. non-profit for students seeking credit at American colleges, as the ruling Communist Party cracks down on educational material it deems unfriendly,” reported Reuters. Exams in science and mathematics run by the same organization apparently remain unaffected.
But now they’re coming for the music. Last week, music exams administered by London-based ABRSM — formerly known as the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music — were suspended in four cities in China, for unknown reasons. Sixth Tone reports that “the music testing organization has no timetable for resuming exam services” in Kunming, Chengdu, Chongqing, and Wuhan, although it continues to operate tests as normal at its Shanghai location.
ABRSM does not explain what’s behind the problem in its apology note to prospective test-takers:
We regret any uncertainty that has been caused during the last few days. We continue to work closely with respected authorities at both a provincial and national level to ensure ABRSM is able to continue to offer our services to our valued music learners throughout China, and we are grateful for their support.
There’s a lot of money in music proficiency exams like ABRSM’s, says Sixth Tone: “According to a 2018 report [in Chinese], a total of 1.4 million people signed up to take a music exam in 2018, and the value of the country’s music exam preparation market was estimated at 72.8 billion yuan ($10.7 billion).”
There are a number of standardized music tests offered by Chinese conservatories and companies, but “unlike those offered by the largest Chinese testing companies, ABRSM’s certificates are widely recognized outside China,” says Sixth Tone. So while the suspension of AP history tests was clearly ideologically motivated, perhaps ABRSM’s troubles are just the cost of doing business in a competitive industry in China?