China Beat Archive


Date of this Version


Document Type



May 21, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright May 21, 2009 Susan D. Blum. Used by permission.


In recent years, articles have appeared from time to time in the Western press that deal with cases of plagiarism in China and speculated on what these incidents may reveal about how academic life and the educational system in the PRC work. When we learned that anthropologist Susan Blum, one of the contributors toChina Beyond the Headlines, a book that was co-edited by a contributor to China Beat (Timothy Weston) and in a sense was trying to do in print form some of the things that this blog now tries to do online, has been combining writing about various aspects of Chinese culture with writing about plagiarism in the U.S. (and elsewhere), we thought it would be great to get her to reflect for us on what is and is not unusual about the situation in the PRC. Here’s what Blum, the author of a new book called My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture as well as an earlier work on deception and truth in China, Lies that Bind: Chinese Truth, Other Truths (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007), had to say in response our invitation:

Plagiarism. Doesn’t the very word send chills down your spine? It resemblesplague, after all (even though it has no genetic connection to it), and a plague must sicken us all. So the cases of plagiarism and academic misconduct, fraud, copying, and misrepresentation that are the latest ills to beset China make for great journalistic stories. China should, by some accounts, take its lead from the “West,” and especially from the United States.

In case you haven’t noticed, the United States too is consumed by worries about plagiarism and violations of academic integrity. But we have the sense that things are worse in China.

The whole topic of plagiarism depends on related ideas of originality. By a certain logic, developed in Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, an author should write original works (Woodmansee 1984, Rose 1993), and should be paid—in both money and “credit”—for that contribution, especially because the best authors were seen as geniuses, inspired by their Muse or by God. The unique work of each of these geniuses should be acknowledged. And paid.