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Xi’an’s “Exam Migration” Controversy Tests Limits of Hukou Reforms

An imbalance in educational resources in the Chinese city of Xi’an sparked intense debate last week. Parents sought answers from the local education authorities, asking why so many students from other provinces took the high school entrance exam (zhongkao) in the city this year.

After the Xi’an government released the results of the zhongkao (senior high school entrance examination) results on July 14th, rumors circulated that 40,000 of the 100,000 exam takers were “returning students” – students who came to Xi’an just to take the exam, hoping to later take the Xi’an gaokao (college entrance exam) because Xi’an has a lower college admission cutoff than other areas. This would potentially enable test takers to get into better universities.

Experts believe that the trend of allowing outsiders to take exams locally is “irreversible” in most cities, saying that authorities should be rational about zhongkao and gaokao migration and be more transparent about “returning student” data.

Xi’an officials responded last week, claiming only 3,608 “returning students,” or 3.5% of exam takers, took the zhongkao in Xi’an. The parents of local students, who were not convinced by the official data, protested against unfair use of local resources by outsiders. After widespread pushback from parents, Xi’an authorities launched an investigation. By Monday, police had detained 40 people for providing false registration information to ineligible students.

The “returning students” benefited from Xi’an’s 2017 household registration (hukou) reforms, which allowed non-local children of Xi’an hukou holders working elsewhere to take exams in Xi’an. The reforms also granted Xi’an hukou to outsider talent, making their children eligible to take Xi’an school tests as “returning students.”

Experts say the core issue at play is unequal distribution of educational resources nationwide, with college admission cutoff lines being different from one province to another. This gives rise to the phenomenon of “zhongkao migration.”

Authorities have vowed to verify each “returning student’s” eligibility and cancel admissions obtained fraudulently. By Monday, police had cracked down on institutions providing false services to ineligible students.

Source: BBC, July 24, 2023