I'm posting from an anonymous account, for reasons that will be obvious.

I'm an associate professor in China at one of the top 10 universities in China, and have been working in China for a number of years. Most research in our lab is respectable and unproblematic. We get some papers in top journals and conferences.

As a native English speaker, I help on papers from graduate students. Some of these papers are conference papers, and some are journal papers. The conference papers I work on are international.

However, probably between 30% to 50% of the Chinese graduate students I work with copy and paste from the Internet into their research papers (from Wikipedia, from other papers, from software documentation, and so on). The amount ranges from a sentence here and there, to whole sections. It's usually easy for me to notice copy/pasted material (it's where they suddenly write like a native English speaker with 10+ years of research experience). Yesterday, I encountered the worst instance of copy/paste I've ever seen, and I flatly refused to be listed as a co-author.

What's become clear:

  • The students generally think it's acceptable to copy/paste; they're unconcerned even if it's published.
  • Part of the motivation behind copy/pasting is that English is their second language.
  • The Chinese professors (i.e., their supervisors) mostly do not read their students' papers; they might take a quick check before submission.
  • The Chinese professors push the students into rushing to meet conference submission deadlines, and I feel this has a negative impact on both their research and paper-writing quality.
  • The university doesn't outright condone plagiarism, but they don't seem to think of it as a negative. I get the impression that it's considered efficient use of time. The focus is on getting it published, while significance, errors, and plagiarism are less important.
  • Many of the students do not intend to have careers in academia. The paper will not have much significance, but it's either required for their degree, or their supervisor is pushing them into writing it. They don't care much.

I've explained how serious a matter this is, over and over. And honestly, I'm fed up repeating myself – it makes me feel like the university (and research in China) is a joke. It makes me feel ashamed to work here.

I've tried repeatedly explaining this to everyone, but the seriousness is not getting through. They just think I'm overreacting.

Q: How can I convince graduate students in China to not copy/paste from the Internet into their research papers?

I'm looking for an answer along the lines of "the negative consequences of copy/pasting from the Internet in publications are blah". I have no intention to pack up and leave; I just want to get the message across and convince them that plagiarism matters. So I'm thinking about writing a document entitled e.g. "why we shouldn't plagiarize" and sending it around.

  • 54
    Is plagiarism or even cheating in exams seen as an issue like it is in other parts of the world?
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 5:20
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    Give a lecture about what retractions are. Be sure to include many examples that highlight consequences (ranging from embarrassment to losing job and degree). Show statistics about increase of annual number of retractions for plagiarism. I'm not very familiar with Chinese culture and I don't know how you "explained" the issue, so just a comment instead of an answer.
    – user9482
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 6:44
  • 68
    @SolarMike AFAIK, no. I have quite a few friends who go to Chinese universities, and sanctions against cheating/HW plagiarism range from failing the course in the top universities (usually just temporary, as you can still make up the course later) to more or less nothing in average universities. It's not even uncommon that instructors deliberately exit the exam room after distributing the exam papers so that students can cheat :-) In China, students not doing well is much more serious than students cheating.
    – xuq01
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 7:15
  • 16
    @Roland Unfortunately, this will probably not work in China, given what usually happens to researchers who engage in academically dishonest conduct :-) (nothing, you've guessed)
    – xuq01
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 7:17
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    "Citing sources" is 10% about giving credit and 90% about providing integrity to your argument. Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 12:52

15 Answers 15


OK, it's getting weird now. I thought this would be much less common in top 10s.

There's a simple path here: tell them plagiarized papers are not going to get published, or will be retracted in the future, and this will hinder their graduation & will create trouble for their advisor (+ advisor would lose face) if they insist on submitting such papers.

When your students (and everyone else) care only about the "pragmatic", give them "pragmatic" reasons! Chinese people generally do not like creating trouble/making others lose face, so that's a good path.

