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Zhai Tianlin’s Alleged Plagiarism Triggers Discussions on Academic Cheating in Chinese Universities

“Colleges and Universities face great corruption problems, that is what you should be looking into.”

Gabi Verberg

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Earlier this month, Chinese actor Zhai Tianlin (翟天临) drew the public’s attention for his appearance at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, where he starred as a police officer preventing his parents from being scammed. Now, Zhai, again, is at the center of attention: not for his acting skills, but for allegedly committing academic fraud.

The famous actor is a Beijing Film Academy Ph.D. graduate and postdoctoral candidate at Peking University, one of China’s most renowned universities.

His alleged academic misconduct has been a topic of discussion for some days now. During a live broadcast with fans, Zhai apparently said he did not know what CNKI (知网) is, an academic database that all scholars in China will be familiar with.

It led to suspicions on Zhai’s academic standing, and people on the Quora-like Q&A platform Zhihu accused Zhai of not publishing any academic papers in recognized scholarly journals – something that is mandatory for Ph.D. students in China in order to fulfill their graduation requirements.

Zhai’s academic records increasingly became the focus of attention on February 9th, when one Weibo user (PITD亚洲虐待博士组织), a graduate student from Beijing, posted the results of a plagiarism detection test that was run on one of Zhai’s papers.

The test result revealed that of the 2783 words used in the paper, that was published last year, 1482 words were copied from other texts, indicating a 40.4% similarity score.

After the Beijing Film Academy released a statement that they would be investigating Zhai Tianlin, state media outlet China Daily posted a message on their Weibo account, stating that “academic standards must be the same for everyone” and that “postdoctoral researchers are a university’s greatest honor, ” and that “who wants to carry the crown should also carry the weight.”

On that same day, Peking University also published a statement saying that they are investigating the incident.

Zhai Tianlin (1987), who is also known as Ronald Zhai, is most known for starring in various popular Chinese TV shows and dramas, such as White Deer Plain and The Advisors Alliance.

The plagiarism allegation case has become a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media this week. The hashtag “Peking University Responds to Zhai Tianlin Case”  (#北大回应翟天临事件#) has been viewed a staggering 650 million times on Weibo at time of writing, while the hashtag “Beijing Film Academy Sets Up Zhai Tianlin Investigation Team” (#北电成立翟天临事件调查组#) received more than 490 million views.

The storm is not likely to blow over soon, as new reports now also allege that Zhai’s MA-thesis relies heavily on the scholarly work of Chen Kun, a famous Chinese actor who also attended the Beijing Film Academy.

Although the scandal has triggered countless reactions condemning Zhai, there are also many people on social media who are directing their anger towards the universities and state media, with one typical comment saying: “By solely focusing on Zhai, you are avoiding the real problem. Colleges and universities face great corruption problems, that is what you should be looking into.”

Another person wrote: “I feel like the public opinion is focused too much on this case of ‘academic misconduct.’ What the media should be investigating is: why was the paper not checked for plagiarism before its publication? What the Beijing Film Academy should be looking into is how somebody can graduate with a paper that is not up to standard? And how someone who clearly doesn’t hold the appropriate academic abilities has access to its programme.”

“Peking University and Beijing Film Academy are both responsible for this fraud. How could they ever enroll such a fraudulent person?!” others wrote. 

Some commenters seem to have no trust in China’s academic standard, saying: “Are you telling me you [the universities] didn’t know about this when you admitted him? Now you are setting up investigation teams, but it is all just for show.”

Academic corruption in the Chinese educational context has been a well-known problem for years. As early as 2002, the Ministry of Education implemented various policies to combat academic misconduct, defining it as an act of academic dishonesty that is punishable, but the problem is still widespread (Kai 2012).

Some studies suggest that one of the factors that play a role in plagiarism in China relate to the fact that ‘plagiarism’ is something that is often defined in very general terms, with university handbooks nor policies clearly codifying instances of “appropriate and inappropriate source use” (Hu & Lei 2015, 236).

