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Chinese exam cheats employing spy-tech

Ancient tests, modern naughtiness

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More than 1000 cheats were caught in last year's Chinese civil-service exams, some using "spy technology" including micro earpieces - but it was conformity of answers that betrayed most of them.

The Chinese state media said 300 candidates were caught while sitting in the exam room, presumably trying to tune their micro-transceivers. Another 700 were picked out later for having remarkably similar answers, making 2008 a record year.

Criminal gangs often sell answers, or things that look like answers, to desperate candidates who are competing against an average of 56 other people for each job; or for one particularly popular post, against 4,699 other applicants.

China has had problems with high-tech cheating before. Back in 2006 the Chinese government threatened to use cellphone jammers after 1,700 prospective students were caught trying to cheat their way into college - and that was with a position-to-applicant ratio of one to four.

The state media doesn't give much detail of the technology picked up from the cheats, beyond saying that the majority of cheating took place in Beijing and the northern province of Liaoning. But it does appear that some of the equipment was designed only to receive broadcasts, which creates the wonderful image of Cheat FM: "Next up, answers to question 4, but first let's get into the groove with a bit of Adam Ant."

The Chinese civil service has employed on the basis of exam passes since Imperial times, and offers good employment opportunities to those who achieve the best results. Back then cheats were simply executed, on the basis that anyone caught cheating was inherently corrupt. These days you can get seven years in the slammer for being in possession of the questions prior to the exam, but the cheats will just find themselves on a database and be barred from retaking the exams for five years. ®

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