Red Star

The Harvard girl?

Controversy over Taiwanese star Fan Wei-chi’s credentials


Who is she?

Born in Ohio, Fan Wei-chi, 43, moved to Taiwan when she was six. She got her start in the entertainment industry when she was signed to a Taiwanese record label aged 23. She released her debut album the following year and dabbled in acting (mainly in TV series). She was also the host of variety show Bang Bang Tang on Channel [V] in Taiwan.

Why is she in the news?

Last week, a story about Fan’s academic credentials became one of the most talked-about news items on the Chinese internet. For a long time, it was believed that Fan had graduated from Harvard University but the article revealed that in reality, she went to Harvard Extension School, which is far less competitive. The article also said she never graduated from the school.

Fan had on various occasions been represented as having a bachelors degree from the Ivy League institution. Back in 2000, when she was promoting her first album, the record label described the singer as a “Harvard top student”. Separately, when show hostess Yang Lan (also known as China’s Oprah) expressed admiration for her being admitted to Harvard, the singer added to the misconception by agreeing, “it was very hard to get in”. In other interviews, Fan had also admitted that she felt “very proud” to have been able to go to Harvard.

In response to the online furore, Fan went on weibo saying she felt “too lazy to rebut” the report but she also doesn’t want to be subjected to “sour netizens’ mockery and criticisms”. During a public appearance, she told the media: “In the past people have called me a xue ba [a term that describes students with excellent grades], but I never once said that I graduated [from Harvard]. At the time, I agree that my answer wasn’t very good. But I wasn’t trying to cover up. Harvard extension school shares the same campus, offers the degree and takes the same class as Harvard University. It is not what people say it is – ‘a cram school’ – as some think. People should also not judge me for that.”

But netizens were not so sympathetic. “Why is Fan Wei-chi complaining? In all the years when her education was brought up, wasn’t she happily lapping up all the attention and the image that she was a ‘highly educated golden girl’? At least, she never corrected the public for the misunderstanding,” one wrote.

“To rationalise your behaviour will only attract greater resentment from netizens. In today’s highly developed society, it is a matter of time before your lies are uncovered. Only if you face the world with sincerity and truthfulness will you win our trust and respect,” another suggested.

Not a first?

Fan is not the first celebrity this year to be accused of misrepresenting their academic credentials. Zhai Tianlin, an actor with a reputation as one of the best educated people in his profession, was found to have committed plagiarism in February. The 32 year-old had been accepted for a post-doctoral research programme at Peking University after obtaining a PhD at the Beijing Film Academy last year. A weibo user then found that one of Zhai’s academic papers was 40% ‘similar’ to an article published in an academic journal in 2006 and Zhai had submitted it to examiners without any citations. The actor has since pleaded guilty and apologised (see WiC445). Peking University also withdrew its offer of a place on its programme.

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