Ghostwriting, plagiarizing or faking results is so common in Chinese academia that some experts say the practice could undermine China’s effort to be a leader in science. In one state-sponsored study a third of the 6,000 scientists at top institution surveyed admitted to committing “plagiarism, falsification or fabrications.” In another study of 32,000 scientists in the summer of 2010 by the China Association for Science and Technology, more than 55 percent said they knew someone guilty of academic fraud. [Source: Gillian Wong, AP, April 2010]

An article in the Economist reported that what is considered serious misconduct in the West---cheating on exams, fabricating, research data, ghostwriting or plagiarism---are routine practices and seldom punished. Prof. Rao Yi, a dean at Peking University, told AP, “Academic fraud, misconduct and ethical violations are very common in China... It’s a big problem.”

An editorial published in 2010 in The Lancet, the British medical journal, warned that faked or plagiarized research posed a threat to President Hu Jintao’s vow to make China a research superpower by 2020.

Plagiarism in China

A study by Wuhan University professor Shen Yan showed that nearly 1 billion yuan was spent in ghostwritten academic papers in 2009, a five-fold increase from 2007. The study also found that 70 percent of the papers purchased were plagiarized. The trend not only hurts the reputation of Chinese scientists and makes academics suspicious of their work, it also makes non-Chinese scientists reluctant to collaborate with Chinese scientist on research projects.

It is common practice for Chinese university professors, students, researchers and government officers to hire ghostwriters to write their research papers for them. One such ghostwriter who charges $45 a paper for his services told AP, “My opinion is that writing papers for someone else is not wrong, There will always be a time one needs help from others. Even our great leader Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping needed help writing.” [Source: Gillian Wong, AP, April 2010]

In early 2009, Internet users revealed that the deputy principal at Anhui Agricultural University committed plagiarism in at least 20 papers,. He was removed from his post but allowed to keep teaching. In June 2009, a principal at a traditional Chinese medicine university was accused of plagiarizing 40 percent of his doctoral thesis from another paper. In March 2010, the China Youth Daily reported that a 1997 medical paper had been plagiarized by at least 25 people from 16 organizations over the past decade.

Plagiarism by University Presidents in China

Stephen Wong wrote in the Asia Times, “Recently, quite a few university presidents have been accused of plagiarism. But few of them were penalized or apologized. Huang Qing, the vice head of Southwest Jiaotong University, was arguably the most severely punished scholar - the university in July revoked his PhD after he was found to have plagiarized certain bits of his doctorate dissertation, which was passed nine years ago. In defense, Huang said “only 7 percent” of his dissertation was copied and that his opponents were trying to bring him down by making a fuss over a small issue.”

“More recently, Zhou Zude, president of the Wuhan University of Technology, was accused of plagiarizing an article of which he is the first author and his student Xie Ming the second. The university cleared Zhou of any wrongdoing, and said Xie wrote the article and Zhou had no idea his name was on it. As for Xie, he was not allowed to obtain his PhD that year.”

Cracking Down on Plagiarism in China

“Rampant plagiarism in the academic field has prompted the authorities to use software to detect it.” Stephen Wong wrote in the Asia Times: “Nearly 400 colleges are using the software, developed by the elite Tsinghua University, to check the theses of their students. But the students have been quick to find counter-measures., the Chinese version of eBay, provides anti-detection services for plagiarizers. A salesperson on Taobao claimed an article which was half plagiarized passed the software's detectors with his help.” [Source: Stephen Wong Asia Times, August 22, 2009]

In September 2010, a collection of scientific journals published by Zhejiang University in Hangzhou published results from a 20-month experiment with software that detects plagiarism. The software, called CrossCheck, rejected nearly a third of all submissions on suspicion that the content was pirated from previously published research. In some cases, more than 80 percent of a paper’s content was deemed unoriginal. The journals that were checked specialize in medicine, physics, engineering and computer science. Their editor, Zhang Yuehong, emphasized that not all the flawed papers originated in China, although she declined to reveal the breakdown of submissions. Some were from South Korea, India and Iran, she said.[Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, October 6, 2010]