Convincing them that plagiarism is morally incorrect and not right would be harder, and students would likely not buy into that. But the pragmatic path gets the job done :-)

From the situation you described, I infer two things about your situation. Correct me if I am wrong:

  1. The university you're at is likely not top-tier. I would be surprised if even the researchers at Tsinghua or Jiaoda (Shanghai Jiaotong University) engage in academically dishonest conduct frequently. I suppose you're likely at a local (provincial) university.

  2. Your colleagues/students are mainly targeting domestic conferences/journals (and likely not the top ones). Otherwise they will surely know that academically dishonest practices will get their papers rejected.

If both are true, I'm afraid little could be done. You could try very hard to at least make your students not plagiarize, but this will probably have a very negative impact on future recruitment, and even your students are not going to 100% listen to you. The best option at hand is trying to move to another university (preferably in another country) if this bothers you (it would bother me for sure).

The ranty part: I decided to delete this, but just keep two key points.

  1. Plagiarism is not dealt with seriously enough and people let it happen. Awareness of what constitutes plagiarism is low, but for reasonably experienced researchers this should be obvious. So, as you see, the problem is not that people don't know it is plagiarism; they likely do know, but they have no reason to care.

  2. The quality of most domestic journals & conferences are questionable, so the problem is even more serious at this level (because not even the editors care).

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – aeismail
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 12:08
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    The OP could also point out that in the long run lots of plagiarized papers will damage the reputation of the university and cause their degree to lose value.
    – arp
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 22:31
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    @arp I'm not sure this would work in the OP's specific case, as the students in question seem not to be interested in a research career after all (esp. an international one). I doubt that employers would bother to care about the research quality at all (in most countries, people generally evaluate universities by how hard is it to get into the university as an undergraduate, anyways).
    – xuq01
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 0:03
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    "tell them plagiarized papers are not going to get published, or will be retracted in the future" - ha, if only that were true. In many fields and many conferences/publications, the quality of peer review is so low that it is entirely possible that plagiarized content gets published and not retracted. I don't have statistics to back this up, but in your place, or OPs place, I would not assume the opposite to be true.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 17:52
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    @user4052054 homework
    – xuq01
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 16:34

tl;dr The majority of students simply will not understand the academic view of plagiarism. There is only so much you can do to help them. At some point you simply cannot help them any further. There's often nothing more you can do than taking care it does not influence your career.

Long version

My wife has graduated from a top-10 university in China (she's Chinese). I was very much involved in the writing of her master's thesis. I also supervised students in China during my time there and did so (and still do so) for Chinese students in Germany and Switzerland.

The issue is actually very simple but in most cases nigh to impossible to tackle. They see no wrong in doing so. When something is published they consider it common knowledge. Science, for them, is about knowledge, not about people. Names come and go, they vanish, many are dead already, so what do they matter? Of importance are the findings, not the finder.

You can (as I do) try to tell them that it will hamper their global career if they keep on doing so. That's a pragmatic reason many do understand. However, many students in China and Chinese abroad simply do not aim for this global career. They will go back, take care of their parents and have a good career there - among other people who think the same way as they do.

  • 6
    The problem with plagiarism is not only about giving due attribution to someone for finding something. The more relevant aspect is clearly indicating what is one's own work and what isn't. I am not an expert on Chinese academic culture, but this should be understandable even in a culture that considers scientific advances "common knowlede". Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 18:26
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    "Science, for them, is about knowledge, not about people." To be fair, this still leaves a lot of room for understanding plagiarism. If science were only about the knowledge, then why should these students care that they get recognition for the knowledge they compiled? Once it's compiled, apparently the author doesn't matter, so why should their professors grade them for compiling the knowledge and adding to it? The knowledge gatherer is supposedly irrelevant. If that really is the reasoning, I would think there is a logical way to make them see the point still.
    – JMac
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:13
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    @JMac I agree: plagiarism is bad mainly because science is about knowledge, not about people. The better we can trace information to its original source (i.e., to the evidence) the better we know how to judge it and how much to trust a given model. That citations also act as reputation-credits for the scientists is an (IMO, unfortunately overemphasized) by-product of the system. Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 22:13
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    Science is about knowledge, not about people. Plagiarism is bad because plagiarized work is not creating new knowledge. It also makes the source and origin of the knowledge untraceable and unverifiable. Scientists are just a by product of knowledge, not vice versa: we have scientists because human need and long for new knowledge, not that we generate knowledge because we have scientists.
    – xuq01
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 8:29
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    @DavidRicherby Of course, also to acknowledge if the result is true. But my point is, it's the knowledge that matters at the end of the day.
    – xuq01
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 8:02

