Political Embeddedness and Academic Corruption in Chinese Universities

Qian Forrest ZHANG, Singapore Management University


China’s efforts in reforming its universities have only intensified unethical practices (academic corruption) in—and by—universities. Using qualitative data from three Chinese universities, I argue academic corruption is rooted in a distinctive quality of Chinese universities: embeddedness in the political/bureaucratic system. Three institutional arrangements—Party penetration, hierarchical integration, and administrative dominance—integrate universities into the state bureaucratic hierarchy and deprive them of political autonomy. Universities and their employees responded by producing bureaucratically recognizable signals, often disregarding scholarly standards and professional ethics. Without liberating universities and intellectuals from political embeddedness, China risks suffocating its innovative capacity and endangers long-term growth.