What is Behind Plagiarism in China

Addressing the problem of plagiarism in China, Susan D. Blum, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and a book on plagiarism wrote in China Beat: “What is going on? 1) Is this a moral panic?---a sudden focus on a concrete episode or bit of conduct representing an outlet for more generalized anxieties, often about social change? 2) Is this a case of genuine cultural difference, in which ideas of authorship and educational efficacy, authority and deference, differ between nations? 3) Is this a case of China-bashing, of Westerners seizing upon a misdeed and generalizing, gleefully, from the tendency of a few within China to act improperly? Or 4) Is this a case of many individuals knowingly violating accepted and proper norms?...The answer to all these questions should be obvious: It depends.” [Source: Susan D. Blum, China Beat, July 29, 2010]

“As late as the 1990s, attribution and citation were rudimentary; a seminal book might be nodded to, and the works of Marx-Lenin-Mao would be cited out of self-protection. A scholarly book might have a dozen or so citations, and rarely a bibliography. The entire scholarly apparatus that Western/US scholars take for granted was missing. Footnotes were few. There was an assumption that 1) experts wouldhave read the same material and would be familiar with it and 2) ownership of and credit for ideas was in some sense a bourgeois relic.” [Ibid]

“The Western notion of academic conduct is the momentary constellation of centuries of events, from the growth of higher education to the birth of the idea of the Romantic author and individuality that stems from the Renaissance and other events. It would be possible to imagine an entirely different way of valuing contributions to teaching and researching, but we take for granted that our way is the proper way. (Many scholars of intellectual property, language, and literature/art question the possibility of originality to the extent that our intellectual property laws express, but we approximate them nonetheless.) [Ibid]

“In the last ten but especially five years, China has decided to compete with the West in terms of academic stature and value. This has entailed increasing support for higher education and increasing standards for quality, not simply increasing quantity...China is between several paradigms: one that says citation and attribution are optional; one that says winning is China’s or the individual’s right and imperative; and one that says intellectual work must be traced and credited. Like all cultural change, there are winners, victims, casualties, and much righteous waving of slogans and placards, charging others with moral laxity and venal duplicity. Sometimes the accusations are apt; sometimes they are fabricated; sometimes they harbor old grudges; and sometimes those with plenty of sin cast stones.” [Ibid]

“Accusing someone of not following rules when they were not in play is absurd. Ignoring the shared rules that everyone has subsequently agreed to is a violation of convention. Scholars in China are slowly signing on, in their hearts and minds, to that slate of conventions. But like all cultural revolutions, we’ll find ambiguity and complexity enough to keep us busy analyzing for years.” [Susan D. Blum is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and the author, most recently, of My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture (Cornell University Press, 2009)]

Academic Fraud in China

In 2010, while state-run media was crowing over reports that China publishes more papers in international journals than any country except the United States a British journal retracted 70 papers from Jinggangshan University, all by the same two leading scientists, Zhong Hua and Liu Tao, saying their work had been fabricated. Editors at the journal, Acta Crystallographica Section E, which publishes discoveries on new crystal structures, was investigating other Chinese scientists but said, “Chinese authors have submitted thousands of high quality structures to Acta E, which represent an important contribution to science.”

“Chen Jin is a computer scientist who was once celebrated for having invented a sophisticated microprocessor. It turned out that he had taken a chip made by Motorola, scratched out its name, and claimed it as his own. After Chen was showered with government largess and accolades, the exposure in 2006 was an embarrassment for the scientific establishment that backed him. But even though Chen lost his university post, he was never prosecuted.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, October 6, 2010]

Reasons for Academic Fraud and Misconduct in China

Critics blame weak penalties and system in which faculty promotions and bonuses are based on the number rather than quality of papers published. Richard Suttmeier, an expert on Chinese science policy, told AP he traced the origins of the problem to late 1980s and early 1990s when the science system in China was modernized while research accountability and evaluation were still weak. [Ibid]

“Fang Shimin, a muckraking writer who has become a well-known advocate for academic integrity, said the problem started with the state-run university system, where politically appointed bureaucrats have little expertise in the fields they oversee. Because competition for grants, housing perks and career advancement is so intense, officials base their decisions on the number of papers published. Even fake papers count because nobody actually reads them, said Fang, who is more widely known by his pen name, Fang Zhouzi, and whose Web site, New Threads, has exposed more than 900 instances of fakery, some involving university presidents and nationally lionized researchers.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, October 6, 2010]

