Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Plagiarism Case of Wang Mingming

In his letter, professor Stearns cited an old case in Peking University (Beida):

The penalties for plagiarism that you will encounter later in life are very serious. If you do it as a graduate student, you can be expelled from university, and you will not get your degree. If you do it as a faculty member, you can lose your job. I know you may not believe that, for the sociology professor at Beida who translated an entire book into Chinese and published it with his name on it only lost his administrative positions but kept his professorship and salary. But things are not like that elsewhere. When plagiarism is detected in the United States, it can end the career of the person who did it. That is also true in Europe.
Long time followers of Fang Zhouzi and New Thread know exactly what that case was. It was back in 2002, when Fang Zhouzi was just getting into this business of exposing academic fraud. The entire history of that case is documented in New Thread's For the Record.

In January, 2002, an article was published in a small newspaper in Shanghai, accusing Professor Wang Mingming (王铭铭) of plagiarism. Wang Mingming was, and still is, a professor in the Institute of Anthropology in the Sociology Department of Peking University.

The fact was pretty simple. In 1987, Wang Mingming led the effort to translate of William A. Haviland's Cultural Anthropology and published it in Chinese. A decade later in 1998, Wang published a book of his own in Chinese (想象的异邦). It was found that about one-third of this new book, some 100,000 Chinese characters' worth, were directly copied from Haviland's book. Wang's new book cited 120 references, but did not include Haviland, a book Wang had translated himself and then copied in tantalizing scale.

The accusation ignited a heated debate in the media and internet at the time. Numerous students from Peking University rose to defend Professor Wang. Wang's own Ph. D. students published an open letter defending the character of their beloved teacher and accused the whistle-blower for having ulterior motives in defaming their school, the leading institute of Anthropology in China.

According to a report in the newspaper Beijing Youth, the original accuser was ready to apologize to Professor Wang for the trouble he had caused. On the other hand, Professor Wang only had "no comment" to answer to reporters' questions.

Later in March, 2002, Professor Wang Mingming issued a public apology to Haviland, colleagues, and readers. The school decided to revoke his administrative positions and suspend his privilege of advising Ph. D. students for two years. But he had his professorship intact. The punishment was almost identical to the ones dished out in the more recent plagiarism cases at Fudan University.

Today, Wang Mingming enjoys the full status as a professor in Peking University. His online resume indicates that he is also the Vice President of the Association of Literature and Anthropology in China.

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