(Photo: Global Times)
In China, the national college entrance exam, or gaokao, cannot be too important for a student - to this day it decides the future of most learners. Recently, the disciplinary authorities of Henan Province in Central China said they found no evidence of cheating after a probe following four local students' claims that their actual scores were 200 grades lower than what they expected in gaokao. They were suspecting the hand of educational authorities in depriving them of higher scores.
Parents of the four students who are all from different cities of Henan went public with their concern through the media, alleging that the answer sheets of their children may have been switched or altered. Amid a nationwide outcry, the provincial disciplinary watchdog re-examined the exam papers, answer sheets and surveillance footage, and conducted handwriting verification, concluding that there was no foul play.
In that sense, the four students were lying, astounding many netizens.
When the case came to light more than a month ago, many internet users reacted by being sympathetic to the students since gaokao has a history of "inside deals" that undermines public faith in the fairness of the exam. Any foul play in gaokao can touch a raw nerve among the masses, especially in such a populous province where students need to put in more efforts than their peers in other areas to rise above the competition and enter their dream university.
The probe results came as a face saver for authorities. But it brings up another issue: should the lying students and their parents be punished?
This is nothing new under the sun. Students who get low grades in gaokao blame it on the so-called wrongdoing of the educational department. And they get away with the finger-pointing, going unpunished. While honesty was traditionally considered a virtue in China, it is now not deemed important.
But it matters. Of the four students, one surnamed Su had published two theses on computer science and astronomy in Chinese periodicals and was therefore qualified to attend the independent admission test of Beijing Normal University. But netizens found the two theses had similarities with papers by other authors, which indicated possible plagiarism. Many even suspected that it was Su's father, a local procurator, who had paid to produce and publish the two papers. If this is true, Mr. Su has set a pretty bad example for his daughter.
It is even fair to infer that the four students may have lied earlier. Lying, for some, is no big deal given the possible benefits - escaping punishment, getting what you wanted, etc. This has been widely accepted by adults and, unfortunately, taught to children.
But when honesty is taken lightly in a society, there will be consequences.
Last year, a student at the University of Texas at Austin distributed fliers that purported to offer ethics class to Chinese about their copying others' intellectual property and lying about one's skills. The posters were later reviewed under the school's hate and bias policy, but they are revealing since lying has been taken as an attribute of Chinese in other parts of the world. There have been numerous reports that some American universities don't trust Chinese applicants because their documents are more often fake.
In today's China, a variety of weird phenomena partly result from the public tolerance of dishonesty. Old people fake an accident and accuse those offering a helping hand of being perpetrators so as to obtain compensation. The exposure of bogus drugs, food and other daily necessities makes headlines from time to time. And academic cheating is nothing new. It's a pathetic evolution for a society.
In the Henan case, the four students may not have expected to stir up such a storm by lying. They should learn it the hard way. So should society.