Foreign media on China

Asia Times: guilty of plagiarism?

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She's not the only one working in the "grey" economy
Recently, your correspondent wrote a Danwei post about a study measuring the size of China's "grey" economy, and its failure to take into account certain types of "grey" income earned by China's laobaixing. Earlier this week, Asia Times ran an article titled, "China's Hidden Wealth? Color it gray." In the article, author Wu Zhong comments on the "vast range of gray income made by various social groups in cities," including doctors, teachers, tour guides, rural migrant workers, and even journalists.

With respect to the "grey" income earned by journalists, Wu specifically mentions hongbao, the red envelopes of cash that some journalists accept in exchange for favorable news coverage. But Wu's article unwittingly points to another type of "grey" income in the journalism profession: payment for articles that are plagiarized.

In fact, Wu's article appears to contain unattributed text that is a direct translation of the source article your correspondent used and cited. Here's an example:

Wu's article in the Asia Times contains this passage:

In discussions of their findings with NBS officials, Wang said, the latter frankly admitted that it is a headache to find out the real income of high-income people. This is also illustrated in Wang's survey, in which 70% of the high-income respondents said they did not want to report their real incomes to NBS statisticians.

In the breakdowns, the survey found the per capita disposable income of the 10% highest-income urban households (about 50 million people in 19 million households) was 97,000 yuan (about $12,700) in 2005, more than three times the NBS figure of less than 29,000 yuan.


Here is your correspondent's translation of the same passage from the original article, published on Sohu.com:

Wang Xiaolu said that when he talked to the NBS about his relevant data, the NBS believed that finding out the actual income levels of high income residents is a headache problem. Interestingly, in [Wang’s] study group’s survey, 70% of high income residents expressed a reluctance to supply the NBS auditors with information about their income situation.

The conclusion of the study group’s survey is, with respect to households of the 10% highest-income urban residents (approximately 19 million households, 50 million people), in 2005, their per capita disposable income was RMB97,000, which is equivalent to more than 3 times the NBS data (which didn’t reach RMB29,000).

Translating, of course, requires judgment, and inclusion of text in translation without attribution doesn't necessarily yield the stark word-for-word plagiarism for which the Chinese media is well-known. In the example above, both the content and the organization of the information, along with some of the sentence structure, has been preserved in the journey from Sohu.com to Asia Times. If this isn't plagiarism, then there's no case for plagiarism of text in translation.

Danwei has many times called the Chinese press to account for its various types of plagiarism, from the most straightforward republication of foreign press reports without permission or attribution, to the craftier "content recycling." In the interest of fairness, then, it's important to note that the problem isn't one-way. It's worth adding that, of everything that's lost in translating China into the foreign media, attribution of original sources is the least tolerable.

UPDATE: Danwei invited author Wu Zhong to respond to this post. In his first e-mail, he replied as follows:


Thanks for the message. I am glad that my article is read. I welcome any critical opinion.

Before I wrote the story, I never read anything in English about Wang’s study. This was why I decided to do it.

For some simple sentences in Chinese (especially those with figures), the English translation should not be totally different (otherwise the translation is not truthful). If you don’t believe it, you can give a couple of such sentences and ask two or three persons to make literal translation and compare the results. And I don’t think I need to “steal” any English translation of a couple of simple sentences - it may be easier for me to do the translation by myself than to search on the Internet for it.

This is the first time I visit Danwei, thanks for your introduction.

Wu Zhong then sent a second e-mail, adding:

Having clarified the issue about translation, now I’ll talk about the source(s). Since the article you posted also appears to have implied I deliberately hide the sources, which is quite a serious accusation..

My major source is a summary of the “grey income” study written and released by Wang Xiaolu himself, not the article on Sohu.com, which is a report by the 21st Century Business Herald. Since early June, Wang’s study has been widely reported by the media on mainland China and in Hong Kong. There have also been criticisms.

I wrote my article for my weekly column Sun Wukong. It was not written as a news report, not translation of a news report, but an analysis on widely reported facts (Wang’s study and some criticisms of him) to highlight my own views – China’s GDP might be much bigger and indeed many urban residents do have grey incomes. Normally since the facts have been widely reported, it is not necessary to list all the sources in such a news analysis. Otherwise there would be a lot of footnotes. Not to mention that I did quote Wang the figures.

Since the article you posted name me and Asia times for criticism, I do hope you also publish my clarification as part of the post.

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