It did the job: the essay was good and the student got a high grade. Chris’s friend was pleased too. “He treated me to hotpot in Singapore – that was the first time I’d been to a hotpot restaurant,” he recalls.
Then the student asked him to help her with another assignment. “I said: ‘I can’t eat hotpot every day, I should charge a price.’ Then she introduced me to her classmates and that’s how everything began,” says Chris.
Today, he runs what’s known as an ‘essay mill’ – a highly lucrative business writing assignments for students struggling to complete them on their own.
Student cheating has been in the spotlight recently, after the US college admissions scandal made global headlines. It’s not the first such scandal: India, for example, is still dealing with the fall-out of apparently large-scale medical school admission examination fraud.
But it’s not just admissions: there’s also the problem of what some students do once they get into university - and the role played by people like Chris.
After studying in Singapore for many years, he’s now back in China where he writes essays and farms others out to a team of workers for student clients as far afield as Australia and the UK. His business can turn over as much as $150,000 a year.
It grew after that first student moved to Australia to do her master’s degree and passed his name on to other people. He writes at least one essay a week but, as a global studies major, farms assignments on subjects like business and finance out to his specialists. He charges about 1 RMB per word, so a 1,000-word piece would come in around 1,000 RMB (£115, $150).