Twenty officials are under investigation for allegedly faking ethnic minority status to help their children get into university.
The scandal in Hubei province is one of several that have prompted the government to announce a crackdown on cheats who falsely claim ethnic minority status for the high school and college entrance exams.
Ethnic minority affairs departments, police stations and education departments were yesterday urged to be vigilant as the exam season approaches in June.
In the highly competitive entrance exams to high schools and colleges, ethnic minority students are given up to 20 extra marks to assist their passage into higher education.
In a regulation released yesterday, the State Ethnic Affairs Commission said Han students found to have faked ethnic minority status would have exam results disregarded.
If the student has already entered high school or college and is found to have faked an ethnic status then they would be expelled.
In the Hubei investigation, the officials from Shishou are accused of abusing connections within government to change their ethnic status.
The scandal was recently reported in local media, and the investigation was announced yesterday.
Tan Hui, director of the provincial ethnical minority affairs commission, said investigators were attempting to confirm the identities of the officials, and any ethnic minority students who will take entrance exam this year.
Han people make up nearly 90 percent of the Chinese population and 55 ethnic minority groups represent 10 percent.
In order to promote the cultural and economic development of the ethnic minorities, the Chinese government has implemented policies to give them priority in higher education.
In recent years, an increasing number of Han students and their families have been caught lying about their ethnic status to claim these benefits.
Those scandals have sparked heated public discussion about the fairness of the entrance examinations and education policies in China.
"Faking minority heritage damages the solemnity of ethnical minority education policies," said Shui Hongguo, an ethnical minority member of Hubei political consultative standing committee.
"It also blemishes the fairness of the college entrance exam."
Education expert Yang Dongping said the government has good intentions in making preferential policies for ethnic minorities. "But those policies have lost their meaning because some people have taken advantage of them."