The recent case of a young scientist’s suicide attempt highlights the widespread use of cheating among Chinese academics.
Lu Yan, 32, is a medical researcher and associate professor at Zhongshan Hospital, a major teaching hospital in Shanghai and affiliated with Fudan University. According to the hospital’s website, Lu’s research is focused on the pathology of type 2 diabetes and fatty liver. His work has been published in top medical journals, including the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Cell Metabolism, Gastroenterology, GUT, and Diabetes.
Although Lu was married and had a child, he fell in love with a female graduate student and divorced his wife. Most Chinese media reports have not disclosed the girlfriend’s identity, but some social media users claim that her name is Li Min, according to a July 26 report by China’s news portal Sohu. He showered his new girlfriend with gifts, including an apartment and a car. He also included her name in five of his research publications. However, when Lu discovered that she was in a relationship with three other men, he became heartbroken and tried to take his own life. He took sleeping pills after posting a suicide note on social media and accusing his girlfriend for being unfaithful. He was later resuscitated at a hospital.
Lu’s ex-girlfriend is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Fudan University Medical School. Lu also revealed in his suicide note that he helped her write her Masters thesis and all her Science Citation Index (SCI) articles, Sohu reported on July 27.
“Li Min, I wouldn’t care to offend the whole world just for you, just because you promised that you would be mine forever. I gave everything I have to you—your Masters thesis, the PPTs (powerpoint presentations) you presented in class, all your SCI articles, I typed every single word for you,” he said in his suicide note. “In addition, I gave you an apartment, a car, clothes, purses, jewelry, along with many other gifts. In the end, you simply told me: ‘I no longer love you, let’s end our relationship.’”
SCI is an index used in academic circles to evaluate the significance and influence of a research paper. In China, it is used as the most important criterion to assess a science student, researcher or professor. For instance, in top universities, Ph.D. students must have a certain number of SCI publications to be able to earn a Ph.D. degree; faculty members must also have a good number of SCI publications to become a tenure track professor or to get promotions.
Chinese netizens were shocked when the suicide note was circulated on the internet. The internet gossip also caught the attention of the Ph.D. student’s classmates, and they looked up the five SCI publications that include both Lu and this student as authors. The top-ranking publication was published in Nature Communications in November 2018.
Impressed by these high quality publications, Chinese netizens lamented that such an intelligent researcher ruined his family life and career for an unworthy girlfriend.
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A November 2016 article by China’s Science and Technology Daily listed a large variety of academic cheating to illustrate the shocking situation in China. It included high school graduates preparing plagiarized papers or research based on fake data when applying to colleges; inflated or fabricated recommendation letters; highly exaggerated academic achievements in resumes; false authorship; going through the backdoor for awards or scientific assessments; and using the services of brokerage companies that specialize in selling and buying research papers—which has already become a huge underground industry.
Zhu Bangfen, a professor of physics at Tsinghua University and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, used the word “unprecedented” twice when speaking to Science and Technology Daily about academic cheating in today’s China.
“The seriousness is unprecedented, its prevalence is also unprecedented,” Zhu said. “This is because the generation that grew up during the Cultural Revolution are now the leaders and backbone in the academic sphere. In addition, the overall moral standards are declining quickly, and many people are eager to obtain quick benefits and quick success.”
Zhu also pointed out that although academic cheating exists in almost every country in the world, the situation in China is much worse because authorities intentionally turn a blind eye or impose light punishment on a few main perpetrators.
Zhu cited the Hanxin Incident, one of the biggest high-tech scandals in recent years, as an example. Hanxin, literally meaning “Chinese chip,” is the name of a digital signal processing (DSP) chip. Chinese professor Chen Jin claimed to have developed the chip. After being assessed by several academicians and numerous industry experts, it was announced in a high-profile press release in Shanghai, in February 2003, that this was the first DSP chip to have been wholly developed by China. However, the chip was later revealed to be a duplicate of a chip developed in the West with the original trademark sanded away.
Chen was fired in 2006, but did not have to face any criminal charges. Sohu reported in March that he was working in the multimedia processor industry and enjoyed a comfortable life.