Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Plagiarizing Fang Zhouzi Himself

Besides spending a lot of his time busting scientific fraud, Fang Zhouzi's main interest remains in writing. He is a proficient writer of essays on popular science and culture, mostly in the form of newspaper columns and sometimes simply internet articles. Due to their popularities, his essays are often being re-published again and again, mostly without his permission or even any credit to his authorship. Sometimes they were also being plagiarized.

However, it is still unusual to see one of his earlier essays being blatantly plagiarized by a professor from the famous Tsinghua University (清华大学).

In an essay published in the newspaper The Economic Observer (经济观察报), Tsinghua's Professor of Sociology Sun Liping (孙立平), told two curious stories he had just read from the internet: one about the interesting character Joshua A. Norton who had proclaimed himself "Emperor of these United States" and another of the "independent" Conch Republic in America.

Almost the entire content of Professor Sun's essay was to retell these two stories he just read, plus one ending paragraph stating his own reflections of the two stories. The problem is, his "retelling" was simply a "copy&paste" job, with only minor alterations of the original. Other than stating that those are the stories he just read, he did not give any source to the Horton story, but mentioning the Conch Republic story was from another magazine.

Unfortunately for Sun, the Horton story was originally written by none other than Fang Zhouzi, who believes that he was the first person to introduce that story to Chinese audience, several years ago. In fact, he provided a verbatim comparison of his original and Professor Sun's version and publicly accused Sun for plagiarism.

Facing Fang's charge, Professor published a "clarification". In it, he reaffirmed that the stories were not his own and he had failed to locate the original author of the Horton story. He apologized to Fang Zhouzi for failing of citation, but denied the plagiarism charge. He did not explain why it was not plagiarism, only saying that it would be too "heavy" a charge in this case.

It appears that Professor Sun is an honest and diligent scholar. He probably believes that, if he had properly credited Fang Zhouzi as the source, he could freely "borrow" the text from the original as well. Unfortunately, this line of reasoning is extremely common in China's academia. Given that Sun is a Professor at one of the top universities in China. It's no wonder how deep and wide the practice of plagiarism could have spread in China.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Sun is correct in thinking that if he had properly credited Fang (and provided quotation marks where quoting more than just a few words), he could have used his material without being guilty of plagiarism. Crediting is what it's all about. Had he quoted him verbatim with credit, he might have been guilty of a copyright violation, but not of plagiarism. These are two very different things.

Eddie Cheng said...

Thanks for the comment. But Sun did not use quotation marks or any format to indicate that it's a direct quotation.

In fact, he changed a few phrases here and there and rearranged some sentences from the original content. He probably was trying to make it "better" or more to his own liking. But his "editing" was so minor that his behavior qualifies as plagiarism.