As high schoolers around China sit for the gaokao, the country’s notoriously stressful university entrance exam, one 34-year-old test-taker has seen it all before.
Now the mother of two children, Wang Nana was deprived of attending college after another student stole her identity — and her test scores — 14 years ago. Though Wang did not find out about the theft until 2015, she is now determined to take the test again.
“Participating in the gaokao will be a dream come true,” Wang told Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, in a previous interview. But it’s not easy for her to retake the test, which began Wednesday and may very well be the world’s toughest college entrance exam. She has had to recite poems and texts, memorize complicated formulas, and do dozens of practice tests — just like the millions of high schoolers who dedicate months or even years to preparation.
In 2003, Wang took the gaokao, but she never received a college admission letter. Thinking she had failed, Wang decided to join the workforce. In the years that followed, she got married, became a mother, and ran a copy shop with her husband.
Wang’s quiet life was disrupted in 2015. When she tried to apply for a bank loan, she was repeatedly rejected because the information she provided was found to be in error. She had filled out her education background as “high school,” but according to government records, she had received a diploma from a vocational school.
According to news reports, Wang had been accepted in 2003 by Zhoukou Vocational and Technical College in her native province of Henan, in central China. But her admission letter was intercepted by another student, Zhang Yingying, who had failed the gaokao. By forging Wang’s documents, Zhang successfully enrolled in the vocational school, graduated after four years, and landed a job as teacher. In response to the media coverage, Zhang wrote a letter of apology, but she signed it using the name Wang Nana.
Zhang’s family offered Wang compensation money, but the defrauded woman refused. “It should have been my college; how could you go there?” Wang said in a TV interview. “How could you be a teacher when that was my dream?”
In February 2016, Zhang’s diploma was canceled. Two months later, an official investigation concluded that 13 people were involved in the case. Three of them, including Zhang’s father, are being investigated by the department of justice. However, the issue of Wang’s missed chance at continuing her education was not resolved. “If you want to realize your dream of going to college, you should sit the gaokao,” Zhoukou Vocational and Technical College wrote in response to Wang’s appeal to regain her right to an education.
Wang is not the only victim of gaokao-related identity theft. In 2004, Luo Caixia from Hunan province had her university admission stolen by her classmate, the daughter of a high-ranking local police officer; the truth was not revealed until five years later. Then in 2011, a female university student studying in Sichuan province in southwestern China discovered that a woman at another university was studying there under her name. And in 2013, the student status of three people at Minzu University of China in Beijing was canceled because of fraud, with one of the three cases relating to ID theft.
But China has upped the ante to deter exam cheaters. Since 2015, the country’s revised criminal law has stated that individuals who cheat on tests can be jailed for up to seven years.
In April, Wang was asked to input her fingerprints before the exam. She was excited to see that security measures had improved after 14 years. “If we had fingerprint recognition back then, could Zhang Yingying have stolen my documents?” she said. “Could she have even stolen my fingerprints?”
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: Wang Nana reviews test prep materials at her home in Luoyang, Henan province, May 11, 2017. Zhang Jing/Sixth Tone)