tl;dr Move elsewhere. If not, make sure your immediate colleagues feel the consequences of academic misconduct.

I have worked as a postdoctoral fellow for two years in China. I was invited to stay as an assistant professor, and indeed had moved in with the intention of learning the culture and adapting for a longer stay. However after mere 4 months I completely gave it up because of a number of issues in Chinese academia, including what you describe and other serious issues.

I only had direct experience with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and South China Agricultural University. However I interacted with a number of colleagues from other institutions, and took part in 4 local conferences. I refrained from living in an expat bubble, and dealt with locals all day. This gave me an overview of how Chinese Academia works, and why.

Mind the premises below:

  1. Plagiarism is not perceived as a serious issue.
  2. Cheating is perceived as being practical/smart.
  3. Cheating is not considered akin to stealing.
  4. Exposing others is not socially acceptable.
  5. Punishing someone is reserved to either higher authorities or a local majority (e.g. a mob);
  6. none of which include foreigners.
  7. Because of fairly recent past events and opinion-shaping education, foreigners are taken as arrogant whenever intruding in Chinese culture and affairs.

This makes your stand quite delicate, and the simplest solution is that you move away. However you say that is not an option. Points (1-3) will neutralise any attempts at lecturing them on this point (or statistics, salami publication, etc). Believe me: I have tried. They will nod and agree, but that is merely point (7) echoing in their heads.

My colleagues in China would change posture, albeit momentarily, when they got exposed. But the problem is, exposing them yourself incurs in points (4 & 5) and reinforces (7), and you cannot rely on administration to do it because of (1-3). This is an endless circle which will drive you crazy and isolate you further. (That was I few months ago.)

However you will see some change if somebody gets exemplary punishment and exposure from perceived higher authorities. Since you're decided to stay and want them to change, I suggest you report a number of (the most obvious) local cases to responsible editors and expose them anonymously online. If you know how to blow a whistle well enough, at least a couple of retractions will ensue. If enough media exposure is given to such frauds & retractions, the local government will punish someone to save face. Then you should see your colleagues trying to avoid being caught on obvious plagiarism, though I highly doubt that mean they acquired a difference stance on cheating.

Be extremely careful with being a whistleblower in academia, anywhere, but especially in China. Don't do it openly, especially as a foreigner. Best of luck, and just reconsider moving elsewhere.

P.S. An important point: be mindful that most Chinese academics strive to publish with paid publishers (Frontiers, Nature SciRep) through Chinese editors and reviewers. This greatly increases the chances of manuscript acceptance (e.g. peer review agreed over phone/wechat calls), and also that whistleblowers are prone to take the bitter end. Do not approach editors in such cases.

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    Understanding the concept of face is central to dealing with Chinese. This is very hard for a foreigner, and essentially incompatible with serious academic research.
    – Scientist
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 14:23
  • 2
    Suggest replacing "most" with "many", since you've only described some specific fields, and did not cite statistical findings on this matter. Otherwise +1.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 17:53

You already ruled out the best answer, which I think you should reconsider: If the cheating and plagiarism bothers you as much as you say (and it would bother me, too!), you should find someplace better and go there. Those places exist.

A friend of mine who was a social worker once remarked to me that people don't make changes in their lives until the pain of staying where they are is worse than the pain of changing. If I was as unhappy as you are, I would make a change in my own life rather than expecting everyone around me to change theirs.

