Non-Chinese students cheat, too

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 11:37pm

Over the past years, the number of Chinese students studying in foreign countries, especially the United States, has surged. Research by Tom Melcher, an American living in Beijing who helps Chinese students find the best American summer camps and schools, indicated that almost all Chinese applicants cheat to gain admission to foreign universities.

Melcher's research, which unfairly targeted Chinese applicants and did not include samples from his native country, bolstered the image of China as the kingdom of piracy, and the common, albeit misguided, perception of Chinese students as undeserving cheaters.

Just as piracy is found not only in China, students of all origins cheat to gain an edge over their peers or to smooth cumbersome application processes. I have seen American students draft their own reference letters and their teachers willingly sign them. I know American professors who endorse this practice. American applicants, even native speakers of English, frequently hire "experts" to proofread, edit, and rewrite their personal statements. Melcher brought up the issue of fake transcripts, which can be resolved by requesting original copies from schools; indeed, this is now the standard practice adopted by most admission committees.

Like many Western researchers, Melcher readily attributes Chinese applicants' forged applications and acts of plagiarism to Confucianism and its espousal of imitation. Nevertheless, according to The Analects, the classical Confucian text, imitation is only one easy way to learn; learning by reflection and experience is more difficult and desirable. Melcher's simplistic attribution of applicants' unethical conduct to Confucianism, like his refusal to acknowledge similar conduct in American society, reinforces his implied belief in American superiority.

Melcher's widely reported study does a better job of fuelling Westerners' hostility and suspicion towards China rather than actually informing. It would not be surprising for schools to raise their admission standards for Chinese applicants. Indeed, some graduate school committees consider applicants only from premier Chinese universities and ignore top applicants from other schools. Even after students are enrolled, some have difficulty overcoming a presumption of inferiority - both intellectual and ethical - by their Western peers and professors.

In response, a growing number of Chinese universities have implemented policies on plagiarism, which hopefully will be more widely publicised to the West. That helps, but China has to do something even more basic: step up efforts to foster a culture of creativity among its populace.

Amy Lai, Sha Tin