Friday, December 14, 2007

Xi'an Fanyi: A "Most Respected" School?

During October, 2004, a small news item appeared in several Chinese newspapers and online media about a ranking of Chinese Universities, done by an American organization. One such piece can still be seen on the web today. Rankings of colleges were just getting popular in China then, so such news wasn't all that interesting by itself. What was interesting, however, is its Top Ten list of universities: while the usual suspects such as Tsinghua and Peking Universities occupied the top 9 spots, the 10-th spot belong to a school by the name "Xi-an Fanyi University". Not many people had ever heard about that school by then.

What's more, the accompanying Top Ten University Presidents list ranked Ding Zuyi, the President of the "Xi-an Fanyi University" in the 2nd spot, right between the Presidents of Peking and Tsinghua universities.

Where did this ranking come from?

The news report said it was from the October 4, 2004 issue of Los Angles Times, which is certainly a reputed source. It also included an original English version, which perhaps inadvertently provided the first hint of something not being right:

Ranking of Chinese Universities by USA Fifty State Higher Education Union

  The first list of most respected Chinese universities and their presidents was established by the USA Fifty State Higher Education Union through a survey. 80,000 questionnaires were distributed with 50,000 returned as valid. The event is the first of its kind in China done by international agencies. Noticeably, China's first private university Xi-An Fanyi University in the country's western province of Shaanxi has entered the top 10 list. It is now the biggest private universities in China boasting about 40,000 students in residence.

It's quite obvious that Los Angles Times could not have published something in such awkward English. The name of the institute "USA Fifty State Higher Education Union" also sounded fishy. Could this be another blatant fake?

Fang Zhouzi thought so. He was in China at the time when he encountered this "news". Without direct access to the Los Angles Times paper itself, he did the next best thing: searching its online archives. He found nothing. In his first report on this case, Fang Zhouzi was careful enough to point out that just because it was not in the online archive was not proving enough that the report was not in the paper. However, based on the English writing itself, he was confident that this news was a piece of forgery done by some Chinese people with sub-par English skills.

Although a self-claimed "university", Xi'an Fanyi University (西安翻译学院) is really a small college specializing in training for foreign language translators and interpretors. Unlike public colleges in China, schools like this one are "private" and charge hefty tuitions from students. They usually compete for the students who had failed to earn admission in the more traditional colleges and had to pay their own ways for a skill education. Not withstanding the successfulness or the lack thereof, such a school would not be qualified to be on anyone's Top 10 list.

After Fang Zhouzi's initial exposure of this "fake news", the school fought back immediately and provided copies of the certificates it had received to prove its authenticity. The two certificates read:

After a survey of American colleges, Professor Dingzuyi,
the president of Xi-an fanyi university is acknowledged
to be the venerable president of college run by the
local people in China.

After a deliberation of the colleges run by the local
people in China,
Xi-an fanyi university is acknowledged
to be the first study-worthy by
American Colleges.
It is quite interesting to note that, Xi'an Fanyi University, a school specializing in English skills, could not recognize the many mistakes in English in these certificates alone.

In the meantime, the news of the ranking was still spreading in China and made into mainstream news outlets including the official Xinhua News Agency and Chinese Youth Daily. A copy of the October 4th, 2004 edition of Los Angles Times was made available. The "news" of the ranking was indeed in the paper, not as a report, but as a paid advertisement. It was also found out that the socalled "USA Fifty State Higher Education Union" was registered in the State of California by someone named He Yumin as a company. The company was registered on May 26, 2004, merely 5 days before it delivered the "most respected" certificates. It is quite unlikely that the company had the time to send out 80,000 questionaries and process the 50,000 returns as it had claimed in the news/advertisement.

In December 2004, Fang Zhouzi's supportors in Los Angles visited the address on the registration and found the "USA Fifty State Higher Education Union" is no longer there. It probably never was.

But by now, Ding Zuyi (丁祖怡) had had enough. He decided to sue.

1 comment:

Yush said...

Can I recommand the following for further reading? Sorry, both in Chinese.

Absurd Lawsuits Arised from an Advertisement
--A Collection of Original Documents and Media Reports

The Three Hoaxes Planned by Ding Zuyi and "50 States" Chief He Yumin