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    The fact that plagiarism is happening is the problem. If the OP leaves, the problem will still exist; they will just be farther away from it.
    – Ray
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:14
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    @Ray Yes, but there are lots of universities where plagiarism is not rampant. If you're someplace that makes you miserable and you could move someplace that would make you happy, why would you stay? It is not the OP's responsibility to stay there and clean up the swamp -- especially when the swamp doesn't really want to be cleaned. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 21:38
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    It isn't the OP's responsibility, but if they want to stay and fight the good fight anyway, I won't try to stop them. Although, there might be a way to have it both ways, if they don't mind burning some bridges: leave, and loudly blow the whistle on everyone who's plagiarized on the way out.
    – Ray
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 21:44
  • @Ray That's the best way to fix it, in my view. Since in verbatim plagiarism is so self-evident there is little need to do it directly -- perhaps the OP knows someone else farther away who's willing to hold his whistle.
    – Scientist
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 0:00

You don't have to solve this problem for a whole nation, or even for your school. Just insist, up front, clearly, and in writing, that for work submitted to you, or that you collaborate on, copied material must be identified and cited correctly. They don't need to agree with you philosophically, they just need to understand your personal standard.

Most students --and most institutions --understand that different professors have different "non-negotiables" within their own classrooms/labs. It may help if you explain that you personally may want to work outside China again someday, and therefore you need to keep your "hands clean" by global academic standards.

Of course, you'll need to establish some fairly stiff consequences --bad marks in the classroom, aborted collaborations for publication, etc. You might not catch 100% of the plagiarism, but the goal (as in the West) is to make it a better bet for them to just comply than to risk being caught. You might explain carefully that you don't mind them copying, you just want them to be sure to cite (assuming that's true).

  • The problem I see with this is in the enforcement. It implies that the professor can effectively check everything. I don't disagree with the sentiment or the need to do this, but it may be less effective than you like. And, you probably need to actually teach them how to comply since cut/paste is so easy.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 17:29
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    From my experience, that will result in plagiarised material coming out anyways because agreeing with whatever-blabla-wah-wah-terms is the shortest path to get to the final goal (=paper accepted + degree).
    – Scientist
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 17:46
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    @Scientist - I was assuming that there'd be some consequences, but I've edited to make that explicit. If the professor is not allowed to set his/her own standards for his/her own classroom, then that's an entirely different and more serious problem. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 18:21

I'm sorry if this answer is a bit contrary. However, you are judging people on the basis of European cultural standards that they don't necessarily accept. Those standards are not part of their history or traditions, which are themselves long and deep. Europeans, and places strongly influenced by European culture have had a long held and deep belief in the concept of personal property. What's mine is mine. Perhaps the Magna Carta was an early expression of this.

China's history is very different. Before the revolution, China had a strong feudal system in which the peasant couldn't be said to own anything - not even their own bodies. Communism introduced its own beliefs and norms, but strong defense of personal property wasn't one of them. What's ours is ours.

Even in "the west", we don't believe in the ownership of "ideas". You can't copyright an idea. You can't patent it (though software patents are a strange case).

But we, in "the west" do believe in private ownership of "words." That is copyright. We also believe in the ownership (for a limited time) of the realization of ideas in inventions. That is patent.

However, words are little but the expression of ideas. We (Westerners) treat words and expression as very distinct. But it can be a hard sell to make that distinction in a culture that hasn't had the same history of private ownership at all. In a hundred years it will, perhaps, change, as China is changing.

That doesn't give you a solution, though I hope it tells you why you have a problem. If you can convince the students that it will be useful for them to adopt Western standards of behavior in order to more effectively communicate their own ideas to Western readers you might have an effect. "You don't need to believe this way, but it will be useful for you to act this way." Long term it may be beneficial. But, long term, it might also turn out that the concept of plagiarism just goes away.

The question of cheating on examinations and in student work generally is a different issue but it also has cultural roots. In authoritarian regimes, if a person with authority over you asks for something - anything - you give it to them. You don't ask or even consider why. It is their right to ask it. It is your duty to deliver it. No matter the motive. In medieval times in Europe, if the local lord wanted to sleep with your wife on your wedding night he did. You had no basis for refusal. It can be very strong.

