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In China, faculty plagiarism a `national scandal'

SHANTOU, China—Charges of plagiarism roil China's universities, but they're not about students cheating. They're about professors who filch from one another.

Some professors pilfer the work of other scholars. Some employ teams of graduate students and publish large numbers of articles with their names on the students' work.

Among those implicated in recent scandals are a star legal scholar, a biomedical researcher and a journalism ethics teacher. The cases, exposed in the Chinese press, have people talking.

At the core of the scandals is an academic system that rewards scholars for prolific results in publishing and pays little regard to quality.

"It's a national scandal," said Chan Yuenying, the dean of the school of journalism at Shantou University, near Hong Kong.

Chan helped spark debate last December when she forced Hu Xingrong to resign amid accusations that Hu had plagiarized part of a paper written by a Ph.D. candidate at another school. Hu had taught journalism ethics, lecturing students not to copy from others.

"In general, in China there is a kind of climate of temptation to use other people's work and put your name on it. No one condemns you for it," said Choi Kai Yan, an assistant professor at Shantou University. "No one takes plagiarism very seriously."

Plagiarism isn't unknown among American academics and writers. But there's been more discussion of it in China and throughout Asia since January, when South Korean embryonic stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk was unmasked for faking data. Hwang lost his job Monday at Seoul National University.

China's universities have mushroomed since 1998, when then-President Jiang Zemin set an ambitious goal of creating 100 first-class universities and 30 world-class research universities by 2020. China today has four world-class universities among more than 2,000 universities with 6 million students. Enrollment is increasing at a rate of 15 percent a year.

Universities adopt a lax review policy, partly because many administrators value a faculty that publishes widely. Some administrators are themselves accused plagiarists.

"They don't care if your research results are your own. They just want to see results," Choi said.

Some senior Chinese scholars produce so many articles each year that the output would defy credibility in the West. Graduate students make it possible in many cases.

Chinese graduate students look on their academic mentors more as bosses, said Gong Yongjun, a 26-year-old master's degree candidate at Shantou University who operates a Web site on academic corruption. "They actually call them `boss.' Then the boss will put his own name on his students' work."

The government news agency Xinhua carried a recent article asserting, "Plagiarism and fake research have become rampant in China." It said Ren Yuing, a senior official of the State Council, warned that the issue was eroding trust in academia.

Xinhua said Ren "cited a recent survey of 180 Ph.D. degree holders, of whom 60 percent paid to be published in academic journals; and about the same percentage copied others' work."

Last week, 109 Chinese academics published an open letter calling on authorities to take action against plagiarism. Signing the letter were professors from several of China's most prestigious universities.

One plagiarism monitor, Fang Shimin, is a molecular biologist trained at Michigan State University who returned to China and began to root out scientific fraud.

"Since starting my work in August 2000, I have disclosed more than 500 cases of scientific misconduct, and these were just a small portion of charges I received. Most of them were about plagiarism," said Fang, who publicizes his work on a Web site called New Threads.

"Plagiarizing foreign papers is a common practice in China," Fang said. "They don't think it's a big deal. Besides, China doesn't have a system to protect whistleblowers, so even if someone has integrity and guts to stand up against his or her wrongdoing peers or supervisors, he or she will certainly face retaliation."

Among the recent allegations of plagiarism and other academic misconduct:

_ Qiu Xiaoqing, a biomedicine professor at Sichuan University who's accused of publishing fraudulent research in the November 2003 issue of Nature Biotechnology. Six of his co-authors have sought to remove their names from the article.

_ Zhou Yezhong, a legal scholar at Wuhan University who has lectured President Hu Jintao on constitutional law, was accused last December of copying the work of a once-jailed dissident.

_ Shen Luwei, an associate professor at Tianjin Foreign Studies University, was removed from his post in January for plagiarizing 10 articles in a book he published, Xinhua said.

China's Ministry of Education said this month that it would set up a national committee to investigate misconduct.

Fang said officials "are just paying lip service to this issue" and suggested that China needed a watchdog agency.

Some say attitudes may be hard to change.

"Scholars think, `If my works are plagiarized or copied, that means my works are great,'" said Fu Yongkang, a graduate student of journalism at Shantou University.


What Constitutes Plagiarism:

Colleges and universities in the United States and elsewhere prohibit students and faculty members from claiming other peoples' work as their own, and most of them have extensive definitions of what constitutes plagiarism. The following is Georgetown University's:

"Plagiarism is defined by the Honor Council document as `the act of passing off as one's own the ideas or writings of another.' In the Appendix to the Honor Council pamphlet called `Acknowledging the Work of Others' (which is used by permission of Cornell University), three simple conventions are presented for when you must provide a reference:

"1. If you use someone else's ideas, you should cite the source.

"2. If the way in which you are using the source is unclear, make it clear.

"3. If you received specific help from someone in writing the paper, acknowledge it."

Georgetown's full discussion of plagiarism is at:


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): CHINA-PLAGIARISM

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