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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.

 

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

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 Comment

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    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 Arts & Entertainment

‘First Lady of Hong Kong TV’ Lily Leung Passes Away at Age 90

Chinese netizens pay their respects to veteran actress Lily Leung Shun-Yin (1929-2019), who passed away on August 13.

Manya Koetse

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Lily in 1996, image via Sing Tao Daily.

While the Hong Kong protests are dominating the headlines, the death of Hong Kong veteran actress Lily Leung Shun-Yin (梁舜燕) has become a top trending topic on social media site Sina Weibo under the hashtag “Hong Kong Actress Liang Shunyan Dies from Illness” (#香港演员梁舜燕病逝#).

Lily Leung, image via http://www.sohu.com/a/333418087_161795.

The actress was born in Hong Kong in 1929. She starred in dozens of television series, including the first TV drama to be locally broadcasted. She became known as “the first lady of Hong Kong TV.”

Leung acted for TVB and other broadcasters. Some of her more well-known roles were those in Kindred Spirit (真情) and Heart of Greed (溏心风暴).

Leung, also nicknamed ‘Sister Lily’ (Lily姐), passed away on August 13. According to various Chinese media reports, the actress passed peacefully surrounded by family after enduring illness. She was 90 years old.

“I’ve seen so much of her work,” many Weibo netizens say, sharing the favorite roles played by Leung. “I always watched her on TVB while growing up, and will cherish her memory,” one commenter wrote.

Another well-known Hong Kong actress, Teresa Ha Ping (夏萍), also passed away this month. She was 81 years old when she died. Her passing away also attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media (
#演员夏萍去世#).

Many people express their sadness over the fact that not one but two grand ladies from Hong Kong’s 20th-century entertainment era have passed away this month.

“Those people from our memories pass away one by one, and it represents the passing of an era,” one Weibo user wrote.

“Two familiar faces and old troupers of Hong Kong drama – I hope they rest in peace.”

By Manya Koetse

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

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China Celebs

Iconic Shanghai Singer Yao Lee Passes Away at the Age of 96

Yao Li, one of the seven great singing stars of Shanghai in the 1940s, has passed away.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese singer Yao Lee (姚莉), the ‘Queen of Mandarin pop,’ passed away on July 19 at the age of 96.

The singer, with her ‘Silvery Voice,’ was known as one of the seven great singing stars (“七大歌星”) of Shanghai of the 1940s.

For those who may not know her name, you might know her music – one of her iconic songs was used in the hit movie Crazy Rich Asians.

Yao’s most famous songs include “Rose, Rose, I Love You” (玫瑰玫瑰我爱你), “Meet Again” (重逢), and “Love That I Can’t Have” (得不到的爱情).

Yao, born in Shanghai in 1922, started singing at the age of 13. Her brother Yao Min was a popular music songwriter.

When popular music was banned under Mao in the 1950s, Hong Kong became a new center of the Mandarin music industry, and Yao continued her career there.

On Weibo, the hashtag Yao Lee Passes Away (#姚莉去世#) already received more than 200 million views at time of writing.

Many Chinese netizens post candles to mourn the death of the popular singer, some call her passing “the end of an era.”

“Shanghai of those years is really where it all started,” others say.

Listen to one of Yao’s songs below:

By Manya Koetse

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

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