Are Asian Americans Cheaters?

ripped_cung_leWhen Cung Le lost to Michael Bisping, UFC commentator and former fighter Brian Stann tweeted, “it didn’t pay to cheat for once, good start to the day,”  assuming that Le’s ripped body shown at the UFC Fight Night Macau weigh-ins meant that he used Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).  A drug test found that he had unusual levels of Human Growth Hormone, resulting in a suspension by the UFC.  Asian Americans have been accused of cheating in a variety of other areas, from academics to contracting to politics.  Are Asian Americans all cheaters?  Is Asian American achievement an illusion that stems from cheating, as some say?  Did Cung Le really cheat?  The answer isn’t a simple yes or no, as we will see.

Academic cheating certainly happens in Asia.  College application fraud and paid for admissions essays have been documented, with some colleges closing down local satellite branches and SAT scores being withheld because of rampant cheating.  But the question here is about Asian Americans – are some of what happens in Asian happening here in the U.S.?  As this blog post points out, there have been a number of cheating scandals associated with Asian Americans, such as this one regarding AP testing at Mills High School, a majority Asian high school in the Bay Area.  This survey at a predominantly Asian American Mission San Jose says that over 70% students say that have cheated.  Number One and Number Two Son know an Asian American expelled from their school for plagiarism.   Some people say that  standardized test preparation done by many Asian Americans (including mine), which even poor Asian Americans are known to take, is a form of cheating at high school and college admissions.

Academics aren’t the only place where Asians have a reputation for cheating.  At work, I remember having lunch with a number of Asian Americans talking about contractors.  One Asian American mentioned that they decided against going with a low cost Asian American contractor, as many are known to take shortcuts and are willing to do things like build without permits and violate buildings code.  I personally have been burned by an Asian contractor who did just that.  Politics is another possible area where this reputation could build, with the high profile corruption cases of Ed Jew and Leland Yee.

So does that mean all Asian Americans are cheaters?  No.  Some clearly are, but it’s unfair to paint that all Asian American students into that picture, or even say that they are drastically worse than the national average.  Note that the alarming 70% at Mission San Jose is fairly close to US national estimates of cheating of around two thirds.  Recent reports of vast amounts of cheating at the University of North Carolina do not implicate Asian Americans.  When it comes to contractors, I have had Asian American contractors who did a good work with no dangerous short cuts.  Does that mean cheating isn’t a problem with Asian Americans?  Another no.  When stakes become extremely high, often from Asian American parents pushing their children to get into elite high schools or colleges, there is tremendous pressure to cheat.  When “achievements” like grades and test scores and elite college admission become more important than any sense of morality or actual learning, cheating and corruption is inevitable.

Is Cung Le a cheater?  He was stopped with a TKO by Bisping in his match.  After getting suspended, Le adamantly denied that he cheated and even some anti-doping specialists found that there were problems with the way that testing was doneHis suspension was lifted when further research showed that the UFC’s testing was unreliable. Le has insisted on an apology from the UFC.

(photo credit:  James Goyder/

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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