BULL STREET - The art of the Con

A Chinese Flub

Wang Minming had it all. He was young, he had risen to a high level in his chosen profession and he had the admiration of his colleagues. Wang was a full professor and doctoral supervisor at the prestigious Peking University. He was in the Department of Sociology and was also a linguist. After attaining an undergraduate degree from Peking University he went to Xiamen University and from there to the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. When he graduated from that school he went back to Peking for his PhD

Interestingly enough, most prestigious schools in the United States such as Harvard and Yale do not allow their PhD graduates to become professors at the school from which they matriculated at least until they have attained substantial standing in their chosen area of academia. The reason they give is for that practice is merely that they want their own people to earn their wings elsewhere before returning. This probably means rising in stature within the academic community, as well as having numerous publications to their credit. However, in spite of the fact that this theory is somewhat similar to the ban against human inbreeding, it also prevents the fox watching the chicken coup syndrome. As an additional step, in the West, most of the time attaining the standard 3-year course of studies for a Doctor’s degree involves outlining and preparing a thesis which most be and original work.

The norm at American Universities for students completing their thesis is probably another three years for a total of approximately six-years from the beginning to the end of the process. However, there is no finite time within which the thesis has to be completed and they can often take up to ten-years to complete. However, in China, which has not had an overhaul of its universities and their requirements in eons, the PhD degree more often than not is prematurely granted after the third year.

However, conforming with this norm is most difficult and it leads to a grinding program spawning the evolution of inferior material. Moreover, this process leads to the plagiarism of work done by others. Wang was one of those sucked into this maelstrom of achievement. He needed to perform on what was considered by his to be a timely basis but was afraid of using materials written by others as the basis of his thesis. However, he was in an unusual position, being fluent in English as well as other languages he could peruse what was available in the global thesis library on his given discipline and for the most part no one else would be any the wiser.

Wang’s subject was Anthropology and while translating various western works he came across the works of American anthropologist William A. Haviland who wrote a book entitled Cultural Anthropology. He used Haviland’s works extensively, taken them directly from the text and inserting them into his own thesis. There is a journal that is widely published in China known as the Social Sciences Journal. Xu Ming was the director of that journal. Ming had read Haviland extensively and had also read the works of Mingming. He found certain passages in both works to be identical. Ming was almost afraid to publish the fact that Wang was in reality a fraud but determined that the disclosure would be in the best interests of shaking up the static ways of Chinese higher education. Moreover, Wang would make an excellent example because he had risen so far so quickly.

However, rising quickly is China’s way of determining who is going to make the cut and who isn’t in their cutthroat process. The routine in Chinese academia is rather clear cut. After the student receives his under-graduate degree and makes the determination to go on for advanced study, his life becomes a mirror image of every other person in China striving to reach the same goal. Their pathway after graduation is, three years for a master’s degree, three years for a doctorate during which time the thesis must be completed, two years later if they wish to remain in academia they receive that associate professor certification. During the next five years, associate professors become obligated to write two unique books in a previously unexplored field. Should those goals not be met, the applicant will more probably than not, have his career derailed. Moreover, this would occur in spite of the fact that the study had taken on a very strenuous thesis on a heretofore totally unique field. In China that would not buy the student one additional day.

If the students complete their project and adequately finish the books they are writing, they are moved up to become full professors after the fifth year. This is an intense program and its time frame has been so telescoped that it is almost impossible legitimately to succeed. Thus, plagiarism and fraud enter the scene. It is the system that effectively causes the problem, not the people that create this environment. Moreover, once professorship is attained, tenure comes with it. Thus, after all of that labor, there now comes the opportunity for a long vacation. This is hardly true in the west; full professorships are handed out about as readily as 5 carat “D” graded diamonds. Tenure is even more difficult to achieve in the United States. This keeps western academics at the top of their game, while their Chinese cohorts more often then not start tailing off once they have achieved their norm and take a much needed vacation.

“Yang Yusheng:[73] At present, five unhealthy phenomena prevail in academic circles-low standards, slipshod reproduction of materials, bubble academia, counterfeit production, and plagiarism. It’s hard to imagine that students who have grown up in such a corrupt academic atmosphere would inherit the academic essence, and carry on pure Confucian principles in their academic research.”[74]

When the word got out as to what Wang had done, justice was swiftly administered in typical Chinese style:

“On January 14, Peking University decided to severely punish Wang Mingming. Consequently, he was deprived of virtually all his academic posts, including directorships of the Folklore Study Center and the Teaching and Research Section of Anthropology, and membership of the Academic board of the Department of sociology at Peking University. Using Wang’s case as a negative example, the Department of Sociology at Peking University has launched an educational campaign among faculty members to promote academic ethics.”[75]

Since China has gone capitalistic in the last two-decades, probably the only arena that has not gotten a firm cleaning out is the education system. Higher education in China was always oriented toward the nepotistic and that hasn’t changed much to this day. The children of wealthier and more influential families always get first crack at the choice institutions of higher learning. However, this creates a brain-gap in that it is not always the brightest that make the grade. While at the top of the educational pyramid, the schools of higher learning are first class, but the students that have matriculated because of position may find it harder to keep up. This can readily be solved by stealing other people’s works and through the internet; this has become as easy as a walk in the park. Moreover, if the aspirant is fluent in English, the job of stealing other people’s intellectual property becomes a cake walk.

The rulers in China are well aware of the fact that if they are going to be a world class country, they are going to have to stop copying and start creating; however, this process begins in school and for the moment there are no rules. Moreover, for the most part, supposedly unique works in China are never seriously critiqued because it is just not considered the proper thing to do. This is not the way real academia works. It is the survival of the fittest with the cream always going to the top.



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