Rather than using ingenious James Bond-esque cheating gadgets, authorities in Henan Province admitted last night that applicants' families took the more prosaic route of paying nearly 130 college students to sit the national college entrance exam, or gaokao, on their children's behalf, a China Central Television investigation has revealed.
An organized group said they targeted small counties where family connections were influential.
According to CCTV, the groups could easily gain access to education officials and exam supervisors and bribe them to ignore the dummy student.
The group also allegedly had police and local authorities on side if they were uncovered.
Henan authorities reviewed applicants’ photographs and fingerprints as well as footage of exam sites before announcing the figure of 130 college students fraudulently sat the exam for payment.
As a result, the Ministry of Education yesterday announced an audit into all exam papers involved in the case and sever punishment for anyone found guilty of fraud.
The ministry said that exam applicants would have their fictitious scores nullified while college students hired for the cheating would be expelled.
In video recordings obtained by CCTV, one of the group's organizers, a "Teacher Li," said each test center could get at least 70,000 yuan (US$11,207) to allow cheating, with leading examiners paid nearly 20,000 yuan and passing thousands on to subordinates.
"As long as you don't mind spending money, you can build great guanxi," Li said in one video. "Just thrust the money into their hands."
He said he looked for qiangshou (literally "gunman"), the nickname for someone who takes tests for others, in universities in Wuhan, capital of Henan's neighboring province of Hubei.
Recruiting ads were written on toilet walls at several campuses, including the renowned Wuhan University, Wuhan University of Technology and Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, CCTV said.
In one video recorded secretly by a university student, Li said a qiangshou could get 20,000 to 50,000 yuan according to the reputation and ranking of his or her institute. About a month before the exams on June 7 and 8, the student met Li at a coffee shop near Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, CCTV said.
Li assured him there was no risk to being a qiangshou.
"We have run the business for three years and were never caught," he said, explaining that they only targeted certain counties in Henan because these were the places where money could smooth the way. These were areas where influential figures liked to "help" each other, Li said.
The group had made preparations for the fake exam sitters to pass identity checking systems by making fingerprint membranes for them to wear so as to fool fingerprint detectors which had been used in Henan since 2012, he said.
He also told the student not to be afraid that his face didn't match the real student's photograph. "Though you don't look similar to the candidate from the ID card, the examiner will still presume you were him. Why? It's all because of money."
On June 1, the student was told to sit a test at a classroom at Huazhong University of Science and Technology. There, he met four others. All passed the test to qualify as qiangshou.
Some of them told the student they were "veterans." They said they weren't afraid of being caught because "Teacher Zhang," another organizer, would take care of everything.
On one of the secret recordings, Zhang said he was a teacher at Huazhong University of Science and Technology.
On June 5, parents from Henan came to Wuhan to meet the five qiangshou, CCTV reported. They took the train to Zhengzhou, Henan's capital, where two were driven by their "temporary parents" to Qixian County and three to Tongxu County.
In one of the recordings, a mother told a qiangshou: "We have bribed examiners. Since they have received the money, they don't want to be caught. Also, they fear that we may speak out. Even the education officials wouldn't report it because it would be so shameful."
CCTV has reported its findings to the police.
Huazhong University of Science and Technology said it was checking Teacher Zhang's identity. Education authorities in Henan have also reported the matter to the police and begun their own investigation.