Zhai Tianlin and China’s Academic Dishonesty Issue
Chinese actor Zhai Tianlin, popular across different national TV series such as “White Deer Plain” and “The Advisors Alliance”, has been called out on China’s biggest social platform Weibo for alleged academic dishonesty.
Having graduated from Beijing Film Academy (BFA) with a doctorate’s degree last summer, the actor submitted an application to Peking University for a postdoctoral position.
However, suspicions first arose during a live video when Zhai showed ignorance of the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), an influential digital library that publishes academic journals, dissertations, yearbooks, and more. The celebrity’s unexpected unresponsiveness to the CNKI topic surprised many, as it did not resonate with a typical PhD candidate’s attitude.
"For someone with a PhD, how could he not know what the CNKI is? And how could he have never used it for referencing academic works?" wrote a Sina Weibo user.
Upon further investigation, a Weibo netizen (PITD亚洲虐待博士组织) posted the results of a plagiarism check against Zhai’s published thesis, exposing over 40% of “copy and pasted” material. Out of the thesis’ 2783 words, the analysis shows that 1482 were copied. The significant result highlights explicitly the high probability of Zhai Tianlin’s fraudulent conduct in respect to the university.
As a response to the incident, China Daily posted on Beijing’s Film Academy (BFA) Weibo account that “academic standards must be the same for everyone... Postdoctoral researchers are a university’s greatest honor, ” and ended with “who wants to carry the crown should also carry the weight.”
Moreover, this particular plagiarism case has expanded into a larger, national phenomenon; so much so, that “Peking University responds to Zhai Tianlin Case” has become a hashtag viewed over 650 million times on Weibo. The underlying issue here is the Chinese discrepancy in its alleged educational meritocracy. The notion that a degree can be bought by means of money or fame undermines the efforts of the common people.
Since the launch of investigations, the BFA has revoked both Zhai Tianlin’s doctorate degree and his professor Chen Yi’s authorization to tutor PhD candidates.
As a direct repercussion of Zhai’s scandal, netizens across China have been raising suspicions on numerous other matters related to academic fraud. These include Ji Xiangqi, former vice-governor of East China's Shandong province, who received his master's degree in only five months. Also questionable is the former police chief of North China's Tianjin Municipality, Wu Changshun, who got a PhD in engineering without leaving his position in the public security system.
“The scandal raised alarm bells at BFA, Peking University and all higher education institutions, which should strengthen regulations over academic management”, Chu Zhaohui, one of National Institute of Education Sciences’ researchers, remarked last Tuesday to the Global Times.
This latest incident brought the long-standing issue of academic misconduct and bribery in China’s educational ambient to the public attention. Unfortunately, academic dishonesty, fraud, and bribe exchange are no new issues for the country.