Wang now prefers to travel by train: he has learned firsthand that you never know who's flying your plane. (Then again, he has heard of a rival printer who has been producing bogus train-engineer diplomas.) But Wang figures it's better to be in a train accident than a plane crash—though it may not make much of a difference, considering how many doctors in China are practicing thanks to fake accreditation certificates from printing shops like Wang's.
In China, practically every step in life requires documentation, preferably in triplicate, which is unsurprising in the land that invented both paper and the world's first bureaucracy. Now that obsession has become a market: ingenious entrepreneurs are turning China's reverence for official scraps of paper into a bustling counterfeit business. The document trade is busiest in the cities, where millions of migrants need laminated proof to help achieve their outsized aspirations. After stepping off the train, the first thing most newcomers pick up is a phony ID that enables them to safely reside in boomtowns like Shanghai and Shenzhen. Once they have an ersatz residence card, they then count on people like Wang and his crew of seven forgers for an array of fake diplomas and job certificates.
At the Shenzhen branch of the Southeast Asia Certificate Co., Liu Xingyun offers a panoply of marriage certificates, drivers' licenses and even a document certifying that the bearer has had her fallopian tubes snipped. The most popular pieces of paper are college diplomas. Last year, census-takers found 600,000 people nationwide who said they had used spurious university degrees. "No one has time to go to school anymore," says a 21-year-old impatiently waiting for a steel engraving machine to roll out an accounting degree from Peking University. "I know I'm good at math, so I might as well go out and just do it."
Such tactics don't play well with Beijing's bureaucrats, who spent plenty of time and money earning genuine degrees. The Education Ministry hopes to set up a national computer database by the end of this year that will help prospective employers determine whether the university degrees of potential hires are authentic. Beijing's latest antipiracy crackdown is targeting manufacturers of fake certificates. A raid this year in Shanghai's Qingpu district netted 1,000 fake drivers' licenses, 1,050 fraudulent diplomas and a cache of forged car and motorcycle plates. Children, too, are in on the game. In the northeastern city of Changchun, vendors loiter near school grounds, enticing students who want to please parents with proof of academic success. A fake class-monitor certificate, which normally goes to an obedient teacher's pet, sells for just 12. That's lunch money, even in China—and it sure beats studying.