Teachers have authority over students. If a teacher asks a student for a piece of work or an answer, the why and the how aren't part of the considerations of the student (assuming authoritarian principles). You just find a way to deliver it. In fact, in the US, not all students really understand, unless they are told, is that the reason you ask them fo complete a project isn't that you need the project itself, but the change in the brain that completing it will induce in themselves. I've never (well almost never) given students a task I couldn't do myself, usually better. But that wasn't the point.

But in an authoritarian structure, the subordinate just gets the job done - no matter how. It is a deeply felt duty. "Sir. YES Sir." quoting a Marine recruit.

If this is the problem (duty to authority), then you need to educate the students as to what it is you really want from them. Not the completed project, but the change in the brain that actually doing it the hard way will induce. But if you are countering their traditions, it still won't be an easy task.

Even if a regime isn't authoritarian generally, it may be that academic traditions in a given place put the teacher in such a "high" position that is at least locally authoritarian. And even in some academic cultures that are not generally highly authoritarian, an individual professor may be able to impose such a structure. It is counterproductive, but it exists. Don't be that professor.

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    The translation of plagiarism in Chinese is 剽竊. It rooted from quite many years ago.(I'll have to dig more if you want to know how long ago) It's not a foreign concept in China. Chinese do understand its meaning. .
    – Nobody
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 13:45
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    Even in "the west", we don't believe in the ownership of "ideas". — No, but we do believe in giving people credit for their intellectual contributions, which is subtly but crucially different from ownership.
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 14:07
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    @Buffy No, I don't believe the translation of this one is hard. Just like Test is part of Chinese culture (started in around 605 AD), plagiarism is nothing new in China. I don't think the concept is much different between Europe and China. The execution may be different.I think the OP's problem is that he thinks it's a murder crime, those graduate students think not.
    – Nobody
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 14:07
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    It is not a cultural issue at all. Cheating was considered a huge deal in the Chinese Imperial Service Exam system. Those exams were much, much more strictly proctored than modern standardized exams. Chinese people should know very well that cheating isn't OK, right? But then it's all about enforcing the rules: cheating was a crime under the Imperial system and can have pretty bad consequences, but in the present day people just aren't enforcing the rules.
    – xuq01
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 14:44
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    Both @xuq01 and I are Chinese. Please take our words seriously. In particular, what xuq01 said "It is not a cultural issue at all. Cheating was considered a huge deal in the Chinese Imperial Service Exam system." and "cheating was a crime under the Imperial system and can have pretty bad consequences". In those times, if you committed cheating on writing or assisting with cheating exams, you could be sentenced to death. No kidding here.
    – Nobody
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 1:46

To keep things simple, I will only talk about journal publications here. Everything should translate to conference publications. Also, note that I have no hands-on experience with Chinese academia.

As already noted by xuq01 and Nicole Hamilton, it seems that your colleagues only care for short-time practical consequences and are unwilling to change their conduct unless they see that the consequences are severe. However, right now, they do not feel any consequences – their approach is working for them. This could have multiple reasons, which all lead to different conclusions:

  • Evaluation criteria and similar do not properly account for journal quality, giving value to journals that do not care about plagiarism, even if they know it. → You would have to effect a change of the evaluation criteria.

  • The evaluation criteria and similar would favor publishing in quality journals, but your colleagues ignore this. → Educate your colleagues how they could get secure more resources by giving up plagiarism.

  • The journals would care about plagiarism, but they do not notice. → Anonymously report some prominent case.

  • You are removing all the plagiarism before it can backfire. → Let your colleagues hit the wall, e.g., by refusing to work on that particularly bad paper.

Some obvious disclaimers: Reality will likely be a complicated combination of these effects. Also, some of the suggestions may be impossible or risky for you, depending on what level things happen.

