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Dishonesty now as a social epidemic
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The fuss and fury over plagiarized dissertations found among students and professors came much as a surprise in our society. Since such fraud is pervasive in every aspect of our social life, most people have taken it for granted for too long.

Just think how many times we have heard our teachers and officials making the same sort of speeches as you have heard elsewhere. And, how many times we have been educated in our younger days to write articles criticizing Confucius, bourgeois lifestyle or American imperialism? For children, or even adults who were not sophisticated enough to understand these complex figures and issues, the easy and politically correct way to do the job is to follow and copy the official line. And, ironically that kind of copying, or plagiarism, of others' words, is the easiest way to get by unpunished.

Such a job has been made much easier now in the cyber age when all kinds of articles are downloadable for free or a small fee. All you need to do is just cut and paste.

Sadly, most people are not ashamed of this process. Rather, some would boast of how smart they are in accomplishing a hard mission in just a few hours. And, those who spent months or even years to complete their work in an honest way might be laughed at.

Unfortunately, this is the reality we are facing today. Exactly why these people should feel ashamed of themselves. What happens around them everyday are things of the same nature.

If you are in Shanghai these days, you will find the facades and roofs of many previously drab apartment buildings have taken on a fresh look after a massive facelift. Some of these new neon-lit apartment fronts seem so attractive that one of my friends wanted to rent a flat there recently.

She set up an appointment with a property agent for a room inspection. Much to her surprise, behind the dream facade were dirty stairs and messy hallways occupied by baskets of waste bottles, brooms and smelly garbage. It's very much like walking into a five-star hotel and finding it has not been cleaned up for years.

Of course, it is a quick and less expensive way to make a city look good. And in our culture of saving face, having an appealing exterior is more important than a solid interior.

Such faking, or attempt, to create an impression is not limited to Shanghai, one of the richest cities in the country. Smaller and poorer cities have achieved the same feat by constructing numerous vanity projects in order to make their city look prosperous, at least on the surface.

Yinchuan in northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region, for example, has a population of 1.6 million, a small city among many populous Chinese cities, but years ago it built a 25-km long eight-lane highway running through the city, with wide forest belts on both sides.

The same is true for numerous grandiose squares found in the centers of many cities, no matter how ill-equipped the local schools and hospitals are.

What these vanity projects and the plagiarized dissertations have in common is the dishonesty involved in gaining undeserved advantage. A lot of people have lately blamed the ill-designed college funding and promotion systems in our schools for the rampant plagiarism on campus.

But there is something much deeper than just that. The widespread practice of fraud in our society over the years has made people numb or shameless about it.

Fraud has entered the bloodstream of many people. Getting rid of that requires no less effort than what we have achieved over the years.

(China Daily September 1, 2009)

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