Fraud Goes to School in China, Part 2 of 3

October 12, 2010 9:45 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 6:48 pm

Chung To, gives a class at Fudan University Sept. 7, 2006 in Shanghai, China. Plagiarism has become a serious problem at Chinese Universities. (China Photos/Getty Images)
Chung To, gives a class at Fudan University Sept. 7, 2006 in Shanghai, China. Plagiarism has become a serious problem at Chinese Universities. (China Photos/Getty Images)
Earlier this year, China’s academic world was put on notice as Acta Crystallographica Section E, a British science journal, retracted 70 articles published by two teams of Chinese scientists in 2007 for falsifying crystal structures. More papers were retracted by the journal later.

Editors of the journal wrote an open letter urging the Chinese government to “reinvigorate standards for teaching research ethics and for the conduct of research itself,” and establish “robust and transparent procedures” for handling instances of fraud.

The two leading Chinese authors, Hua Zhong and Tao Liu, both faculty members at Jinggangshan University in eastern China, have since been fired by the university.

This case of academic fraud in China led to other revelations. Last month, Nature published a correspondence from Zhang Yuehong of Journal of Zhejiang University–Science, revealing that 31 percent, or 692 of 2,233 submissions to the journal since Oct. 2008 were found plagiarized. The letter indicated that this was a conservative assessment.

Journal of Zhejiang University–Science, listed as a key academic journal by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, used CrossRef's plagiarism-screening service for the screening.

The magnitude of fraud reported is consistent with a survey administered by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, showing that a third of 6,000 scientists surveyed admitted to “plagiarism, falsification, or fabrication.”

Beijing University Blemished

Beijing University, known as the Harvard of China, has been marred by a series of plagiarism scandals in recent years. Back in 2002, Wang Mingming, a well-known professor of anthropology, was found to have committed plagiarism in his Chinese book Imagined Foreigners. About 100,000 characters in the book were said to be copied from the Chinese translation of William Haviland’s 1987 book Modern Anthropology.

Wang received his doctorate from London University in 1993, and was quickly promoted to a professorship at Beijing University. At the time of the plagiarism scandal, he was serving as a director of the Folklore Study Center and the Teaching and Research Section of Anthropology, and member of the Academic Board of the Department of Sociology at Beijing University.

According to Beijing Review, Wang was stripped of all his academic posts, but he remains a professor and doctorate adviser at Beijing University. He wrote a letter to Haviland apologizing for using his work without proper acknowledgment.

While Wang’s case has been reported by newspapers in China and abroad, other similar or more severe accusations of plagiarism have been mostly circulated on blog sites, including the cases involving Beijing University professors Cai Hua of sociology, He Shunguo of history, Huang Zongying of English, and Liu Xiao of physics. Among these, only Huang Zongying was removed from her faculty position for copying from Peter Ackroyd’s T. S. Eliot: A Life.

Netizens claim that these cases are only tips of the iceberg for the pervasive problem of academic fraud at Beijing University.

Yale professor Stephen Stearns, who taught at Beijing University in 2007, was so disturbed by the rampant plagiarism that he e-mailed his students, stating, according to a Web copy of the e-mail, “The fact that I have encountered this much plagiarism at Beida [Beijing University] tells me something about the behavior of other professors and administrators here. They must tolerate a lot of it, and when they detect it, they cover it up without serious punishment, probably because they do not want to lose face.”

As the e-mail became widely circulated, Beijing University responded with a vow to root out academic fraud. According to Caijing Magazine, Rao Yi, the dean of the College of Life Sciences, stated at the university’s website that he would fire any faculty members for violating academic rules of conduct. Rao also promised that the university would not condone the common behavior of professors signing on reference letters written by the students themselves.