There are also many other factors at play, however, such as the pressure for doctorate students to publish their papers, and the phenomenon of  “publishing cash incentives,” which would allegedly trigger more academic fraud.

On Chinese social media, many people express that they hope that the institutions involved will “set an example” for other universities and “be transparent” in the way they’ll handle Zhai in case he is found guilty of plagiarism.

Many also pointed out the irony in the fact that it was Zhai who played the police officer that prevented his parents from being scammed during the CCTV New Years’ Eve Gala.

“This is just all so embarrassing,” some write: “Now it looks like not just Zhai’s PhD status should be taken from him, but also his MA title.”

Others suggest that this whole scandal would make an excellent topic for another TV drama, starring Zhai Tianlin, doing what he does best: acting. Some voices suggest that people should wait for the investigations into Zhai’s work to be completed before condemning him. With the massive online attention for this case, it might not take too long for more facts to surface on the case. We’ll keep you updated.

By Gabi Verberg and Manya Koetse

References

Hu, Guangwei and Jun Lei. 2015. “Chinese University Students’ Perceptions of Plagiarism.” ETHICS & BEHAVIOR 25(3): 233–255.

Kai, Ren. 2012. “Fighting against Academic Corruption: A Critique of Recent Policy Developments in China.” Higher Education Policy (25): 19–38.

 

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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  1. Avatar

    Rob

    February 15, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    I did research into Chinese Universities and their (lack of) academic policies – not a single University among the top 50 in China had clear written policies. More to the point, the Universities I and friends worked in (USTB, Renmin, UIR, BFSU, UIBE) not only had no policies, but teachers who caught students were not allowed to apply suitable consequences (I caught two Masters students and the Department Head tried to convince me not to fail them).

    Zhai’s case is only at issue because he’s highly public; nobodies in China who cheat and plagiarize still manage to get away with it, and University departments permit it and defend students who do it.

    Of course, Chinese academia is full of this; there was a scandal in Beijing back in 2010-2011 where a group were translating academic papers into Chinese and selling them to Chinese scholars for publishing; in other cases, Uni profs were stealing their students’ work and publishing it as their own (USTB had a couple of cases of this).

    Plagiarism is like any form of corruption in China – it only matters if you get caught in a very public way.

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China Celebs

Controversy over Chinese Singer Sun Nan Sending His Kids to an Unqualified “Traditional Culture School”

The parents might think it’s a good idea, but what about the children’s future?

Boyu Xiao

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Famous Chinese singer Sun Nan and his wife Pan Wei have left their Beijing life behind and have moved to Xuzhou to send their children to a school that focuses on ‘traditional Chinese culture.’ The decision has triggered controversy online, where many netizens think that acquiring academic skills is more important for children than attending ‘women’s virtue’ classes.

When news came out that famous Chinese singer Sun Nan (孙楠) is sending his children to the Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture that, among others, has “women’s virtues” in its curriculum, controversy erupted on Chinese social media this week. The hashtag “Sun Nan Sends His Kids to Unqualified School” (#孙楠孩子就读学校无办学资格#) has received more than 260 million views on Weibo at time of writing.

The controversy started over an interview with Sun Nan’s wife Pan Wei (潘蔚), who is currently promoting her new book The Art of Artless Life (素心映照).

In the interview with short video platform Yi Tiao (一条), Pan says that the family had decided to move from Beijing to Xuzhou some three years ago, living in a modest 700-yuan-per month (±$100) apartment in order to send their children to a local “traditional culture” school that was allegedly established 28 years ago.

In the interview, Pan stresses the importance of teaching children traditional Chinese cultural values such as filial piety, as she also specifically mentions the value of teaching girls about being “gentle and kind (through needles and threads)” for when they grow up to be wives and mothers.

