Friday, October 7, 2011

Will China’s State Secrets Law again rear its ugly head – Cheating and the credibility of exams for professionals

by M. Ulric Killion


Song Fulai, who composed questions for the certified architect exam, was sentenced in Beijing in 2008 to 18 months in prison for leaking state secrets. The court found that he gave exam questions to his students during tutorials; Photo/provided to China Daily]; Cui Jia, Li Jing, and Duan Yan, Professional exams face credibility test, China Daily, September 30, 2011.

On September 30, 2011, the China Daily’s cover page reported a new level of unprecedented cheating via the internet for professional examinations. These are the professional examinations for certified public accountants (CPAs), doctors, lawyers, judges, and architects.

One suspects that level and intensity of the cheating on professionals exam is at least partially owing to the speed, depth, and perhaps even a certain degree of secrecy that associate with the mass communication naturally inherent in Internet communications.

Additionally, and presenting yet another force of influence, the seemingly growing level of cheating via the internet may also be attributable to low pass rates on professional exams.  For instance, in China “the average pass rate for the full CPA exam is 10 to 15 percent” (Cui, Li, and Duan, 2011).

As for the National Judicial Examination for lawyers or judicial officers, during the past ten years, although “the passing rate has risen from 6.7 percent in 2002 to 20 percent last year” (Cui, Li, and Duan, 2011), the average pass rate of 20 percent is still a low rate.

The cover story also describes the various methods that employ in enabling cheating on these professional exams, while also noting the various costs, including the illegal profits.

Experts say there's an intricate chain of commercial interests behind professional qualification tests, and regulation is scattered among the ministries that oversee the different professions. The experts also say some individuals or companies are using those commercial interests to make illegal profits, in the process damaging the credibility of the exams (Cui, Li, and Duan, 2011).

It is even more noteworthy that despite the unprecedented level of cheating on professional exam, they have not been any recent arrest made in connection with cheating on professional exams. The latter admittedly may owe to the speed, convenient and secrecy of the Internet. For instance, as the China Daily reported,

But during the medical licensing examination, also on Sept 17 and 18, China Youth Daily reported that one Internet user received 20 questions from a source 90 minutes before a test on the second day and found them to be identical to questions in the test. Similar leaks had been reported in 2007 and 2009, the report said (Cui, Li, and Duan, 2011).

The cover page, although unintentionally, also provides a measure of Chinese law, in particular, China’s “Law on Guarding State Secrets” (i.e., State Secrets Law). This is due to professional qualification tests being governed by state regulations or laws, and administered by various state ministries in each profession such as the Ministry of Justice for lawyers, and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development for architects.

The earlier mentioned conviction of Song Fulai provide a precedent for what will happen to those that persist in the illegal enterprise of cheating on professional exams. For Song, in 2008, the penalty was an eighteen (18) month prison sentence for leaking what the court in Chongqing characterizes as leaking state secrets.


Photo; Beijing Times via Leaked questions land exam writer in jail, December 18, 2008,

According to the Beijing Times, on December 18, 2008, the designer of a certification exam was sentenced for a year and half for "deliberately leaking state secrets" (Beijing Times via Leaked questions land exam writer in jail, December 18, 2008,

Song Fulai, a 55-year-old chief engineer at Beijing's Yicheng Municipal Engineering Company, took part in the design of the 2005 and 2006 National Construction Engineer Qualification Exam.

The court found that Song released exam questions to students in a study session he conducted in 2006 and was paid a total of 63,000 yuan. A fellow teacher received a year-long sentence that was suspended for one year (, 2008).

All of this actually presents the measure of Beijing’s enforcement of its infamous “Law on Guarding State Secrets” (i.e., State Secrets Law). Despite the 2010 amendment of the State Secrets Law, it continues to serve as a source of frustration for many. As earlier announced, the revised “Law on Guarding State Secrets” (i.e., State Secrets Law) went into effect on October 1, 2010. The National People’s Congress (NPC), on April 29, 2010, had earlier enacted the revised law.

The passing of the amended State Secrets Law, however, corresponded with a policy report on the Internet, which results in the amended State Secrets Law designedly intending to put in place broader and tighter controls over information stemming from the Internet and any other public information networks, notwithstanding other traditional forms of communication (HRIC | 中国人权 – 新《保密法》在当局发动全国性保密教育宣传运动中生效 / Nationwide State Secrets Education Campaign Launched as New Law Goes into Effect, October 1, 2010; M. Ulric Killion, China seeks public opinion on draft of new State Secrets Law, July 6, 2010).

The trials and tribulations of China’s “Law on Guarding State Secrets” have been many. For instance, the enforcement of the State Secrets Law associates with the Rio Tinto case (Qian Yanfeng, Employees in Rio Tinto case appeal terms, China Daily, April 8, 2010); the conviction and sentencing of Xue Feng, a U.S. geologist, to eight years in prison for buying confidential information about China’s oil industry (Theunis Bates, China Sentences US Geologist Xue Feng to 8 Years in Prison, July 5, 2010); and generally other bribery scandals in China (EO Editorial Board, EDITORIAL – The Nature of Bribery Scandals in China / 谁在播种商业贿赂恶之花, Economic Observer News, June 29, 2010).

From Song Fulai’s case, the Rio Tinto case, the trial of Liu Xiaobo, and now, again, the potential for new convictions for cheating on state exams via the State Secrets Law, we are witnessing the same problems with laws that suffer from overgeneralizations and over-broadness (i.e., the over-broadness of law) (M. Ulric Killion, China’s new censorship rules: text messaging and freedom of speech, January 18, 2010).

All of which is understandable, because laws designedly intending to extend broader and greater controls over information from the Internet and other forms of communication must necessarily compromise on issues of constitutionality, social and political legitimacy, and enforceability and  efficiency in the administration of justice. For these reasons, the newly revealed instances of cheating on state exams and potential new convictions via the revised State Secrets Law may eventually serve as a certain measure of the revised State Secrets Law, especially concerning the issues of constitutionality, legitimacy, enforceability, and efficiency in the administration of justice.

This is because a recurrent theme or problem of an overgeneralized or over-broad law is that it, ultimately, never says what the “law is,”, notwithstanding legal issues such as fundamental fairness or due process of law.

Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2011.

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