The firing in May of a prominent Chinese academic for faking the development of one of China’s best-known chips is an embarrassing setback for a government that sees high-technology research and development as key to the country’s economic future.
Chen Jin, the dean of Shanghai Jiaotong University’s School of Microelectronics, was fired after a government investigation determined he faked the development of the Hanxin series of digital signal processors (DSPs). DSPs are a type of processor used in mobile phones and other electronic devices. Shanghai Jiaotong is considered among the top universities for science in China.
Originally hailed as a breakthrough for China’s chip industry, the first Hanxin DSP was unveiled in 2003. Subsequently, Chen and his team of researchers introduced three more versions of the chip, declaring that they matched the performance and capabilities of DSPs available from leading multi¿national companies.
These announcements brought financial backing and praise from China’s central government for the Hanxin project, although the government has not revealed how much money was involved. But the fraud began to unravel in December, when officials received a tip that Chen had faked the development of the chips, sparking an investigation by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
The ministry, along with China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the government’s highest administrative body, have now pulled their funding for the project. In addition, the Ministry of Education retracted both an honorary title and undisclosed “remunerations” paid to Chen, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency.
Chinese media reported that Chen had relabeled some chips designed by Freescale Semiconductor, a supplier to Motorola and Cisco, and passed them off as the first version of the Hanxin chip.
Investigators concluded that none of the Hanxin chips met the specifications Chen claimed. For example, they discovered that the Hanxin 1 chip could not play MP3 files. They also found that the most recent version of the chip, the dual-core Hanxin 4, is based on a single-processor core from another company (which they did not name) and was not developed by Chen and his team.
Academic and scientific fraud is an area of growing concern in China, where many academics are also businessmen with their own companies. That includes Chen, who headed the company Shanghai Hanxin Science & Technology, created to market the Hanxin chips. Companies and researchers in China are under pressure from the central government to keep pace with its ambitious economic development goals, creating an environment in which some academics may misrepresent the results of their work to profit financially and professionally.
On May 8, 120 Chinese scientists and professors, many of whom work at universities in the United States, released a letter they sent to Xu Guanghua, China’s minister of science and technology, and Lu Yongxiang, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. They called on the government to set guidelines for dealing with scientific misconduct and to establish committees to investigate allegations of fraud.