  • +1 Bullet 1 may be hard to do - the OP may not have control over the evaluation criteria. I think The OP can definitely do bullet 3 and 4.
    – Nobody
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 12:46
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    #4 with outright refusal would be very difficult in China. I've been trying to learn how to say no without saying no for years now. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 13:32
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    @axsvl77 In my humble opinion, the way to say no is by saying no. Of course, you may have some situation we don't quite understand. But, I think saying no will not bring too serious consequences for foreigners in China. They are aware of the fact that if they drive you out, others will not come because you are the model. I know there is at least one exception I learned from this site, but I think you should be okay if you just say no. Again, you know your situation the best.
    – Nobody
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 14:15
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    @scaaahu I agree; but IMO building a guanxi should require more than just being a foreigner. Also, my comment was a weak attempt at tongue-and-cheek humor Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 14:26
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    @Scientist For Americans, in my experience this "worship" thing might apply to dinner and loose collaboration. I doubt it applies to funding and other resources allocation? That's one important purpose of developing a guanxi - access to resources. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 14:46

You could report to the senior management, however, academics cheating is common in China. There's a decent possibility that you will just land yourself into troubles. Unless you could expose the scandal to the media, the Chinese people don't care. Cheating is everywhere in the Chinese culture.

It's not something you can do about it. There're Chinese companies for writing the entire PhD thesis for money.

  1. Join a higher tier university. The top Chinese researchers don't cheat and very good in research.
  2. Keep quiet, but don't do it yourself.
  3. Report to the senior management but you probably won't get anything in returns
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    I have to say this is very unfortunately the case at the moment. Having grown up in China, most teachers and parents considered doing well on exams much more important than cheating, i.e. "if you can cheat and not get caught, why not do it?" (fortunately, most of my teachers and certainly my parents do not think this way) The media would likely not care as (1) they're not supposed to shed a negative light on Chinese universities and (2) plagiarism in 2nd-tier (or below) universities isn't even news. The only real option seems to be [1]: join a top level (preferably 985) university.
    – xuq01
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 7:20
  • @xuq01 Do they not foresee any problems arising when they attend a job interview and are unable to answer any of the questions? It looks like a serious problem with forward planning to me.
    – DrMcCleod
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 12:51
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    @DrMcCleod Technical interviews for jobs are quite rare in China. Even the technical interviews for the major tech firms are mediocre at best. When it comes to jobs, connections (guanxi) and the brand of your school/major, as well as willingness to work long hours rock everything else. Despite the recent tech boom, China is still a dominantly relationship-driven society.
    – xuq01
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 12:57
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    It is my experience with CAS Beijing that plagiarism is also widespread there. I believe that one is a top-tier in China. I should emphasise that disguising plagiarism by rearranging synonyms or paraphrasing is still full-blown plagiarism. I have the impression "smarter" students from top-tier do that, so they are seldom exposed.
    – Scientist
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 13:15

Oh so many answers already before this university professor from China got to it :]

The reason they copy/paste stuff is because they don't know how to do it properly + they don't have incentives to do it properly. I work at a smaller university with solely business focus, but whenever some requirement trickles down here from the top everyone normally just tries to get it out of the way wasting as little time as possible.

I don't know what you teach and what format your classes have, but it helps if you ask your students about their future plans and how they plan to use what they learn in their careers. Chances are they have it pretty well figured out already and the publication requirement is one of a thousand check marks they have to tick to get their diploma and on their way to make money while the music is still playing because they hear the music is getting quieter.

A possible approach is to make the requirements stricter, which will push the publication higher up that check-mark list and force them to spend (or waste?) more time on it. I don't like this approach.

What I prefer is find what they really need for their careers and try to adjust the requirement so they can learn to do what they need, what the market needs them to do, what will bring them the most money when they join the workforce. I don't know how much administrative freedom you have over those requirements. If not much, you might be confined to a pretty stinky solution #1


It's not plagiarism if you put it in quotation marks and cite the source. So just tell them to do that. They can still save time by copy and paste, but won't infringe academic norms about copying without attribution.

