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NTU investigating senior professor accused of plagiarising former student’s work

SINGAPORE – The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is investigating one of its professors following online claims that he had plagiarised one of his former student’s final-year project in his research paper.

The assertions were first made on online forum Reddit on Tuesday by someone claiming to be an NTU student who noticed stark similarities between Associate Professor Qu Jingyi’s 2018 research paper titled “Escape as a Mode of Existence: On Ruan Ji’s Escapism Complex” and Mr Wang Yueming’s 2014 project titled “Escapism in the Literary Works of Ruan Ji”.

Prof Qu is the head of Chinese at the School of Humanities at NTU and deputy director of its Centre for Chinese Language and Culture. He was also Mr Wang’s final-year project supervisor in 2014.

Prof Qu’s 2018 paper is written in English, while Mr Wang’s is in Chinese. Prof Qu’s paper, which was accessible on Academia.edu, an open repository of academic articles, has since been taken down.

Checks by The Straits Times found that more than 50 per cent of Prof Qu’s paper looked like a direct translation of Mr Wang’s 2014 paper, with no attribution to the latter. These sections include analyses of poems and inferences made on related research papers.

In the second half of Prof Qu’s paper, in particular, where he analyses four of Han dynasty Chinese poet Ruan Ji’s poems, he seemingly takes Mr Wang’s observations as his own completely.

To give an example, Prof Qu wrote in his analysis of a poem: “Is Yang Zhu crying at the forked road or Ruan Ji feeling sad at his own road (fate)? The answer is obvious. The two lines seen in the poem later, ‘Facing upwards, soaring birds in flight can be seen/ Looking downwards fishes are swimming merrily’ depicts the imagery of ‘the freedom flying birds and swimming fishes enjoy’, is actually the representative of Ruan Ji’s desire for freedom.”

A section of Associate Professor Qu Jingyi’s paper (pg 254).

A translation of Mr Wang’s analysis in Mandarin of the same poem reads: “Whether it was Yang Zhu who cried at the road or Ruan Ji who was sad because of the road, the answer is very obvious. Later in the poem, there are two sentences ‘looking up at flying birds, looking down at swimming fish’ to describe the image of ‘freedom of flying birds and swimming fish’, which actually expresses Ruan Ji’s yearning for freedom”.

A section of Mr Wang Yueming’s paper (pg 54).

In another section of his paper, Prof Qu makes the same suggestions as Mr Wang on the topic of escapism. He wrote: “Hence, this paper suggests that contrary to the popular convention of labelling escapism as a term with derogatory connotations, escapism can be viewed as a neutral term as well. Since escapism is an effective means of self-protection, understanding escapism may lead us to better, more positive understanding of Man’s tendencies when faces with dire circumstances.”

A section of Associate Professor Qu Jingyi’s paper (pg 245).

The same passage in Mandarin was spotted in Mr Wang’s paper: “Therefore, the author believes that escapism can also be a neutral term compared to the common vocabulary that is widely regarded as derogatory. Understanding escapism may bring us a positive understanding of the human tendency to face distressing situations, because ‘Escapism is an effective means of self-protection’.”

A section of Mr Wang Yueming’s paper (pg 8)

In response to ST’s queries, an NTU spokesman said the university is investigating the allegations against Prof Qu.

The spokesman said: “The university is committed to the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct and takes allegations of academic misconduct very seriously.

“The School of Humanities is investigating the allegations, and it would be inappropriate to comment further while the investigation is ongoing.”

Prof Qu joined NTU in 2010 and holds a PhD from Peking University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, according to his profile on the university’s website. He has received scholarships such as the Fulbright Scholarship, Peking University PhD full scholarship and NTU’s Nanyang Education Award.

He has produced more than 100 published works in English and Chinese, including 49 journal articles.