BEIJING, JUNE 7 (Xinhua) -- Students sitting China's college entrance examination entered exam halls on Tuesday morning knowing this is the first year when cheating will be treated as a criminal offense, punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Some 9.4 million high school students are registered to sit the exam, known as the "gaokao," from Tuesday to Wednesday.
The gaokao is considered a relatively fair way to screen and select higher-education candidates, but the reputation of the test has taken a battering in recent years over allegations of cheating arranged between teachers and students.
Efforts have been made to limit sales of concealed wireless devices, frequently used for cheating, as well as improper gaokao-related content online and the use of substitute examinees.
By far the toughest measure to guard the exam's fairness has been an amendment to the Criminal Law, which took effect on Nov. 1, covering organizing cheating, facilitating cheating or hiring others to sit state-level exams. Lawmakers hope the maximum seven-year sentence will act as an effective deterrent.
On Tuesday morning, in Ruijin, east China's Jiangxi Province, test monitors used instruments to scan students' shoes before entering the exam hall, while devices to block wireless signals were also employed.
In Ningxia, technical staff from the regional wireless transmission regulatory commission checked the monitoring facilities at all test centers a day ahead of the test.
In Lanzhou, Gansu Province, test center patrollers examined the stationery package provided at a test center in Lanzhou No. 2 High School.
In Beijing, an average of eight police officers have been deployed at all test centers to look out for suspect behavior, according to the city's police force.
In Jiangxi, 23 police officers patrolled outside Dongfangzhixing Foreign Language School's test center, while another 100 were on stand-by.
"So far, no clues of organized cheating have been detected," said Du Chuanjia, director of the education bureau of Zhongxiang City, Jiangxi Province.
Many parents waiting outside of a test center in Zhongquan City, Hubei Province, said they had received warnings and were aware of the criminal penalties for cheating this year.
"The stricter the exam is, the fairer it will be for students," said a parent, Zhang Ling.
However, some believe the penalties may be too strict.
"I think it's too much," said an examinee in Hunan Province. "It may ruin one's life forever."
Liu Lijun, another parent of an exam-taker in Hefei City, Anhui Province, also dislikes the criminalization of cheating. "Its effect on society is not that severe, so I think writing cheating in state-level exams into the Criminal Law is taking things too far," Liu said.
Xiong Bingqi, a freelance educationalist, suggested an overhaul of the system so that the gaokao forms just one part of the college entrance examination, to reduce the benefits of cheating on the exam.
"To fully eliminate cheating, not only must the punishment be strengthened but also the admission system must be reformed," Xiong said. Enditem