Yale Professor at Peking U. Assails Widespread Plagiarism in China

December 21, 2007

A Yale University professor has written a stern letter expressing concern about widespread plagiarism by students he taught at Peking University this fall.

“The fact that I have encountered this much plagiarism … tells me something about the behavior of other professors and administrators here,” Stephen Stearns, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, wrote to his students. “They must tolerate a lot of it, and when they detect it, they cover it up without serious punishment, probably because they do not want to lose face. If they did punish it, it would not be this frequent.”

Plagiarism and other forms of academic corruption have been common in Chinese higher education for years, even as the authorities try to raise academic standards.

Mr. Stearns went on to attack the lack of protection for intellectual-property rights in China, even citing the pirating of his own textbook by Peking University itself, a premier Chinese institution that is often called Beida. “Disturbingly, plagiarism fits into a larger pattern of behavior in China,” he wrote. “China ignores international intellectual-property rights. Beida sees nothing wrong in copying my textbook, for example, in complete violation of international copyright agreements, causing me to lose income, stealing from me quite directly.”

Chinese translations of the strongly worded letter, titled “To My Students in Beijing, Fall 2007,” quickly spread around the Chinese-language Internet. It was also published on New Threads, a Chinese Web site that reports cases of plagiarism in China. (The English original follows the Chinese translation.)

The headline on New Threads says, “The loss of face goes international: Yale University Professor Stearns rebukes PKU students for the prevalence of plagiarism.” —Paul Mooney