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George Washington University Law School

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Another plagiarism scandal in the legal academy

He Weifang (贺卫方), previously profiled here, is in the spotlight again as he challenges Zhou Yezhong (周叶中), a professor on the law faculty of Wuhan University, to respond to allegations of plagiarism. (For a quick summary of the issue, here's a recent Reuters article in English.) Zhou is what might be called an establishment legal scholar; in 2002, he was invited to lecture Hu Jintao and the Politburo on constitutional law. Among many other positions, he is a deputy secretary of the Law Faculty's Party committee and a member of the Ministry of Education's Higher Education Legal Studies Curriculum Guidance Committee (高等学校法学学科教育指导委员会). In 2005, he was named one of China's ten outstanding young and middle-aged legal scholars (全国十大杰出中青年法学家) by the China Legal Studies Association (中国法学会).

The story broke in late November, 2005, when Wang Tiancheng (王天成), a former Beijing University law department lecturer (1989-1992) and now a businessman, accused Zhou of copying large portions of his own work in "A Constitutionalist Interpretation of Republicanism" (共和主义的宪政解读), which Zhou published (with co-author Dai Jitao (戴激涛), his doctoral student) in September 2005 with the People's Press (人民出版社). The case is particularly sensitive because of Zhou's political standing, and apparently media discussion of the case has been prohibited by the Communist Party's Propaganda Department.

Zhou has apparently refused to say very much about the case so far except to deny in general terms that he did anything wrong, but is reported to have suggested that all references to Wang were removed by or at the instance of the publisher because Wang was out of favor with the authorities, having spent five years in prison in the 1990s for attempting to organize an opposition party.

In his critique of Zhou, posted on the Academic Criticism website (学术批评网), Prof. He expresses his dissatisfaction with this explanation, finding that other authors without political problems were copied without attribution as well, and that the removal of quotation marks along with the citations suggests an intention to conceal the copying. It is also reported that the People's Press has declined Wang's request to issue a written statement backing up Zhou's claim.

In a tongue-in-cheek defense of Prof. Zhou (at least this is how I read it), an anonymous author suggests that the blame probably lies with Dai, his co-author and student. That professors take credit for a student's work is, the author writes, an open secret in China, and the practice works to the benefit of both: the student, an unknown, can publish at a major publishing house, and the professor can add another publication to his CV without having to actually write anything. But, the author writes, in these cases the student has a duty not to embarrass the professor by exposing him to criticism through such sins as plagiarism. Thus, the author writes, Prof. He is too hard on Prof. Zhou by expecting him actually to read carefully and check for plagiarism everything that is published under his name.

Troubles never come singly; just a few days after Wang's attack, an anonymous author on the web charged that Zhou and another Wuhan University Law Faculty member, Jiang Guohua (江国华), had published, each under solely his own name, what was essentially the same article under different titles in different journals. Apparently neither Wuhan University nor the two professors have made any comment on this matter to date.

For a good report in Chinese with more detail on the points covered above, click here.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/china_law_prof_blog/2006/01/another_plagiar.html

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