Chinese Students: Breaking the Rules Overseas

Late last month, The Guardian reported on Li Yang, a 26-year-old graduate student at the UK’s University of Bath, who was jailed for trying to bribe his professor after failing his master’s dissertation:

A failing student who offered his professor £5,000 in cash in an attempt to pass his degree has been jailed for 12 months.

[…]Li had been given a mark of 37% in his dissertation, short of the 40% needed to pass. Graves told him he could resubmit the 12,000-word essay, appeal against the mark or accept it and withdraw from the course.

But Li offered a fourth option, the court was told. He told Graves: “I am a businessman,” and placed £5,000 in cash on the table in front of him. “You can keep the money if you give me a pass mark and I won’t bother you again,” Li was alleged to have said.

Graves asked Li to leave but as the student put the money away, a replica handgun – loaded with six pellets – fell from his pocket to the floor, the court heard.

This case has brought back into the spotlight the mutual struggles between and their hosts. Since 2000, the number of abroad has been rapidly climbing, and last year China became the world’s top source of foreign students. International has become a profitable industry both for schools seeking more foreign students, and for the agencies that help Chinese students gain acceptance to overseas schools, often by using shady tactics. While some advocate bilateral study abroad programs as a means to enhance strategic international relationships, others have characterized them as “ticking time bombs” that, due to cultural differences, could lead to crises. Indeed, cultural differences were cited by Li Yang’s lawyers in his defense, who noted that carrying large sums of cash is common in China. While covering the Li case (and other similar cases), the Global Times talked to lawyers and education professionals about playing the “cultural difference” card when caught breaking the rules:

However, there are factors that make a more attractive choice in China. According to the criminal law, bribe-taking has a lower threshold before it constitutes a crime and a tougher punishment than , which makes the legal costs smaller. At the same time, those found guilty of can have their penalties reduced by providing evidence to law enforcers.

“On the other hand, those who offer bribes are often considered the weak party compared with the more powerful bribe-takers, and the public likes to see corrupt officials being punished – this eventually formed an attitude in society where using money or gifts in exchange for interests is not ‘bribery’ or crime, but a ‘favor,'” Guo Rui, a Beijing-based attorney, told the Global Times.

[…]There are many, however, who think this is no excuse. “Cultural difference is not a fig leaf of ignorance of the law or an excuse to evade responsibility,” said Xue Yong, assistant professor at Suffolk University in Boston, in his Sina column.

Last year, when a Chinese student studying in the U.S. was accused of sexual assault, his parents flew to the U.S. and allegedly attempted to bribe the accuser. In that case, witness tampering charges against the parents were dropped due to “cultural differences”.

For more on profits and problems in overseas educational programs, read director of Peking University High School’s international division Jiang Xueqin’s posts for The Diplomat, or see The Chronicle of Higher Education’s coverage of China. Also see prior CDT coverage of overseas Chinese students.