  • Problem is, what others hear when told that is "I can say my mistake was merely forgetting a couple quotation marks".
    – Scientist
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 16:31
  • 1
    @Scientist: That may well be true (if you replace "mistake" by "failing" or "misdeed"). OP did not say those students we're copy-pasting the parts of their work which are the actual contributions.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 18:01

The elephant in the room: you probably cannot convince them. That is, they correctly see their pragmatic options, etc., and act accordingly.

The reason I think my remarks here are more than a "comment" is that the correct answer to the question involves strongly denying a premise that it makes sense to achieve the espoused goals. Yes, by many "Western" standards it makes sense, but that's not the question. These kids are behaving rationally in their context. How in the world could anyone persuade them otherwise?

And, no, you certainly cannot change the ambient culture.

You are a "fish out of water", and you cannot change those things...


Find out where they are submitting the papers, and tell the students that you will contact the editor/organiser about the plagiarism.

  • So, I would condone this, but only in conjuction with many other steps and with due prior warning.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 18:02
  • Given the post by @scientist it would seem that this would most likely be laughed at. Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 21:27

A point I make to my students here is that they are expected to write their own work, and take care to cite others as needed (out of courtesy). Do summarize other work only if needed to understand the topic at hand.

This is mostly when writing their final theses, we have rather draconian page limits. But that is also true in journals and conferences, and the same applies: write less, but better.

  • 3
    dunno why no one else up-arrowed this answer. help the nascent scholars understand the concept of citation, besides that of plagiarism. if some other author says it better, repeat and cite what the other author says. i have no problem repeating wisdom of others. that doesn't make me look bad. Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 1:33

There have been lots of great answers here, but I have another one about teaching people about why we cite our sources: Kate Williams & Mary Davis. (2017). Referencing and Understanding Plagiarism. 2nd edition. MacMillan https://www.macmillanihe.com/page/detail/Referencing-and-Understanding-Plagiarism/?K=9781137530714

Open it up to pp. 36-37 and make a big poster with these words:

“You need to reference when you:

  • use facts, figures or specific details you 
pick from somewhere to support a point 
you’re making – you report
  • use a framework or model another author has devised – you acknowledge
  • use the exact words of your source – you quote
  • restate in your own words a specific point, finding [or] argument an author has made – you paraphrase
  • sum up in a phrase or a few sentences a whole article or chapter, a key finding/conclusion, or a section – you summarize.

You don’t need to reference if you:

  • believe that what you are writing is 
widely known and accepted by all as 
‘fact’ or common knowledge in your subject.
  • can honestly say, ‘I didn’t have to research anything to know that!’


If finding it out did take effort, show the reader the research you did by referencing it.”

Make sure your library has copies available, and use it as a textbook. It is not expensive and the entire booklet is great!


Point out how it's in their favor to examine things, even if they end up making it less "proper English" in the process. Even if they don't care about the academics of it, they still want to learn, get a degree, and get a good job. I'd suggest attacking it from the angle of personal growth - Something like...

"If you simply copy and paste, you aren't checking the veracity of the claim, and you aren't synthesizing the information into something new. When you find information for your paper, you'll improve yourself more by first making sure the claim is true, and then digesting and re-working the claim into your own words, so that you can be sure that you've internalized the claim that you're using. Once you've done this, doing the actual additional work of citing the source is not much of a time or effort investment."

  • 1
    It seems like learning from writing the paper "properly" is not required to get the degree or the job.
    – arp
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:43
  • 1
    Also "I want the degree - the veracity of blahblahblah and the synthesising of flurbflurb, and improving glubglub.... who has time for that western weird idea stupidity? I'll "improve" myself by having a piece of paper that says I have a degree, thank you.
    – Stilez
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 0:31
  • @Stilez You got the mindset right there. OP must realise this is what he's dealing with, in China.
    – Scientist
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 12:03
  • @Stilez, you'll see exactly the same elsewhere. It is (unfortunately) our job to straighten that out.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 20:45

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