“We need to focus on seeking truth, not serving the agenda of some bureaucrat or satisfying the desire for personal profit,” Zhang Ming, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, told the New York Times. “If we don’t change our ways, we will be excluded from the global academic community.” [Ibid]

Response to Academic Fraud in China

The Chinese government has vowed to address the problem. In September 2010, Liu Yandong, a powerful politburo member, said that China would take a “zero tolerance” approach to academic fraud and called for “moral upgrading” of universities and academics. He vowed to close some of the 5,000 academic journals whose sole existence, many scholars say, is to provide an outlet for doctoral students and professors eager to inflate their publishing credentials. [Ibid]

This is not the first time such pronouncements have been made. In 2004 and again in 2006, the Ministry of Education announced antifraud campaigns but the two bodies they established to tackle the problem have yet to mete out any punishments.

Obstacles to Improving Academic Misconduct in China

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “When plagiarism is exposed, colleagues and school leaders often close ranks around the accused.” Fang said this was partly because preserving relationships trumped protecting the reputation of the institution. But the other reason, he said, is more sobering: Few academics are clean enough to point a finger at others. One result is that plagiarizers often go unpunished, which only encourages more of it, said Zeng Guoping, director of the Institute of Science Technology and Society at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which helped run the survey of 6,000 academics. When people see the accused still driving their flashy cars, it sends the wrong message, Zeng said. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, October 6, 2010]

Chinese Student Protesters and Professors

In April 2009, more than 200 protesters have been holding an angry vigil at Peking University since Wednesday to protest a professor's controversial remarks on mentally-ill petitioners. Police have taken away more than 50, a university official said yesterday. [Source: China Daily, April 10, 2009]

Sun Dongdong, head of the university's judicial expertise center, set off a firestorm by suggesting in the March 23 issue of China Newsweek that 99 percent of people who repeatedly petition the government were mentally ill. Although he said later he had been quoted out of context and apologized, protesters have rallied in front of the university with banners calling for Sun to be fired. Miao Jinxiang, a senior official with the university, said although Sun's letter of apology had been distributed to the protesters, they refused to leave.

In September 2009, Ding Xiaoping, a lecturer and self-help guru who has developed a following at universities across China, was detained by police at the Haidian District Public Security Bureau in northwest Beijing. At least 100 students gathered outside a local police station, briefly tussling with the police, to protest the detention and demand Ding’s release. A number of them said that they had been visited by officials from their respective universities and persuaded to sign statements promising not to make any more trouble. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, September 21, 2009]

Ding, whose name is very similar to the former Communist leader’s, is an entrepreneur, inventor and charismatic purveyor of self-perfection who spent nearly three years in jail for his role as a student organizer during the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Ding claims to have several master’s degrees and more than his share of critics, many of whom describe him as a charlatan. In 2007, the New Century Weekly news magazine disputed his résumé, which includes claims that he has taught 6,000 courses. [Ibid]

Despite this he is very popular with young people. He is different from other teachers because he really cares about us, one student told the New York Times. On his blog, Ding says he has directed five television shows, helped invent a combine harvester and has established theoretical systems in philosophy, aesthetics, psychology and analytical mathematics. Although he is not employed by any school, student associations often invite him to speak on campus. [Ibid]

Ding has a long record of upsetting the authorities. In the spring of 1989, he helped set up so-called democratic salons where, according to reports at the time in Xinhua, the official news agency, leading advocates of bourgeois liberalization were invited to speak to students. After the Tiananmen Square demonstrations he was convicted of counterrevolutionary behavior. Despite nearly three years in prison, in 1995 he joined two dozen others in signing a petition calling on the government to investigate corruption and embrace human rights. In many of his lectures and on his blog, he takes thinly veiled swipes at the ruling Communist Party. [Ibid]

History Teacher Censured in China

In May 2010, Yuan Tengfei, a history teacher at Beijing's Haidian Teachers' Training Institute, was warned and censured by school authorities for “gravely incorrect comments” over inflammatory comments he made about Mao Zedong in an online video clip. According to records on a government-run website Yuan was ordered to cancel all outside lecture engagements, but a staff member at the privately run Jinghua School said yesterday that Yuan was still teaching part-time there and the complaint letter to the government had taken his comments out of context. [Source: Raymond Li, South China Morning Post, May 15, 2010]