The interview soon became a big topic of discussion online, where the school in question was identified as the ‘Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture‘ (华夏学宫) in Xuzhou, that is focused on teaching traditional Chinese culture to its students and has an annual fee for its junior programme of 100,000 yuan (±$15,000). As also featured in the interview, Pan Wei herself teaches needlework at the school.

The heated discussions on Chinese social media focused on the doubted academic qualification of the school and its teachers, as well as on the intentions of Pan and her husband to send the children to such an institute.

On January 23rd, various media reports disclosed that, according to the Education Department of Xuzhou, the Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture indeed is not qualified as an official educational institution, and that graduates from this institution also cannot obtain verified certificates, nor participate in China’s National College Entrance Exams.

The courses that are taught at the school have specifically attracted the attention of online commenters. Besides needlework, which is only taught to girls, the school offers so-called “women’s virtue” classes and uses Di Zi Gui (弟子规, Standards for being a Good Pupil and Child) as its main textbook, which was written in the Qing dynasty and is arguably based on the teachings of Confucius.

It is not the first time Chinese “women’s virtue” classes receive criticism online for reinforcing gender sterotypes. In 2018, one “female virtue class” was ordered to shut down after it made headlines.

Sun Nan and Pan Wei got married in 2009 after they had both been married before. From their earlier marriages, Sun had one daughter and a son, and Pan had one daughter, who previously studied at an international school. In 2011, the couple had one daughter together.

Singer Sun Nan has been well-known for his Mando-pop songs for years. He released his first album in 1990 and has had a long-lasting career ever since, receiving various awards for his work as a musician. (You might also remember his performance at the 2016 CCTV Spring Gala, where he performed together with 540 dancing robots.)

On Weibo, many netizens express their idea of Pan Wei as an “evil stepmother” who would allegedly send her own biological daughter to a good school, while purposely enrolling her stepchildren into a school that lacks proper credentials. It even led to some Weibo users leaving comments on the social media account of Sun Nan’s ex-wife, Mai Hongmei (买红妹), asking her to “save” her children from their current predicament.

“Aren’t these children supposed to receive compulsory education?” some wonder, while others worry that the children have been victimized by an “evil cult.” Some even say it is “ruthless” to withhold children from a qualified education, potentially leaving them no chance to enroll in college later on in life.

There are also commenters and bloggers who note that Sun and Pan’s personal involvement in the school, and the reason for sending their children there, is driven by financial interests, suggesting that the couple might be eager to make money by jumping on the “traditional culture” trend.

The head of the Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture has since denied that the couple owns any shares in the institute. The school’s home page, at time of writing, however, does actively promote Pan Wei’s latest book.

“This controversial issue actually has three sides to it,” one popular Weibo blogger explains, suggesting that (1) the fact that Pan’s own child is enrolled in a qualified school and her step-children are not, makes her look like a bad stepmother with ulterior motives; (2) it is up for debate to what extent parents can choose to send their children to special schools, withholding them from the basic academic education they will need later on in life; (3) it is questionable to what extent it is good for young children to learn about ‘women’s virtues’ and obedience, and one might wonder what motives lie behind sending one’s children to such a school.

For now, the Xuzhou Education Department has stated that they will further investigate the matter. According to Chinese law, children must attend primary and junior secondary school for at least nine years in total. Meanwhile, Sun Nan has not responded to the controversy on his official Weibo page yet.

Watch the video of the controversial interview with Pan (with English subtitles) here:

By Boyu Xiao and Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Critical Fans: Weibo Superstar Xie Na Under Attack By Her Own Supporters

Even Weibo’s number one celebrity can clash with their fans.

Gabi Verberg

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Image by CRI International

Chinese idol fans are often known for their unwavering loyalty army-like bearing, especially when defending their messiah from haters. However, as recent cases involving boyband Nine Percent and host Xie Na show, this vitriol might be turned against the celebrities themselves should their engagement with these online legions be lukewarm.

Are the fans there to serve their idol, or the other way round? Fanatical fandom that takes idol-worshipping to extreme heights is nothing new on the Chinese Internet. What is unusual is when the idols themselves get checked by their own fans for inappropriate behavior.

