‘Who Stole My Life?’ China’s gaokao identity theft scandal, illustrated

Society & Culture

A Beijing artist depicts, through paintings, a recent revelation of mass identity theft that shook Chinese social media.

a bird wearing a graduation cap with Beijing in the background

Recently, stories of identity theft robbing students of their dream of getting into university set social media alight. According to an investigative report, in 1997 and 1998, there were 242 cases of imposters in Shandong getting into college using the identities of other students.

China faces college admissions scandal after identity theft cases reported in Shandong

The announcement prompted public outcry and sparked a robust discussion on corruption in local institutions, with many people raising questions about how these people’s identities were stolen. People have also questioned the gaokao itself, an exam that on the surface promises equal opportunities for all. For many rural families, the exam is the only way for children can alter their future. But now, it seems people with connections and money can steal the futures of those without.

An artist in Beijing, Peking Fox (follow him on Instagram @peking_fox), has painted a series of images based on the story of Chén Chūnxiù 陈春秀, a 36-year-old woman in Shandong who thought she failed to get into her dream school in 2004. The rejection shattered her life — she ended up not attending college, working instead as a factory worker and waitress. It was only this year that Chen realized she actually did get in — but someone else used her identity to enroll.

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.

Denied admission to college, Chen took up various jobs — as 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 identity had been stolen by a girl whose relatives had pulled strings to make this happen.

Her case is just one of 242 case of student identity theft that took place in Shandong Province.

Will justice ever be served?

Follow Peking Fox on Instagram @peking_fox