Faked credentials, a ghost-written autobiography, and a diploma mill

Tang Jun's diploma from Pacific Western University

It hasn't been a good week for Tang Jun. The former president of Microsoft China, former CEO of Shanda, and current head of Xin Hua Du Industrial Group was accused by Fang Zhouzi, a noted anti-fraud crusader, of falsifying his academic credentials. (See Global Voices Online and ESWN for background.)

Fang charged that, among other things, Tang falsely claimed to have obtained a PhD in computers from the California Institute of Technology, when in fact the school had no record of his degree. After a few days of silence, Tang went on the offensive. In an interview with the state media, Tang threatened to sue Fang for libel: never, in any venue, had he claimed to have received a doctorate from Cal Tech.

Immediately, Fang Zhouzi shot back with passages from Tang's autobiography, My Success Can Be Replicated (我的成功可以复制, 2008), in which he claimed precisely that. Was the electronic edition maliciously altered to smear his reputation, as Tang claimed? Well, a page from the print version contained the same claim.

So did Tang lie about his credentials, and lie again to cover up his fraud? Perhaps, but he still has one way out: maybe he didn't write the book that bears his name:

China CITIC Press

During the process of publishing Tang Jun's My Success is Copyable, when Tang Jun was reviewing the manuscript written by the second author, Hu Teng, he pointed out via email several mistakes that had crept in due to the use of material collected off of the Internet, and clearly requested the deletion of the line "I moved to a second company and basically abandoned my studies. But based upon the results of my applied research into voice recognition, I ultimately received a doctorate in computer science from Cal Tech." However, owing to delays in communicating with the copy-editors, the text was not corrected according to Tang Jun's suggestions, and thus the first print edition contained serious factual errors. The publisher made corrections for the second edition (January 2009).

The publisher hereby makes a sincere apology to the book's readers and to Mr. Tang Jun for the technical error! The publisher will immediately halt sales of all books from the first printing of December 2008.

Other publishers have perpetuated the mistake. On an inside flap of Diary of Tang Jun (唐骏日记, 2009), the "about the author" information lists a PhD in computers from Cal Tech in 1993. In a microblog post, Fang Zhouzi notes:

I've just seen the statement Shen Weifeng, the second author of Diary of Tang Jun, which says that he provided the about the author information for Tang Jun, and that Tang Jun himself did not verify it prior to publication. But what about after publication? This book has been out for more than one year and is in its sixth printing. Has Tang Jun, the primary author, been unaware for all this time that it says he has a doctorate from Cal Tech in the author information? And it's only now that I've uploaded the text that he's discovered the error?

Fang Zhouzi has been collecting other instances in which Tang Jun does not correct the impression that he has a Cal Tech degree — a congratulatory address by the president of his undergraduate alma mater, a profile by a provincial TV station — even if he does not make the claim himself.

So strictly speaking, Tang Jun may not have lied about a Cal Tech doctorate. Of course, that still leaves the matter of Shanda's Nasdaq filing, in which Tang is identified as having received a doctorate from Nagoya University, although he said this week that he left before his thesis defense.

Consular letter (via Yu Jinyong)

And then there's the charge that Tang's actual alma mater, Pacific Western University, little more than a diploma mill during the time he supposedly studied there. Some alumni of the school (who are now crawling out of the woodwork, according to Veggie Discourse's translation of a Yangcheng Evening Post article) have pointed to the fact that the school was recognized by the State of California as a post-secondary education institution. One even posted a letter from the Chinese Consulate in LA certifying that it grants degrees in business management.


This is to certify that Pacific Western University is known to have been approved by the Department of Education of the State of California and is a private institute of higher education recognized by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education. Established in 1976, it is qualified to grant professional, masters, and doctoral degrees in Business Management. It holds an education license in effect from June 15, 2002 through June 14, 2006.

Education Division, Consulate General of the People's Republic of China, Los Angeles
April 5, 2002

All this means is that the school was not operating illegally. Pacific Western University was not approved by any recognized accrediting body until 2009, (under the name California Miramar University), which means that Tang's actual degree is not worth all that much.

Links and Sources
There are currently 3 Comments for Faked credentials, a ghost-written autobiography, and a diploma mill.

Comments on Faked credentials, a ghost-written autobiography, and a diploma mill

Once again Qian Zhongshu's "Fortress Besieged / 围城" (1946) proves its ongoing relevance, unless some Chinese writer has produced a more gut-splitting version of a diploma-faking antihero.

Are you aware of any contemporary writers of short stories or novels satirizing the modern-day phonies?

We hear so much about visual artists and their use irony as social critique that they overshadow stories -- if they exist at all -- about similarly powerful critical voices in the realm of fiction writing. Since reading a parody of Tang Jun's kind of behaviour would be, I suppose, one way of learning about it without becoming jaded.

Thanks for the post.

In terms of fiction, there's 顽主 by Wang Shuo, which culminates in the staging of a bogus literary award ceremony. Yan Lianke wrote an academic satire, 风雅颂, which has scenes that mock empty academic credentials. Those are just the first two that come to mind; I'm sure there are many others.

Qian Zhongshu's sad-sack protagonist at least turned the tables on his diploma provider and got it for free. I'm afraid that Tang Jun actually had to pay thousands of dollars for a piece of paper he now probably wishes he doesn't have.

Thousands of dollars are peanuts compared with the one billion yuan bonus he claimed that he had received from New Huadu.

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives