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.

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