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2021-02-26 08:37:31

A senior citizen in the central Henan province says another man usurped his name and teaching qualification for over two decades, a case that is again shedding light on the problem of identity theft in rural China.

Domestic media reported Monday that Sun Cunliang, a 64-year-old former teacher in the city of Shangqiu, had accused 48-year-old Nan Jicheng of stealing his identity in 1999 and using it to secure a job in Sun’s name at the same school Sun had worked at.

Following the report, education authorities in Yucheng County, which Shangqiu administers, released an official statement Wednesday on microblogging platform Weibo providing a timeline of events related to the case.

Sun became a primary school teacher in 1977 but was fired in 1992, supposedly for violating China’s family-planning policy by having a third child. But Sun told Sixth Tone that, according to a national-level regulation, village schools can only “suspend” and not “fire” teachers unless they get approval from the county government. Under the former, less-severe designation, Sun explained, he would still be eligible for retirement benefits, including his pension.

According to the Yucheng County education and sports bureau, Nan, who is also known by the name Nan Haichao, secured a teaching position several years later, in 1999, using Sun’s teaching qualification — which would have been canceled if Sun had been fired rather than merely suspended.

Nan taught for nearly 20 years as “Mr. Sun” before retiring in December 2017, according to the bureau.

Wednesday’s timeline also said that in 2010, Sun had signed an informal agreement with Nan under which he would receive 350 yuan (then around $50) per month to keep quiet about the situation. The way Sun tells it, however, he was coerced into the contract: Nan purportedly turned up at Sun’s home and refused to leave without the older man’s vow of silence. The payments abruptly stopped in 2017, Sun said.

Sixth Tone’s calls to a phone number Sun provided for Nan went unanswered on Thursday and Friday.

In a letter Sun sent to his local village committee in January 2018 and showed to Sixth Tone, he accused Li Changshan — the principal of Sanzhuang Central Primary School, where he had previously worked — as well as an accountant related to Nan of orchestrating the theft of his credentials to get Nan the teaching job.

“My father reported the impostor to the Yucheng County discipline inspection committee many times, but neither they nor the education bureau had any intention of punishing Nan,” Sun Yanshou, Sun Cunliang’s son, told Sixth Tone. “I suspect there was some collusion between Nan’s family and the county officials.”

I suspect there was some collusion between Nan’s family and the county officials.

But the impostor was punished. In May 2018, the county government canceled his pension, and shortly after, in July, the Yucheng County public security bureau fined him 1,000 yuan for falsely using someone else’s identity, according to a police document Sun’s family provided to Sixth Tone.

Under China’s Resident Identity Card Law, anyone who uses another person’s national ID as his own can be fined up to 1,000 yuan and detained for up to 10 days.

Meanwhile, Sun had turned 60 in 2017, and thought he would be eligible to receive his pension. But he was dismayed when the Yucheng County education bureau told him otherwise in October the following year, saying since he had been fired rather than suspended from teaching, he could not claim retirement benefits.

This didn’t make sense to Sun, because if he had indeed been fired, his teaching qualification would have been canceled, and Nan wouldn’t have been able to use it for all those years. He sought clarification from the local authorities, he said, but to no avail.

In the years since, Sun said he repeatedly petitioned the authorities, but no office would accept responsibility for helping him. “I reached out to county, city, and provincial discipline inspectors, but my case kept getting sent back to the county level, where it received no response,” he said.

In rural China, corruption and identity theft are not uncommon, and are often intertwined. High schoolers, for example, have had their college entrance exam scores stolen by well-connected families so the children can go to better universities.

In July of last year, authorities in the eastern Shandong province said they were investigating 242 cases of identity theft involving such scores, after the plight of one victim, Gou Jing, went viral. Education authorities in January 2021 introduced legislation to hold perpetrators criminally accountable.

According to the Yucheng County education and sports bureau, Sun filed a lawsuit with a local court over his undisbursed pension in September 2018, but it was dismissed three months later.

Sun claims that of the three teachers in his village who lost their jobs in 1992, he is the only one being denied retirement benefits.

“I’m still waiting. If my petition isn’t successful this time, I’ll go all the way to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (in Beijing),” he said. “I need at least a basic pension to live a decent life.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: People Visual)