China’s National Institute of Education Sciences Gaokao fraud can be divided into two sorts

This week around 10 million students across China have sat the Gaokao – a college entrance exam which determines their entire future.

According to Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at China’s National Institute of Education Sciences, Gaokao fraud can be divided into two sorts – the kind where where the victim has no idea and the other, where both parties mutually consent to it, perhaps for a fee.

The first category he says, typically involves oversight from more than just one party.

“Enrolment generally involves many parties – schools, examination institutes, enrollment offices, and household management department. So, if there are loopholes in so many links, it can only show that it is… collaborative cheating”, Mr Chu told BBC Chinese.

In such cases victims are usually in “low social positions” and hence have little way of fighting back, even if they do eventually find out, he adds, as was the case for Ms Chen’s father.

“What can a farmer do?” he asked Chinese media. “If I was powerful, they wouldn’t have dared [do this to her].”

Hanging over their heads, though, is the recent revelation that hundreds of other students before them were victim to an identity theft scandal which saw them robbed of their results.

For Chen Chunxiu, it was an exam that could change everything. Doing well in the Gaokao meant the farmer’s daughter had a shot of getting into her dream university. Failing meant it would remain just that – a dream.

She failed.

Denied admission to college, she took up various jobs – a factory worker, a waitress – before eventually becoming a kindergarten teacher.

But 16 years later, she found to her shock that she had, in fact, earned a place at the Shandong University of Technology – and enrolled there.

But it hadn’t been her. Her score – and in fact, her entire identity – was stolen by a girl whose relatives had pulled strings to make this happen.

Her case is just one of 242 student identity thefts that took place in Shandong province between 2002 and 2009, according to recent media reports.

A shocking tale of systemic cheating

The notoriously hard Gaokao – or “high school exam” – tests school leavers on their Chinese, maths, English and another subject of their choice.

It has been the focal point of the education system since the 1950s, with a break during the Cultural Revolution.

But it’s not just an exam. For millions – especially those in less privileged positions – it’s the ticket to success and upward mobility.

According to state news outlet Xinhua, the imposter’s uncle – who was a local official – is accused of getting help from a local admissions director, who was able to access Ms Chen’s exam information.

Ms Chen had scored 546 out of 750, compared to her imposter, who had scored 303.

The imposter’s father then allegedly intercepted Ms Chen’s admissions letter at the county post office before it was posted. With help from Ms Chen’s high school principal, say reports, they faked an entirely new high school transcript bearing the imposter’s details.

The imposter’s relatives also worked with a police director and staff from the Shandong University of Technology to ensure the enrolment went through and that a blind eye was turned, it is alleged. Ms Chen – a relatively poor farmer’s daughter – did not stand a chance.

The imposter – whose real name is Chen Yanping – then assumed the identity of Ms Chen.

Until today, the imposter’s colleagues still know her as Chen Chunxiu, say media reports. Her degree has since been revoked and she has been sacked from her job. A government report says she is still under investigation.

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As recently as the first half of the 20th century, in fact, Chinese educators like Mei Yiqi, a prominent president of Tsinghua University, emphasized the importance of the well-rounded graduate. That changed with the Communist takeover. Beginning in the mid-1960s, universities across the country were closed for a decade, casualties of the Cultural Revolution.

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