An exam question intended for Chinese primary school children has flummoxed the internet by inadvertently throwing up a seemingly unanswerable riddle.

The mathematical problem was intended for 5<sup>th grade students at a school in the district of Shunqing earlier this month, and went thus: "If a ship had 26 sheep and 10 goats onboard, how old is the ship's captain?"

Confused students did their best at answering the question and their brave attempts were shared online.

"The captain should be at least 18 years old because a minor is not allowed by law to operate a vessel," one guessed.

Another replied: "The captain is 36 years old. He is quite narcissistic, so the number of animals corresponds to his age."

"We cannot be sure of the captain's age. The number of the sheep and goats is irrelevant to the captain's age", another student ventured.

Another simply gave up: "I do not know how to answer this question."

Users on platforms such as Weibo also had their say on the debate. Some claimed the question had simply been a poorly thought-out exercise:

One critic queried: "This question makes no logical sense at all. Does the teacher even know the answer?"

"If a school had 26 teachers, 10 of which weren't thinking, how old is the principal?" said another unimpressed user.

However, others claimed the difficult problem promoted originality in the students' thinking.

"This question forces children to explain their thinking and gives them space to be creative. We should have more questions like this," one user said.

The Shunqing Department of Education posted a statement on 26 January, saying that the question was constructed to "enable students to challenge boundaries and think out of the box".

China often relies on teaching students through repetitive rote learning methods, but some educators are hoping to move to a more creative approach.

"Some surveys show that primary school students in our country lack a sense of critical awareness in regard to mathematics," the board said.

The answer to the question? Well, one user may have found the solution with this logical and detailed response; "The total weight of 26 sheep and 10 goat is 7,700kg, based on the average weight of each animal," said one commenter.

"In China, if you're driving a ship that has more than 5,000kg of cargo you need to have possessed a boat licence for five years. The minimum age for getting a boat's licence is 23, so he's at least 28."