Tsinghua Professor in the Bull’s Eye for Alleged Plagiarism
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2017-12-06 07:33:34

A professor at one of China’s most prestigious universities has been accused of plagiarizing large parts of a book about the country’s longstanding archery tradition from a 30-year-old textbook on a similar tradition in Japan.

Peng Lin, a history professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Han Bingxue, an assistant researcher at the school’s Center for Chinese Ritual Studies, were chief editors of a 2016 book on Chinese ritual archery that online critics allege copied more than 20 excerpts from a 1986 book on kyudo — a form of archery associated with the samurai class of feudal Japan.

A popular Weibo microblog account for archery aficionados, “Target Archery Studies,” posted the allegations on Saturday in a lengthy article that has since been shared more than 3,000 times.

The claims cast a spotlight on China’s recurring academic plagiarism problems at a time when public interest in tradition is arguably stronger than at any time since the advent of the country’s economic reforms in the late 1970s.

Peng is a distinguished scholar of traditional Chinese thought and culture who has made several television appearances. The book, “Early Stages of Ritual Archery,” was published by the People’s Sports Publishing House of China, which is affiliated with the national sports administration. But the excoriating Weibo article claims that the book’s structure, nomenclature, and illustrations bear striking similarities to “Kyudo,” a 1986 work first published in Taiwan and easily accessible online.

The article states that “Kyudo” is “the only standard publication written in Chinese about Japanese ritual archery.”

On Saturday, Tsinghua’s Center for Chinese Ritual Studies released a statement condemning the allegations. “Much of the injurious content of the article in question contains deliberately misunderstood concepts, used far-fetched analogies, and distorted facts,” the statement read. “It has damaged the reputation of the individuals, school, and publisher concerned, and we will be launching corresponding legal procedures in order to protect our legal rights and privileges.”

Neither Peng nor the People’s Sports Publishing House of China had responded to Sixth Tone’s requests for comment by Wednesday morning.

Ritualized, performative forms of archery have existed in both China and Japan for centuries, but the two traditions are culturally distinct. The “Book of Rites,” an ancient Chinese text that is central to the Confucian canon, includes a chapter on archery ceremonies. While these texts were exported to Japan during the middle ages, modern Japanese kyudo features unique equipment and styles.

The Weibo article argues that Peng and Han’s work is a “deliberate distortion and vilification” of China’s ancient texts. Interspersing critical comments with photos of each book’s pages side by side, the article claims that diagrams showing archery poses have been copied wholesale from the earlier work, while photographs ostensibly showing archers in traditional Chinese clothing are in fact standardized outfits worn by modern kyudo practitioners with no historical precedent in China.

“The fact that a nationally renowned seat of learning like Tsinghua University would actually put out this tired excuse for traditional culture is utterly outrageous,” the article concludes. “Peng Lin and his colleagues are … spreading a knockoff version of Japanese kyudo among China’s highest academic institutions, poisoning students across the country with his unintellectual, unreasonable fake tradition of ‘rites and propriety.’”

Despite official efforts to clamp down on unscrupulous scholars, academic plagiarism is rife in China. Last month, 19 members of the editorial board at Scientific Reports, a journal published by Nature, resigned after their journal refused to retract an allegedly bootlegged paper written by Chinese researchers at a graduate school affiliated with the Harbin Institute of Technology.

And last year, Li Xinyu, the highest-ranked student at Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu, capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province, was accused of copying others’ work and paying to be published in academic journals.

Additional reporting: Liang Chenyu; editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: A woman operates a bow during a Chinese traditional archery competition in Luoyang, Henan province, April 9, 2016. IC)