The following is my latest post on Digital East Asia.
This is one of the most entertaining Internet stories to come out of China in a while, and it is really full of Chinese characteristics – all the bad ones, unfortunately. Tang Jun, who was once heralded as the “emperor of professional managers” for his high profile roles – former president of Microsoft China (NASDAQ: MSFT) and ex-CEO of Shanda Interactive Entertainment Ltd. ((ADR) NASDAQ: SNDA) – is currently at the center of a massive controversy over his diploma.
QQ has a short summary (link in Chinese) of the event’s development – on July 1st, Fang Zhouzi, a biology PhD who is famous for exposing plagiarism and fabrications in Chinese academia, commented in a series of posts on his Sina Weibo (microblog) that Tang Jun had lied about his education and his patents in his autobiography, “My Success Can Be Replicated” (book name my translation). In the book, Tang had said he held a PhD from Caltech.
Tang initially refused to respond to Fang’s allegations, but on July 6 he stated in public that he has never claimed to hold a PhD from Caltech; instead, his doctor’s degree is from Pacific Western University. Unfortunately, that only fueled the flame, as Fang quickly pointed out that Pacific Western University is a “fake” university with a controversial history and was shut down by the State of Hawaii (check out the wikipedia link) – essentially, this is an institution engaged in the business of selling diplomas and wasn’t accredited. Tang then responded that he went to the other Pacific Western University, the one in California, not in Hawaii; but Fang quickly responded that the two shared the same ownership prior to 2006 (as the wikipedia articles show).
Then Chinese netizens jumped in and started digging out other dirt around Pacific Western University, and in the past week netizens have been circulating “manifests” of notable Chinese businessmen who are rumored to be Tang’s alumni at that institution.
Perhaps also very damaging evidence is Tang’s own LinkedIn profile. Currently the education section lists “Pacific Western University, PhD”, with no timeline attached; but just a few days ago the education section looked like this:
(image courtesy of Dongxi.net – this is an edited version of the screenshot that has basically been cropped to highlight the education section of the profile)
Notice how on the education section it still clearly stated a PhD from California Institute of Technology. A search on Baidu Inc. ((ADR) NASDAQ: BIDU) for the keywords “Tang Jun linkedin” (the name in Chinese) also reveals a whole range of blog posts and discussions which expose Tang’s LinkedIn profile change.
Fang also raises the interesting issue of the legal repercussions of Tang’s controversy – he points out in Shanda’s F-1 filing with the SEC before its IPO, it states,
JUN TANG has served as our president since February 2004. Prior to joining us, Mr. Tang served as the president of Microsoft China Co., Ltd. from March 2002 to January 2004 and the general manager of Microsoft Asia product support and service and Microsoft Global Technical Engineering Center from January 1998 to March 2002. Mr. Tang holds a doctorate degree in electrical engineering from University of Pacific Western, a doctorate degree in electronics from Nagoya University, Japan, a master’s degree in electronics from Nagoya University and a bachelor’s degree in physics from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.
Obviously, this is another version of his education – the part where it states that he has a PhD from Nagoya University. It doesn’t indicate that in either the current or earlier version of his LinkedIn profile. Fang therefore raises the interesting question of whether Tang is liable for lying to the SEC.
Questions about Tang’s fake diploma and personal integrity aside, what I find to be really interesting is the surprisingly divided reaction of Chinese netizens. Indeed, there’s one camp of people who are vociferously defending Tang, saying “don’t ask about a hero’s roots”, or “you shouldn’t judge a manager by his education background”. As the other camp rightfully points out, we’re not attacking Tang because of his (relatively) poor education achievements; we’re attacking him because he lied about it.
But the drama doesn’t end there. In the past few days, discussions have intensified around the mystery of Tang’s education history in Japan – he went there to pursue a PhD, but according to most versions of his education background, he did not finish the PhD and went to the US instead in 1990. There were immediately speculations that he went to the US to get what Chinese netizens call a “blood card” – a green card issued by the US to Chinese students abroad who sought political asylum from the Tiananmen incident of 1989.
On this last point, I don’t think there is enough data to support the claim, and even if it were true, I don’t see it as a breach of integrity (I think a lot of Chinese people look at such cases as profiting from the bloodshed). But a consequence of such discussions is that there has been a crackdown on Chinese microblogs, for the obvious reason that the June of 1989 is a banned topic. So right now all the major microblogs are running with a big “beta” sign on the front page, and trending topics of Tang Jun are being harmonized (they have resurfaced on Sina).
Interestingly, netizens are now speculating that Tang has used his influence to get the authorities to censor the topic – another conspiracy theory thrown into the mix. I think the censorship is still more to do with discussions of 1989, rather than Tang’s powerful connections. But such are the dramatic twists of everyday Chinese Internet soap opera.
And before I end – the most recent rumor is Tang’s current employer, Newhuadu Industrial, has fired him. Totally unsubstantiated, but I won’t be surprised if Tang does lose his job because of this.