Yuan, hailed by some Internet users as the mainland's boldest history teacher, condemned Mao as the world's No. 1 tyrant in a lecture on the history of the Cultural Revolution, still a sensitive topic on the mainland, in a a 100-minute video clip, no longer available online. “Those who have read some books should not have a good impression of Mao Zedong, otherwise what you've read ends up in a dog's head,” Yuan said in the clip. He also likened Mao's mausoleum on Beijing's Tiananmen Square to Japan's Yasukuni Shrine, “where a butcher with people's blood on his hands is worshipped.” [Ibid]

Yuan's comments triggered a heated debate on the internet, with some leftists scorning him as a traitor and demanding he be put on trial. Others questioned his eligibility as a teacher, saying his comments could mislead students. While some history professors questioned his knowledge of history, Yuan has drawn a huge following for simply speaking a truth that few dared to. “If the authorities hadn't responded in this way, it would mean that Yuan has got it wrong,” one commentator said on, a popular online chat room. [Ibid]

Yuan is not the only academic punished for challenging state-endorsed accepted historical views. Sun Yat-sen University philosophy professor Yuan Weishi came under fire for an article published in a China Youth Daily supplement in 2006 questioning the official interpretation of history and cautioning against nationalism in the study of Chinese history. That row led to the sacking of the supplement's editor, Li Datong. [Ibid]

Chinese Teacher Detained over “Pornographic Novel”

In September 2010, Yuan Lei, who teaches Chinese literature at Beijiao High School in Foshan, was detained for “spreading pornographic articles” after posting an online novel about the so-called post-1980s generation in Dongguan, Guangdong, where saunas and brothels thrive. Using his pen name Tianya Blue Pharmacist, Yuan wrote a 390,000-word novel on, China’s most popular online forum, that received more than two million hits. The novel’s introduction says the novel is about “a hidden, unknown world with love stories of the post-80s generation, Dongguan sauna massages and adult life.” The mushrooming sauna business is mostly a front for brothels in Dongguan. [Source: Priscilla Jiao South China Morning Post, September 29, 2010]

Internet users were outraged by Yuan's detention, saying his novel was nothing compared to works by Jia Pingwa and Chen Zhongshi. Jia and Chen are renowned writers of fiction about peasants' lives. Spider 1, the moderator of the Tianya forum's literature section, said it was very common to describe sex in fiction and Yuan was not as explicit as Jia or Chen. [Ibid]

The police were quoted by Nanfang Daily as saying that the novel had a hugely negative impact on Dongguan and its author could be penalised. Neither Dongguan nor Foshan police would comment yesterday. Zhou Ze, a partner at the Beijing Wentian Law Firm, which champions journalists' rights on the mainland, said the cross-city detention suggested a case of revenge by the Dongguan police. He said there was no legal basis for who should assess whether it was pornographic. “It's definitely not reasonable for the police to evaluate a literary work.” [Ibid]

China Cancels Academic Debate

During the post-Jasmine-Revolution crackdown, Communist Party officials abruptly canceled a debate competition among students from 16 universities on the topic of China’s 1911 revolution, one official said, in another apparent sign of the party’s determination to quash gatherings that might inspire dissent against the government. Zhang Ming, a judge for the contest and a political science professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, said Beijing’s municipal Communist Youth League committee ordered organizers to cancel the event on Friday evening, a day before the opening debate. [Source:, April 10, 2011]

“Everyone was pretty disappointed. This is really hateful for them to do,” Mr. Zhang said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “The organizers said they tried to negotiate with the committee, but they couldn’t change the decision.” Over the past six weeks, China has moved forcefully to clamp down on individuals and activities considered to be possible threats to political stability. Authorities have detained scores of lawyers, writers, activists and religious adherents, imposed new restrictions on foreign journalists and canceled an array of cultural events, including St. Patrick’s Day parades.

Mr. Zhang said organizers at the host university, the Beijing Institute of Technology, had prepared for the competition for students from universities in Beijing and nearby Tianjin for the past month. The topic was the 100th anniversary of China’s 1911 revolution against the Qing Dynasty, an event that help cement Sun Yatsen’s reputation as the founding father of modern China.

Image Sources: 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2011

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