Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fudan University Under Fire for its Plagiarism Decision

The controversial decision by Fudan University's Committee of Scholarly Standard that Professor Zhu Xueqin did not commit plagiarism in his Ph. D. thesis continues to draw attention on the Internet forums in China. Several print media also published reports questioning if the academic community in China is capable of policing itself.

Fang Zhouzi publishes more examples of Zhu Xueqin's thesis that were translated from Carol Blum's published book, including many "low-level mistakes" in misunderstanding and misinterpreting the original in English.

More damagingly, however, is an open letter published by more than a dozen of netters from an Internet forum where netter "Isaiah" raised his initial accusation. The authors of this open letter expressed their opinion that Zhu Xueqin had committed plagiarism "even by the loosest standard" and their worry that Fudan University's "partial and contradictory" conclusion could lead to a big setback in China's academic integrity.

The lengthy open letter disputes Fudan's claim that they do not accept anonymous leads, pointing out that they had indeed taken up cases originated from anonymous sources in the past. It also claimed that the investigation chose to narrow its scope so as to avoid the most damaging accusations being raised and its conclusion is self-contradictory. The Committee's spokesperson Professor Ge Jianxiong had said that they did not investigate the entire thesis (because it was out of the scope of the investigation) but nevertheless announced that the thesis "as a whole" was an adequate academic work.

The open letter also questions the Committee's verdict that Zhu Xueqin's thesis indeed contained "irregularities". It states that even the few "irregularities" listed by Ge Jianxiong as examples should have already qualified the work to be classified as plagiarism according to the common sense and norm of academic standards.

Finally, the open letter points out that plagiarism is plagiarism, even when the original author had granted permission to use his work. Zhu Xueqin's thesis had included passages from other scholar's work without citation, a practice that the Fudan Committee appeared to have found acceptable.

The open letter has by now received more than 200 signatories, including more than 30 with real names.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fudan University Whitewashes a Plagiarism Case

Professor Zhu Xueqin (朱学勤) of Shanghai University is an outspoken scholar who has been involved in more than one controversy for his speeches. His latest trouble, however, comes from the content of his Ph. D. thesis in history, which he completed in 1992 at Fudan University. The thesis has been published in book form in several editions, receiving critical acclaim and popularity.

In July last year, a netter wrote to New Threads pointing out that the book, The End of Morally Idealist Nation, contained many passages that are plagiarized. Specifically, the netter claimed that Zhu Xueqin had lifted the Chinese translations of the book Sister Revolution: French Lightning, American Light by the American author Susan Dunn. Zhu Xueqin did mention the book in his preface, but neglected to mention its translated version and also left impression that the lifted passages were his own work.

About the same time, the apparently same netter published more detailed allegations in Internet forums in China with the pseudonym "Isaiah". In addition to Susan Dunn's work, Isaiah found more sources from which Zhu Xueqin has plagiarized passages, including that of a Chinese scholar Gao Yi (高毅) and the English book Rousseau and the Republic of Virtue: the Language of Politics in the French Revolution by Carol Blum.

Zhu Xueqin did not back down from the accusations. In fact, he referred the case to the Fudan University's Committee for Scholarly Standard himself, seeking an official redemption. He also submitted a lengthy essay in defense.

Half a year later, the Committee publicized its verdict. It declared that Zhu Xueqin's thesis and book contained irregularities in providing end notes and citations, as well as mistakes and misinterpretations in translations from foreign languages, but nonetheless did not commit plagiarism.

In the specific case of using Gao Yi's work, the Committee accepted Zhu Xueqin's explanation that Gao Yi himself had agreed on his usage, although the work was not properly cited as so. For the English books, the Committee noted that a part of his thesis was originally intended to be a preface for the translation of Susan Dunn's book, so a lack of citation or notes in that scenario is acceptable. As for Carol Blum's book, the Committee noted that the book was cited in the beginning of the thesis.

As soon as the Committee's conclusion was made public, both Isaiah and Fang Zouzi voiced strong objections.

Fang Zhouzi then made his own investigation and found that as many as 18,000 characters in Zhu Xueqin's thesis were direct translations from Carol Blum's book, most of which without citation. These passages even included end notes from Carol Blum's book itself, but made it appear as the author's own citations. He also pointed out a few obvious mistakes in Zhu Xueqin's translation work and concluded that, "if the thesis were original, then it's plagiarism; if the thesis were a translation, then it's of low quality."

Fang Zhouzi also expressed his disappointment in Professor Ge Jianxiong (葛剑雄), a member of the Fudan Committee who spearheaded the investigation. Ge Jianxiong has been outspoken in the past, advocating a "zero-tolerance" policy for academic fraud.