For a couple of days now, host of Happy Camp, actress and no. 1 star Weibo superstar Xie Na (谢娜) has come under attack from her fans for her performance in Chinese hit reality show Viva La Romance (妻子浪漫旅行), where four famous couples go on holiday together. According to Xie Na’s fans, she mentioned her husband, famous singer Jason (张杰), too often during the show despite several warnings from fans in the past to keep her affection under wraps.

To cool down the bubbling dissatisfaction among her fanbase, Xie Na engaged her fans in a Weibo discussion. She soon regretted this decision as the diplomatic initiative blew up in her face when she refused to acknowledge any wrong or listen to her fans’ suggestions. After being continually criticized by her fans, she made it clear how vexing this all was, posting comments such as: “Oh, so this is what prattling on Weibo is like,” “[This is] prattling, I’m out”, and “There is so much resentment, why can’t everybody be happy?”.

This is where it all went really downhill. Xie Na’s intransigence led to a fan walk-out. In a statement on Weibo, a spokesperson for the official Xie Na Weibo fan group announced that it had been handed over to Xie Na’s management. In that same statement, the spokesperson explains: “(Xie Na), you entered the discussion on Weibo where people are giving you no more than 15 suggestions, of which only some were regarding your husband […]. We only try to help you, it is up to you whether you listen or not, but instead, you just write us off by saying we are resentful.”

In reaction to the commotion, Jason posted a lengthy statement on Weibo explaining that the director of Viva La Romance required Xie Na to talk about her husband; after all, the program is all about married couples. He also added that a few days of filming gets edited into a one-hour episode and what does and does not get aired is not Xie Na’s decision, suggesting that the critical fans’ view was somehow skewed.

Picture of Jason and Xie Na, uploaded together with Jason’s statement on Weibo.

Fellow celebrities and co-stars from Viva La Romance, Ying Caier (应采儿), Ying’er (颖儿) and Cheng Lisha (程莉莎) spoke out in defense of Xie Na. In a post on Weibo, Ying Caier wrote: “If we are not to talk about our own husbands, then whose husband are we supposed to talk about? Isn’t the show called Viva La Romance?”. (Note that the English title of the program is not a literal interpretation of the Chinese title which is: “The Wife’s Romantical Holiday”).

The dispute got much attention on Weibo. Both the hashtags “Jason backs Xie Na,” and “Xie Na gets hatred by fans in a discussion about herself” racked up 590 million and 530 million views on Weibo within the first 24 hours.

Xie Na is not the first star to be confronted with disapproving fans. November last year, some fans decided to engage in fantasy “couple pairing” of the popular boyband NINE PERCENT (百分九少年), igniting the anger of both the boyband and other fans by shouting slogans that two members of the boyband, Kun (蔡徐坤) and Wang Ziyi (王子异) were “married.”

 

 

In a short clip that went viral on social media, a dozen fans hold up posters and shout: “Yi (Wang Ziyi) and Kun are real, they are married!” (异坤是真的,异坤结婚了). At the time, the hashtag “Kun and Wang Ziyi couple pairing fans shout slogan” got over 120 million views with many people discussing how far fans meddling in the life of their idols should go.

In some Weibo reactions, many fans showed their support for the two superstars, writing: “Leave them (Kun and Wang Ziyi) alone!”, many others condemned the fans that started the incident by saying: “Is this what you call being a fan?” and “You must be ashamed of yourselves!”

Quickly after the video incident, Kun uploaded a picture on his Instagram account of an empty circle drawn against a white background, with the comment: “My attitude towards the matter is like the picture, I have no words and there is nothing I can do”.

This disinterested approach seemed to have worked, as the clash between the Nine Percent fans soon blew over; perhaps that same approach would have worked for Xie Na as well, who has not yet reacted to her official fan group’s walk-out.

By Gabi Verberg, edited by Eduardo Baptista

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

 

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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