Top Chinese Communist Party Officials Plagiarized Doctoral Theses, Report Says

By Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
March 12, 2019Updated: March 12, 2019

Six top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials plagiarized parts of their university theses, according to a review by the news agency AFP, in the latest instance of academic fraud exposed in recent weeks.

AFP reported March 8 that it obtained and reviewed 12 top Chinese officials’ master’s and doctoral theses, and found half of them were copied from other people’s theses without citation.

Among the officials were former Chinese Vice Chair Li Yuanchao; Chen Quanguo, the top official in the tightly controlled region of Xinjiang; Supreme People’s Court Vice President Zhang Shuyuan; and Shi Jun, vice chief of the United Front Work Department, the party organization tasked to carry out influence operations abroad.

This development comes as the regime attempts to ward off concerns of rampant academic fraud after a recent plagiarism scandal involving a popular actor sparked widespread criticism of “fake qualifications” on Chinese social media.

None of the six who plagiarized could be reached for comment, or replied to questions sent by AFP.

The cases were uncovered after AFP ran plagiarism detection software over the research papers, which were obtained from China National Knowledge Infrastructure, a database run by Beijing’s Tsinghua University and supported by several Chinese ministries.

Former Deputy Auditor General Chen Zhaoyu and former head of the State Intellectual Property Office Xiao Xingwei also were flagged by the outlet’s plagiarism review.

Academic Misconduct

The outlet reported that Li, Chinese vice chair from 2013 to 2018, wrote a doctoral dissertation titled “Some Issues Concerning the Production of Socialist Culture and Art” in 1998.

It found that 20 paragraphs in the paper are identical to a 1991 thesis titled “On the Spiritual and Cultural Needs of the Masses of the Socialist Society,” by Zhang Mingeng.

According to state-run media Xinhua, Li earned a doctor of law from the CCP Central Party School in 1995 while he worked full-time as a deputy head in the party’s propaganda department.

Li also received a master of science from Peking University’s Economic Management Science Center in 1991 while he was secretary of the Communist Youth League, an party organization considered a stepping stone for budding Communist officials.

Xinjiang party chief Chen was also found to have plagiarized his doctoral work. Chen is also a member of the politburo, the party’s elite decision-making body.

Chen has presided over a sweeping crackdown in the northwestern province, where an estimated 1 million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities are detained in internment camps, where they undergo political indoctrination and are forced to denounce their faith. The CCP has used the narrative of fighting “extremist threats” to justify this mass incarceration.

AFP reported that Chen’s 2004 doctoral dissertation, titled “Research on the Correlation between Human Capital Accumulation and Economic Development in Central China,” contained more than 60 paragraphs copied without citation from Zhu Yimin’s 2002 thesis “Human Capital and its Contribution to Economic Growth: An Empirical Study of Guangdong Province,” as well as Mo Zhihong’s 2002 thesis “Economic analysis of Human Capital.”

According to Xinhua, Chen obtained a master of economics from Wuhan Automotive Polytechnic University in 1997, while he worked full-time as mayor of Luohe city of central China’s Henan province. He then received a doctor of management from Wuhan University of Technology in 2004, while serving as CCP deputy secretary of Henan province.

According to Gao Xin, a commentator for Radio Free Asia, getting “fake degrees” or “pseudo-degrees” is an accepted practice to gain promotions within party ranks.

“Having a higher degree of education can mean gaining a higher position within the CCP. The CCP’s policy encourages officials to earn a pseudo-degree, even to get a fake degree,” he said in a 2016 article.

Studying Overseas

A number of senior CCP officials also have claimed to have studied overseas, implying that they have received an elite education. However, scrutiny by Chinese netizens has revealed that many claims have been exaggerated.

For example, Li Hongzhong, CCP secretary of northern China’s Tianjin city, is frequently reported by state-run media to have studied at Harvard University. In fact, Li attended a training program at Harvard Kennedy School in 1999.

Harvard Kennedy School has been dubbed by some Chinese as “the second CCP Party School,” because its two- or three-week training programs have long been a favorite study option among senior CCP officials.

According to the school’s website, four types of programs are available for CCP officials and Chinese business leaders.

State-run newspaper People’s Daily reported in 2006 that 300 director-level or higher-level officials received training at Harvard Kennedy School from 2002 to 2006.

Academic Scandal

Academic misconduct has existed in China for a long time, but the issue didn’t gain widespread attention until Zhai Tianlin, a famous movie star, was recently revealed to have failed to produce the required academic articles for his master’s and doctoral degrees.

Then, netizens found out that not only Zhai, but also his professor, Chen Yi, and Zhang Hui, the dean of the performance school at Beijing Film Academy—where Zhai received his higher degrees—were involved in academic fraud.

The subject was serious enough that the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang addressed academic fraud during his speech to the Chinese regime’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, in Beijing on March 5. China’s Ministry of Education also announced that tackling misconduct would be one of its key tasks in 2019.