Many people's second language

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As English has become many people's second language in China, culture collision seems more and more obvious nowadays. Plagiarism, which has not been thought much of, is quite often argued. According to Colin Sowden (2004), cultural background seems to be the main reason for plagiarism. To the overseas students, especially Asian students from Confucian background, following scholars and teachers' words are regarded as a kind of respect. However, Dilin Liu disagrees with Sowden. He argues that Chinese teachers have never told the students to copy others' words. That is not allowed in China. These two scholars seem have totally different views towards cultural factor in plagiarism.

As an overseas student from China, I think plagiarism is a common problem among Chinese students, even tutors and officers from government. It is not only an educational problem, but a social problem as well. Both teachers and students are to blamed. The reasons are as follows.

From the students' point of view, plagiarizing others' works seems to be the fastest and cheapest way to finish their assignments. Everyone wants to get high marks. But a good thesis should express the author's own view points and analysis, which require profound knowledge and plenty of experiences. Most graduate students in China usually do not have that much of background knowledge especially to those who learnt passively and are forced to choose their majors. Many Chinese universities have expanded new students in order to popularize higher education. Students who are not interested in their majors may have to learn it for four years only because their parents force them to. When writing their thesis, these students usually 'copy and pasty' from the internet. According to Zhanglu Sun (2006), most graduate students have more than 10 courses each semester. At the beginning of each semester, there are many activities, while essays always come with exams at the end of the semester. Students do not have enough time to prepare their essays and essays will not affect much about their final marks. They prefer to get high marks in the final exams. Plagiarism does help students save a lot of time in this situation.

Apart from the students' idleness, teachers are also to be blamed. As China has a large population, 40-50 students each class is the common size in most schools. A teacher cannot correct every student's work carefully and return it to students immediately. Sometimes teachers even have no idea about how the students finish their homework. Then using others' words becomes bad habits to many students. In high schools, students will feel guilty and are afraid to be blamed when they plagiarize others' work. After they enter universities, plagiarism will not be a secret to them because most students are doing this. A research showed that 79.4% students get information though the internet, 47.7% think plagiarism is quite common. Most students consider it is wrong to plagiarize, which occupies 83.2% (Jingwei Hua, 2009). Recent years, it was found that many tutors and officers plagiarized in order to reach their position. Even their tutors plagiarize others' work set bad examples to the students (Lei Hui, 2009).

The educational system, traditional Chinese thoughts and leaks in law may be the social reason for plagiarism. No matter how bad a student performed, he can graduate if he passes the final oral defence of his thesis. Most universities are not willing to be hard to their students especially at the last moment in graduation. Students, as well as their schools, also tend to do their best in the oral defence. Nevertheless, this leads to plagiarism because some students consider others' words are better than themselves. They borrow the words and ideas in order to get their diplomas which closely related to their future. This makes plagiarism seem to be acceptable and reasonable. Moreover, the copyright law in China has some leaks in protecting authors' copyright. According to Dehua Yu (2009), a lawyer in Zhongyuan Law Office, a long time lawsuit only brings nothing but apology to accusers. Copyright cannot be protected effectively by law.

Plagiarism seems to become an intractable problem in China. In order to avoid this problem, it needs efforts from the whole society. Firstly, the Ministry of Education should not only design more specific law and policy to prevent plagiarism, but also have to embody the evaluation to publishing articles. This will provides strong law aids when solving copyright problems. However, it takes a long time to design and put a new law into practice. Law aids cannot be the most effective way to fight against plagiarism.

Secondly, punishment to plagiarism should be equal. The Chinese academia, which is influenced most by the traditional Chinese bureaucracy, needs a thorough change. The most complicated process is how to solve it when plagiarism does occur. As a result of bureaucracy, the solutions towards plagiarism will be different depends on who plagiarize. Compared with some government officer, those who have lower social positions will be severely punished for plagiarizing. Without justice, plagiarism cannot be avoid in short term.

Thirdly, tutors and students have to restrict themselves not to plagiarize. Plagiarism leads back to a basic educational problem -- honesty. Although explaining honesty is very easy in academia, it is difficult to put it into practice. Students, as well as those who have already come upon the stage, are not that honest as they were always taught when they entered schools. The aim of education is how to conduct themselves rather than only teach students knowledge. Fine personality, which requires parents' efforts as well, should be the basis of doing research. Parents may help a lot to prevent students copy others' works. In my view, students should be strict to themselves with teachers' help, and parents may play an important role of supervisor. Students' attitude towards learning could affect their behaviour and they cannot motivate to learn under their parents' force. Interest is the best teacher. For tutors, they have to present like a teacher. When plagiarizing, they should consider whether it is teachers' behaviour and the bad influence. Tutors, as well as scholars, should gain knowledge and titles through their efforts and experiences. Those who get their job as professors by plagiarism may not educate students to be honest.

To sum up, plagiarism seems to be a serious problem among students and tutors, especially in China. I think that educational system has its problems which affect teaching and learning most. However, to prevent plagiarism is a long term project which cannot be solved easily. Plagiarism exists from officers to students. Scholarship is used as a tool to gain honour, job and money. Law can only provide insurance to authorship, preventing plagiarism requires the efforts from the whole society which will take years to complete. Plagiarism may become a research field which requires scholars from several areas to study on students' motivation and the primary aim of education.


  • SOWDEN, C. (2005a) Plagiarism and the culture of multilingual students in higher education abroad. ELT Journal, 59(3), 226-233.
  • LIU, D. (2005) Plagiarism in ESOL students: is cultural conditioning truly the major culprit? ELT Journal, 59(3), 234-241.
  • SOWDEN, C. (2005b) Reply to Dilin Liu. ELT Journal, 59(3), 242-3.
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