The HSK test started in 1984 as a Chinese proficiency test for both foreigners, but also Chinese citizens for whom mandarin was a second language. The test was developed and run by the Beijing Culture and Language University, and lurched along for about a decade in relative obscurity before it began to be used in the mid-1990s as part of the admissions process for applications to Chinese universities.
Starting around 2005, a power struggle during the run-up to the Beijing Olympics threw the test into disarray. As the Chinese government poured more resources into promoting China's soft power abroad, the test became the focus of a dispute between BLCU and Hanban, the national-level agency tasked with promoting Chinese learning. This led to direct organizational conflict within the Chinese government over which organization had the authority to manage the test, as well as collect the incidental revenues, etc.
Initially, bureaucratic stalemate prevailed and China entered a "twin-test" stage. Hanban began offering its new HSK outside China and promoted the tests heavily through the Confucius Institutes it was funding abroad. Meanwhile, the classic HSK continued to be offered within China to both foreign and Chinese citizens. This situation lasted until 2010 when Hanban triumphed in its bureaucratic struggle against BLCU and won the right to offer its test as
the sole authoritative HSK within China.
Now this is why this matters to you: because of the political split describe above, the two HSK tests developed a radically different focus. The classic HSK continued to operate as an advanced proficiency test without much regard for commercial or international use. In contrast, the Hanban HSK test aims to appeal to students with minimal mandarin proficiency. It also aimed to increase its commercial utility by following the testing structure laid out by the Common
European Framework of Reference for Languages.
This divergence is obvious from the table below. What this chart shows is that the first level of the older exam corresponds to about level four on the new exam. The remaining materials in our opinion fall at about the intermediate level.