through the sweltering day one of the students, Huang Qin Qiu, turned
to me with a grin and said, "Now I don't have to worry about my
grade in this class."
in the year, that same student and a few of his friends were grumbling
about Professor Gan. Seems the professor didn't feel a clean backyard
was worth a passing grade. What surprised me at the time wasn't
the professor's actions but the genuine anger of the students. They
felt entitled to a high grade for the work they put in.
a teacher myself, I found out quickly that turning in an essay copied
verbatim from a text is considered scholarship in Chinese
universities. My students whispered conspiratorially or stared
blankly as I raged on about plagiarism and what it does to the creative
mind. The next assignment saw more of the same.
in the Chinese education system is based solely on tests, so cheating
is inevitable. I had a class of Master's students who would
peek every time I blinked -- and the sixty of them produced only
half a dozen different texts between them for one essay. No amount
of screeching and yelling did anything but hurt my voice.
is particularly susceptible because the foreign language education
in China is so poor and the tests so difficult that most students
have no choice but to cheat or fail. I was asked to produce numerous
essays for graduating seniors -- when I refused they wanted me to
help them pull essays off of the Web. This web essay business is
big these days in China.
the old days, wannabe officials took the national exam and prayed
their essay was formulaic enough to meet the Emperor's standards.
Deviation from the formula -- whatever that formula may have been
-- guaranteed failure. Perhaps this is why most of China's
great poets began their poetic careers as exiles. The idea of
the national standard exam is ingrained deep enough that it survives
today. And people cheat today as much as they did back then.
it came as no surprise to me to see that China's most prominent
Jiaotong, embroiled itself in a cheating scandal. A list of
students and their official "supporters" was posted briefly on the
Web and raised an outcry amongst Chinese. The "supporters" -- all
judges, party officials, military men etc. -- were for the most
part related to the listed students, but the chance that the officials
were just "(providing) the names of the students and their social
standings," as Jiaotong spokesman Jiang Hong asserted, is very slim.
fact, anyone who was surprised that China's universities are corrupt
is a fool. Teachers' salaries are dismally low and many of them
never get paid, but the top officials with Party connections travel
to Japan regularly, drive a fat car and have lunch with politicians
all the time. Guanxi (the art of cultivating relationships)
is so pervasive in China that corruption is a given. A man who speaks
pidgin Japanese and does not have a Master's degree can head an
office in which Ph.D. candidates with impeccable Japanese and
English are mere clerks. Guess who's related to the President of
Southwest Agricultural University? Government funded projects like
Project, which provides scholarships to excellent poor students,
have also been tainted with nepotism and embezzlement.
than 1% of China's population is going to college right now. There
are not enough universities or seats in the universities that do
exist to accommodate all those who want higher education. In order
to pay for the new students, enlargements and improvements to universities
largely ignored -- or in the case of Southwest Agricultural largely
destroyed -- during the Cultural
Revolution, universities charge higher tuition every year. So
poor students don't have a chance. Students begging in the marketplace
-- with a large placard hung around their necks displaying their
test scores and admission letters -- are a common site in poorer
are considered pure and righteous by many of the common people.
They are the ones who will help lead a New China in the coming future.
Students are sheltered and taken care of by their parents and very
few of them have to work or experience life outside of a dorm. For
my students, corruption is a way of life. Students with poor scores
and successful parents get scholarships while excellent, outspoken
students get charged with cheating (ludicrous!) and are threatened
learn very quickly that in order to get ahead in China qualifications
aren't as important as who you know and how well you know them.
So when my students turn in plagiarized essays and cheat like little
children I am angry that they are becoming like their elders, while
I egg them on at the same time, hoping they'll slip through the
cracks into the rare good job.
printable version of this article
is a teacher living and working in China. His articles have appeared
in the South China Morning Post, the Minnesota Daily,
and elsewhere. His exclusive Antiwar.com column appears Tuesdays.
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