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When Interviewing Always Make Sure Responses Are Original

This could have been bad.

I’m currently writing an article about traveling the New Silk Road for Bloomberg and did the usual array of interviews, etc. One of those interviews was with the director of Xi’an Silk Road Chamber of Commerce. I only had a few, overtly simple questions, so I just sent them over by email. The guy responded within a day.

So far, so normal.

But as I was writing the story up for some reason I started getting a little suspicious of his responses. I’m really not sure what set me off exactly… So I took one of his “quotes” and did a web search for it.

“In Xi’an’s popular Muslim market, the scent of cumin hangs thick in the air over stalls where pomegranate juice and Arabic bread are sold. Lamb, not usually a Han Chinese favorite, is grilled over charcoal braziers.”

A stream of results came back. Shit. It appeared to have been directly lifted from this story here: In ancient city of Xi’an, China hopes to restart the Silk Road.

So I looked up another one of his quotes.

“The Terracotta Warriors attract the most attention but Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter is a real gem and a human link to the city’s illustrious past.”

It was the opening sentence of this article here.

I ran another of his responses.

“Tang West Market was built at the original site of the west market in Chang’an city of Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was the starting point of ancient Silk Road.”

It came from here.

In all the years that I’ve been doing this work I don’t believe I’ve ever had this happen. The guy just cobbled together his responses from already published material. But I have to wonder if it wouldn’t have taken him at least as much time — if not more — to do this than responding directly with original commentary?

I could go into a discussion of how in China copying what someone else says isn’t the crime that it is in the USA, but I won’t. It was overtly clear that I was interviewing him for original commentary and that I have the ability to do a web search and read previously published articles myself.

I usually don’t do email interviews, and this is one of the reasons why. I took a shortcut for expediency — and the fact that I only had a couple brief, incredibly simple questions — and it nearly backfired.

Filed under: China, Journalism

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3413 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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5 comments… add one

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  • Trevor September 29, 2018, 7:48 pm

    unbelievable but it is China.

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    • Wade Shepard September 29, 2018, 10:18 pm

      It’s really interesting how the culture has a way different take on plagerism and IP and counterfeits. An entire study could be done about it.

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      • Trevor September 30, 2018, 8:40 am

        interestingly fake brands in China are crap but i bought some chinese branded shorts in Bishkek and they lasted for ever. and the fake coffee shops STAR BUCKS or the IKEA scam . copied lock stock and barrel and just add 1cm spacing in the letter spacing and claim its not a copy. but then theres fake coke-cola in central asia.. Osh Bazaar in Bishkek…

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  • Rob September 29, 2018, 8:45 pm

    You got lucky again but the more you practice the luckier you get!

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    • Wade Shepard September 29, 2018, 10:16 pm

      It was nuts, man. I’ve been doing this work for over ten years and have never had that happen before. The craziest part was that the response was actually strung together perfectly and naturally. There was really no indication that it was actually excerpts from at least three different articles put together. Whoever actually did it did an incredible job. What actually made me suspicious was that it was a little too good. Haha!

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