Is copying “part of Chinese culture”?
I have often encountered culturalist explanations of why Chinese don’t respect intellectual property rights. One version of this is that it “in Chinese culture,” it is okay to copy other people’s writing without acknowledgement. I remember a professor at Heidelberg, Germany’s most famous university, asking me whether this was true. This has always seemed to me a kind of well-intentioned “intercultural communication” orientalism, but also universities and professors looking for cultural excuses for not enforcing their standards on students who bring money and who they think will go back to China anyway. In China’s good universities, plagiarism is as unacceptable as anywhere else — though let’s remember that the institutionalised plagiarism scare is something new in the West, and often seems as a surrogate reaction to failing education standards.
But recently, Sina.com reported that 19 Chinese organizations in Christchurch, New Zealand, protested against a story in a local paper, identified as “Evening News,” that described Chinese students as “the biggest cheats,” showing a photo of Chinese students copying exam papers and asserting that “cheating is part of Chinese culture.” The paper apologized.