Aftermath of Chinese Actor’s Plagiarism, Rewriting the Chapter of Academic Integrity in China?

Image for post
Image for post

Two months ago, the academic dishonesty of a Chinese well-known actor Zhai Tianlin with more than 11 million followers on the social media Sina Weibo was reported by BBC, making it escalate into a breaking scandal around the globe. Recently, as the date of college commencement is drawing closer, many students have begun to complain about the tough situation this incident put them into regarding graduation on social media platforms. Due to the sweeping negative influence of the scandal, not only the procedures of applying for studying abroad are more complicated for Chinese candidates, but many universities in China also have laid out more rigorous requirements for the review of graduation thesis this year.

Zhai Tianlin might never think that asking twice for “What is HowNet (a comprehensive database of China’s integrated knowledge resource system which every single student should know for publishing graduation thesis)” when he went on live stream for his fans will cause such a huge shock. This inappropriate speech immediately threw him in hot water given that later this January he posted on Sina Weibo the acceptance letter securing his post-doctoral place in Peking University, one of the most prestigious universities nationwide. And prior to that, he also got his Ph.D. degree from Beijing Film Academy. Netizen started to regard his academic integrity with suspicion. Soon after, they revealed evidence against him of submitting a paper that was 40% plagiarized and Zhai was later accused of plagiarism for his doctoral thesis as well. The academic reputation and candidates’ recruitment process of both Beijing Film Academy and Peking University have been questioned.

Image for post
Image for post

On February 8th, Peking University set up an investigation team and approved of Guanghua School of Management’s decision on dismissing Zhai. Peking University also decided to deprive the rights of recruiting the post-doctoral for those co-teachers involved, and instructed Guanghua School of Management to conduct self-criticism.

On February 14, the Beijing Film Academy issued a statement saying that relevant departments have set up investigation groups looking into this incident. On February 19th, Zhai’s paper “The performance of ‘Bai Xiaowen’ in the TV drama <White Deer Plain>”published in “The Radio and TV Review”during the postgraduate study of Doctoral degree was confirmed to have academic misconducts. His degree and his tutor Chen Yu’s qualification were both revoked.

Due to the negative social concern this scandal triggered, not only the procedures for applying for studying abroad are more complicated to Chinese candidates, but many universities in China also laid out more rigorous requirements for the review of graduation thesis this year. JMDedu spoke to some students and put together our first-hand information from the interviews.

Image for post
Image for post

In Sina Weibo, one of the most influential social network platforms in China, some students indicated that their graduation may be postponed, which has much to do with Zhai’s scandal. Some candidates even assumed that the rejection of their application for overseas colleges was closely related to this incident.

In China, students from average families studying abroad for master or doctoral degrees might mean spending all of the families’ savings. So if the academic dishonesty is not timely dealt with and rectified, it will to some extent cause injustice for those who comply with academic integrity and poses a threat to the connivance of higher education corruption.

According to the 2019 departmental budget announced by the Ministry of Education of China on April 2nd, about 6,000 papers will get spot-check in 2019 (excluding the military system), and the sampling rate is about 10% of the number of doctors awarded in the previous school year. Each of the selected dissertations will be sent to three experts to conduct a communication review. If one of the three experts comments on the dissertations that are “unqualified”, the other two experts will recheck them.

From duplicate checking, reviewing to spot checks, each process of evaluating the graduating students by universities are strengthening. “On April 11th, our college directly clarified that because of the scandal, the requirements of the graduation thesis are more stringent, and asked us to cope with it more actively.” A student of Shanghai University of Applied Sciences told us.

Image for post
Image for post

Another student told us that she had completed the first draft of the thesis and has been still in the process of revision. She said that since her paper involved many concepts and some regulations issued by the nation, which made her feel stressed about the new requirements for a duplicate checking rate below 10%. The requirement for duplicate checking rate is not the same in different universities and majors. Someone said in Sina Weibo that: “In the past, the rate used to be generally 30%, 10% is really exaggerated. If there is a lot of professional terminologies, you may only pass the review by coining new terms.”

Strict requirements are not only reflected in duplicate checking. “We just finished our mid-term examination today, our teachers checked each part of the graduation thesis and asked questions.” The student said that the college required the passing rate of the general examination must reach 100%. In the next few days, the school will organize mid-term spot checks, students who do not pass are likely to be faced with graduation postponement.

A graduating student in agronomy told JMDedu that the college has always sent 15% of the papers to be anonymously reviewed. On January 4th, the official website of the college issued a notice that the proportion of spot checks this year was still 15%, but by March, it said that all of the thesis for professional master degree need to be anonymously reviewed. “I am very worried about my paper because there must be some students cannot pass.” Although she has spent three months finishing the paper, she said frankly: “It was too hasty for completing academic research in two years. I just wanna get a degree as soon as possible.”

In response to Zhai’s scandal, Xu Mei, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Education, said that: “We need to stress our zero tolerance towards the misconduct that ignores academic rules, undermines academic norms, and damages educational fairness.”

“The review of the paper should be strict, but it makes us feel upset because of such reasons.” Some students told JMDedu in the interview. The aftermath has, to a certain extent, become the thrust of universities to strictly evaluate the graduates this year. After all, whether it is for students, tutors or universities, taking academic standards seriously is always a “compulsory course”.

To get the most up-to-date China EdTech news and stories, please subscribe to our weekly newsletter or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Written by

Supporting the EdTech ecosystem in China & globally. Operated by JMDedu, the leading B2B industry media company in China. Website:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store