Tang Jun is no stranger to the spotlight as one of China’s best-known corporate executives (he’s known locally as the King of the Dagong, with dagong translating literally as ‘works for other people’).
A former head of Microsoft in China and also a former chief executive at Shanda Interactive, Tang then joined New Huadu Industrial (a conglomerate) in 2008. A rumoured Rmb1 billion ($146 million) contract saw him hit the headlines again. But now Tang is caught up in a media row that could see his reputation take a turn for the worse. Fang Zhouzi, a science writer with a reputation for uncovering academic misconduct, is insisting that he’s a liar – and a pretty expansive one at that.
Fang first made the allegations on his blog, querying whether Tang had obtained a degree from California Institute of Technology (as Tang had claimed in his book My Success Can Be Copied). Fang found no evidence of him studying at Caltech (CIT), let alone earning a PhD there
“I never said I graduated from CIT with a PhD, but I had done a bit of research there. I do have a doctoral degree, just not from CIT,” was Tang’s riposte. “Actually I went to a university called Pacific Western (PWU), did some research and got my degree. I have a diploma to prove it.”
That wasn’t enough to satisfy Fang, who pointed out that PWU was “known for selling diplomas for money”. (Having been the subject of a US government report for being a “diploma mill”, PWU is now under new ownership, and was renamed Caifornia Miramar University.)
Then Fang raised the stakes, alleging that two patents Tang had claimed to own – a rating system for karaoke bars and a machine for producing photo stickers – actually belong to other people.
Tang hit back again: he had never filed for the camera patent but had created the prototype, and he believed that he “had a claim to the patent” for his karaoke invention. Then he went on the offensive, threatening to sue his inquisitor (who now lives in the US).
So, an enjoyable public spat. But will it have any wider significance? Strictly speaking, Tang could have a case to answer in the United States, to the SEC. When Shanda listed on Nasdaq in 2004, he was accredited with yet another doctorate (this time from Nagoya University in Japan). He now confirms that he did not complete his studies.
Tang’s embarrassment also meant a nervy weekend for some of his peer group. A netizen managed to get hold of a directory of all those graduating from PWU’s business school with a PhD, reports the Yangcheng Evening News. On the list were a number of CEOs, presidents and senior directors.
Mengniu Dairy then put out a statement saying that one of its own executive directors hadn’t actually received a master’s degree from a Tianjin university, even though last year’s annual report said so. And the Legal Mirror newspaper reported that more than 100 high-profile individuals had been scrambling to review their online resumes, and update their profiles on the Chinese equivalents of Wikipedia.
Despite the media interest, Tang’s job at New Huadu looks safe. It helps that the public does not seem especially outraged by events. Blogger Hecaitou says that this is because the Chinese have a tradition of respecting xiaoxiong (fierce and ambitious people), even if their success comes through illegal or dishonest means.
Further, he thinks that a prolonged debate is only likely to make more people sympathise with Tang. In a nation where a majority of the population do not have a bachelor’s degree, people like to see the “illiterate hero” triumph. A Sohu poll seemed to confirm as much: 70% of respondents agreed that ability on the job mattered more than academic background.
And according to the Beijing News, Tang appears to be taking a feisty stand. It quotes him as saying: “Losers cheat some people and get caught. Winners cheat the whole world all the time.”
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