Many Chinese students are quite familiar with the phrase “knowledge can change fate.” But as the 33-year-old Wang Nana learned, money and guanxi can change it back.
In 2015, Wang’s college admission offer was sold off to someone else – a woman with the same who replaced her during her four-year college program. “I hesitated to call her when I found out. I have a family and children now. I wondered whether it was worth exposing something that happened 10 years ago,” she said in an interview with CCTV.
Wang often wonders what her life would be like if she had been able to complete the college course to which she earned admission. She imagines she might have become an English teacher – a childhood dream she still keeps.
An Offer Sold
Last year, Wang Nana visited a bank to sign up for a personal credit card. When the bank clerk input her personal identity information in computer, Wang was told her personal information could be verified using the bank’s internal database.
But that database revealed a secret China’s educators hoped to keep buried: Wang was admitted to college 12 years ago.
Wang was born to an impoverished family who sacrificed greatly to put her through high school. Their dreams and hopes came to a bitter end when Wang’s hard work failed to earn her access to higher education.
“My mother scolded me and my siblings for failing to get into college,” Wang said. When she failed to pass the National College Entrance Exam, she studied for another year to re-test. She failed again.
“Now it turns out that I was admitted on my second try, but the school sold offer to someone else,” Wang said.
When Wang input her information into China’s Higher-Education Student Information website to track it further, she found a different face associated with her profile. But alongside that face was Wang’s test registration number, name and national ID number.
Wang realized instantly that her identity had be stolen.
In October, Wang and her mother appealed for the government to investigate. The Bureau of Education refused her request, as did the school which admitted her 12 years ago. In desperation, one of her classmates contacted the woman – now an elementary school teacher and mother.
“‘If you had gone to college that year, that would be your life!’ That’s what my friend said to me,” Wang said.
The other woman’s father offered 80,000 yuan to settle the matter out of court. After consideration, Wang took her story to the media and appealed for the school to cancel the other woman’s diploma.
“As long as that diploma is valid, I will be turned down for bank loans because I have an invalid identity. I will never be able to buy my own car or home during this life,” Wang said.
Wang is not alone in having her identity stolen and sold for university admission.
In 2009, during the highly publicized “Luo Caixia Case,” police revealed how identity theft could be used to secure college admission. That case ended with the cancellation of the thief’s diploma and the sentencing of several related officers.
“It is impossible for two citizens to share one ID number. The information on the Higher-Education Student Information website must be fake,” a police officer said during the investigation.
A police investigation of the fake “Wang Nana” found that her name is Zhang Yingying. Zhang’s father told reporters that an agency contacted him to ask whether his daughter needed a college admission offer. The alleged purchase the ruined Wang’s future cost him only 5,000 yuan.
Since the police investigation, Zhang Yingying’s diploma has been canceled. When asked why the school was allowing people with fictitious identities to enroll, a spokesperson for the university said the case was “too old to investigate.”
In March, the Education Department of Henan Province announced the outcome of its investigation: Zhang Yingying lost her job and nine department employees received a warning.
The outcome set threw netizens and the media into a rage: Wang Nana was among them.
In April, Wang asked the city’s government to release its full investigation report. This month, that report became public.
According to the report, Zhang’s father was never contacted by an “agency.” He phoned a friend who was in charge of admission office. That friend said one student, Wang Nana, had not answered the phone the last time called to inform her of the admission offer.
Together, they concluded that Wang had given up on her admission offer, and during the next few hours Zhang’s father and cousin changed scrubbed Wang Nana’s name from the admission ticket and replaced it with Zhang Yingying’s.
“What’s more urgent than resolving this incident is learning what loopholes in China’s identity management system allow something like this to be possible,” says Yue Shenshan, senior partner from Beijing Yuecheng Law Firm.
Since the new report was released earlier this month, 13 related officers have received disciplinary punishment. Zhang’s father, cousin and the admissions director have been transferred to the judicial department.
“Wang Nana’s story is merely a miniature of the power relationships that control Chinese education. Being punished after the fact is far from restoring education equality,” said Chen Guangjiang, a commentator at Jinan Daily.
For the public, Wang’s story has been a somber reminder of how corrupt China’s education system remains and of the need for independent investigation.
In 2000, such shifting of admissions offers was endemic in the provinces of Shandong and Henan. In 2008, Shandong Provincial Education Department announced a total ban on the transfer of university admissions.
Such deals continue.
“It is illegal to profit from selling admissions, and the student who accepts such a deal could face a criminal fraud charge,” said a lawyer who spoke to Xinhuanet.com. The Ministry of Education prominently advertises its supervision hotline on its websites to “defend education equality.”
The attitude change of the investigation team has left many in the public wondering how to keep investigation outcomes clear and fair. The powerful regulations ostensibly designed to prevent these cases appear to have no teeth.
“Even if the people who are responsible get punished, it will never make up for all the opportunities I lost in these last 13 years,” Wang said.
She said she still hoped to enroll in the college, but having two children makes that almost impossible. “This incident changed the entire course of my life, and it will follow me forever like a shadow.”