“Qiangshou” (pronounced chiang-show) literally means “hired gun.” Originally, this term referred to writers making their living by selling articles and scripts for low prices. Over time, the meaning has evolved to mean someone performing a task in the name of others. In the Chinese education world, qiangshou refers to a person who has been hired to sit an examination or interview under a false name.
Due to increasingly fierce competition among Chinese students applying to schools abroad, the qiangshou has become a profitable occupation in China. Online, it is easy to find many companies specializing in providing qiangshous for standardized tests such as the TOEFL or IELTS.
It typically takes a week to find a qiangshou who looks similar enough to the actual applicant so the applicant’s own identification can be used. If no match is found, false identification can be procured. The price for a qiangshou to sit a standardized test ranges between $900 and $1,600.
As proctors tighten up security in Mainland China, an increasing number of applicants are paying to send their qiangshous to Hong Kong and other testing locations where the identification verification process for standardized tests is less strict, though this is quickly changing. As of two months ago, ETS and other testing organizations are beginning to crack down on qiangshous.
On February 25th, three qiangshous were arrested in Hong Kong. After the arrest, Eileen Tyson, the Executive Director of Global Client Relations at ETS, sent a letter to ETS members about the arrest. Little to no news was generated about these arrests (I could only find this from chinastudygroup.org); however, you can read ETS’s official statement or visit Bruce Stirling’s blog where he posted a copy of the letter sent to those affiliated with ETS.
At the end of the day, applicants capable of scoring well on their own merit are being put at a strong disadvantage due to unfair qiangshou competition.