The debate is still raging, but essayist and blogger "hecaitou" (和菜头) has already made his prediction of the outcome.
The argument over Dr. Tang Jun's (唐骏) academic credentials is sad, because his scholarly record merely is an insignificant detail in the grand scheme of things. Whether Tang Jun obtained his Ph.D. from PWU or from CIT's computer science department (better known as Caltech to some) does not matter. The real issue is this: why is there always a market for people with a tall tale, and why does the public proceed to deify them?
Yan Xin (严新) claimed that he could direct a missile or put out a forest fire in the Greater Khingan, with thoughts alone. Mou Qizhong (牟其中) talked about his plan to convert plateau to green grassland by blasting the Himalayas. And our very familiar Hongzhi Li --according to his boasts, so many Buddhas had fallen and died while trying to climb high enough to see him. There are also the quack doctor who treated everybody with sodium sulfate, the farmer who produced fake photos of endangered tigers, and the just now exposed doctor who proclaimed mung beans to be a cure-all. The past few decades have spawned an endless string of niubi criminals. It was an era during which speculators and opportunists commanded great forces and bewitched the hearts.
To be fair, compared to other niubi criminals, Tang Jun has more substance under his belt. Maybe Bill Gates didn't enthusiastically invite him to stay for another term, but Tang had indisputably been the president overseeing the then relatively small China market. If time could roll back, Chen Tianqiao (陈天桥) might not think that Shanda's IPO needed Tang Jun, but Tang still became a president and director of Shanda. Even now Tang's position in Newhuadu Industrial Group is real. By today's standards, Tang Jun is a success story in the business circle. He continuously received promotions, not demotions. What more can a career person ask for?
After admitting his success, you should then come to realize one thing: diploma is not Dr. Tang Jun's Achilles tendon. Since the Chinese are a strictly pragmatic people, neither PWU nor Caltech affects how the public view him. In fact, a PWU diploma is better [than a Caltech diploma]. Having no diploma would actually be perfect--as one of the beloved Chinese proverb says, "birth is much but accomplishments mean more." In a nation where a majority of the population do not have bachelor's degree and where academics directly affect job placements, an illiterate hero will be welcomed by most citizens as one of them. The longer those intellectual elites dwell on the diploma, the more support this illiterate hero will receive from the masses. A prolonged diploma debate will only make more people sympathize with Tang. Many of Tang's attackers do not understand this, because they have never lived among the masses. They don't understand how people think, and they can't emulate common thinking.
Instead, one valid question could be: did Tang lie? Did he lie on his resume? Did he lie in his autobiography? (see how Tang tries to get out of this one and if you can read Chinese, visit 蓝狮子与唐骏博士之绝配 to read what one writer said about his personal dealings with the publisher) Did he lie during his speeches and promotions? People very much desire an answer.
It is more important to focus on the crux rather than the minutiae of the problem. All great scam artists religiously follow the teachings of Wei Xiaobao: they will tell the main event truthfully but embellish it with such details, and they are not afraid to lie. Their bluffs blow only when these embellishments begin to dominate their lives. It is like that intolerable dish where the carved carrot decorations cover the entire plate. But even when people question the details, as long as the main story holds true, the player can still go through the crisis unscathed.
Luckily, Chinese are a very self-conflicting breed. They are extremely utilitarian and pragmatic, yet they can be as innocent as the Puritans. They respect xiaoxiong (枭雄, a fierce and ambitious person; for example, Cao Cao and Napoleon; Hitler also qualifies). Even if the success came through illegal and dishonest means, these xiaoxiong will be praised as "skilled" and "knowing the ways". At the same time, Chinese impose harsh standards on mainstream heroes, who must exhibit almost perfect morality, for there is zero tolerance for any small defect. Tang Jun is a xiaoxiong pretending to be a hero, so the only force that can cause damage to him is morality: the issue of integrity cannot be circumvented, and it is the only point on which his attackers have a stand.
I am very pessimistic concerning the outcome. There will be no solid results, because too many successful people switch between their xiaoxiong and hero personas. When the hero front is questioned, challenged, and defeated, they immediately become xiaoxiong and emphasize their accomplishments. Suddenly the questions and investigations just become a matter of "the loser is always vilified." Everybody then concedes that he is indeed "skilled" and stops obstructing his road to money and prosperity. Think back to the last few decades, which single public figure was severely punished for lying? When did the shit digging ever achieve anything? Did Richard Li's fake academic records affect his company? Or did Bruno Wu's Sun Media investments fail due to his purchased degree?
There has been one exception to the rule. The man went to jail. His name is Zhou Zhenglong (周正龙). And he is a farmer.
Only till this point have we come to the real questions that must be asked in the wake of Tang Jun news:
Why do niubi criminal succeed more easily?
Why are lies more profitable than integrity?
Why is the society so fixated on success and fortune?
Why are lying, bluffing, and niubi the only routes to more opportunities?
If a society were truly founded on principles of equality, and the procedures fair, will scam artists still succeed?
Does a dishonest alliance exist? So that nobody willingly exposes the fraud because he either profits from the lies or does not want the bigger embarrassment of admitting he has been duped? Or, perhaps, there is a consensus: integrity means nothing.
Finally, why is our media busy glorifying these public figures, why do our universities open doors to them, and why do we drink up the stories told by these con artists, only waking up when the tales become intolerably bizarre?
I think we must be missing something, lost something along the way. Our lives are much sweeter because of this loss, since a fixation on success distances us from the reproaches of the conscience. Once pragmatism gives us the boldness to scale all ethical fences, we achieve great victories one after another. Now tell me: do you really care about whether Tang Jun had lied?
Tang Jun, Yan Jun, any fast running horse is a fine horse (Note: a pun on Jun, which means good steed). Amen!
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