Research carried out by academics at Beihang University in Beijing found a startling lack of understanding of plagiarism and academic misconduct, with both students and staff admitting that they knew "very little" or "had no idea" about the norms of scientific ethics.
Fewer than half of the 32 Chinese universities questioned by researchers had detailed definitions of plagiarism and misconduct drawn up, and more than 40 per cent of students said current guidelines at their own institutions were insufficient.
As a result, up to 10 per cent of the students surveyed said that they thought copying work directly from the internet should not be considered bad practice.
"Chinese students often start their academic writing via imitation of existing works and their knowledge about academic writing and good academic conduct is often insufficient, partly due to the lack of academic or professional writing courses at Chinese universities," says a paper detailing the research, "Preventing plagiarism and academic misconduct: A case study of Chinese universities".
The study was co-authored by three researchers, Zhang Xiaojun, Sun Hongli and Zhang Fan, working in the School of Foreign Languages at Beihang.
The group said the Chinese academy had been criticised for its emphasis on quantity over quality of published papers, with both master's and doctoral candidates expected to publish.
A shortage of academic motivation was also a factor, with half of PhD graduates becoming government officials rather than entering the academy.
The researchers found that academics cited an "unreasonable academic appraisal system", an "undesirable overall social environment" and a "defective supervision mechanism" as the root of misconduct.
The study, which was presented at the Fourth International Plagiarism Conference at Northumbria University this summer, recommends better teaching of the rules governing plagiarism to "raise the awareness of the students or academic staff over research ethics and good academic conduct".