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Zhang versus Zhang: An Online Debate over the Value of Studying Journalism in China

Is pursuing a degree in journalism worth it in China? Educational adviser Zhang Xuefeng says no, while professor Zhang Xiaoqiang says yes. Their online debate has captivated millions of people.

Zilan Qian



Chinese educational internet influencer Zhang Xuefeng (张雪峰) recently sparked a trending discussion by strongly discouraging Chinese youth from pursuing a degree in journalism. While scholars and state media emphasize the merits of studying journalism, a significant number of netizens question its benefits, labeling it as impractical, uneducational, and restrictive.

With the announcement of the 2023 Chinese National College Entrance Examination (Gaokao) scores this week, the process of selecting university preferences has become the focal point for more than 12.9 million families in China.

Zhang Xuefeng (张雪峰), an internet celebrity widely recognized as the “famous teacher for postgraduate entrance exams,” has found himself at the center of an online controversy for advising students against applying for journalism programs.

According to a report by Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), the incident originated from a livestreamed phone conversation between Zhang Xuefeng and a parent of a student, who was seeking advice.

Upon learning that a science student from Xinjiang had estimated a score of 590 – surpassing the cutoff for admission to first-tier universities, – while expressing an interest in applying for the journalism program at Sichuan University, Zhang Xuefeng reacted with some extreme emotions and remarks.

He advised against pursuing journalism, stating, “Don’t apply for journalism! Any other major you choose blindly would be better than journalism.” He even went as far as saying that if he were the parent, he would “definitely knock the child unconscious if they insisted on studying journalism” (“这孩子非要报新闻学,我一定会把他打晕”).

A screenshot of Zhang Xuefeng’s live stream phone call session in which he dissuaded the student from selecting Journalism. The line reads: “Just don’t select Journalism, ok?”

After a video of their livestreamed conversation was shared by Yan Tu Education, Zhang Xuefeng’s educational company, on their official Douyin account, Zhang’s provocative remarks gained attention from various parties, including journalism scholars and Chinese (state) media outlets.

The ‘Zhang vs Zhang’ online debate started in mid-June when Professor Dr. Zhang Xiaoqiang (张小强) from Chongqing University’s School of Journalism criticized Zhang Xuefeng’s comments, describing them as “harmful and misleading to the public” (“害人不浅,误导公众”).

According to media outlet The Paper, Dr. Zhang argues that the field of journalism is applicable to many different domains, and parents can trust the journalism departments in prominent Chinese universities and colleges.

He believes that the negative perception of the journalism profession stems from the narrow belief that it only leads to careers in traditional media. However, Dr. Zhang asserts that graduates from journalism departments go on to work in various fields.

He suggested that journalism graduates are often recruited for communication roles, and that they can find employment at government organizations, state-owned enterprises, new media companies, or even gaming start-ups. He also cautioned against being deceived by individuals like Zhang Xuefeng, whom he referred to as a mere “internet celebrity.”

Three Reasons Not To Pursue Journalism Major in China

While there are authoritative voices defending journalism education, there is still substantial support for Zhang Xuefeng’s perspective on discouraging journalism as a career choice.

This support mainly stems from three primary reasons: the perceived impracticality of the profession, doubts about the substantive nature and effectiveness of journalism education, and concerns about the limited freedom and liberal values within the field.

1. Not Practical (“无用”)

Firstly, a journalism degree has been deemed as “impractical” as it cannot guarantee good employment prospects.

Zhang Xuefeng dissuades students from pursuing journalism because, according to him, choosing this major would make it hard to secure a livelihood. For families with limited resources, it is important to choose a field of study that is practical and will enable young people to support themselves (“吃上饭”).

He also emphasizes the need to consider real-life circumstances rather than blindly following prescribed norms. Zhang said, “I am not targeting anyone or any specific profession. I am only providing suggestions based on employment situations. If your child cannot find a job, the responsibility lies not with the teachers but with you as parents!”

However, individuals like Dr. Zhang Xiaoqiang strongly oppose such practicalism. On June 17th, during an interview with Fengmian News (封面新闻), Professor Zhang Xiaoqiang stated that the primary consideration for choosing a major should be the student’s interest instead of employability.

Similarly, China Education Daily (中国教育报) published an article titled “Beware of the Misleading Influence of Internet Celebrity Remarks on College Major Selection” (“警惕网红言论误导志愿填报”), condemning Zhang Xuefeng’s statement for being overly arbitrary and shortsighted. The article emphasizes that personal interests and aspirations are also crucial in major selection and encourages young people to dream big and explore uncertainties.

However, many netizens support Zhang’s pragmatic approach and criticize scholars and state media for being overly idealistic and lacking understanding of the difficulties faced by ordinary people, and especially the younger generations, in China today.

The phrase “Why not eat meat?” (“何不食肉糜,” referring to those in positions of power and influence often failing to understand the hardships of common people) has become widely used in this discussion to highlight the discrepancy between scholars and authoritative voices who advocate for choosing majors based on interests and the economic constraints faced by many families.

“The lower the socioeconomic status of the family, the higher the cost of making mistakes in choosing a major, and therefore students should be more cautious in their decision-making,” commented one netizen, contradicting the argument that young people should pursue their passions without considering practicality.

2. Non-Educational (“无学”)

Studying journalism in universities has also faced criticism for being seen as “non-educational” due to the belief that a journalism degree is unnecessary to become a journalist and lacks a substantial theoretical foundation.

The non-profit organization ‘Narada Insights’ (@南都观察) posted an opinion piece by Liu Yuanju (刘远举), a research fellow at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law, on their Weibo account. In the piece, Liu highlights the failure of journalism education to provide in-depth content. Writing skills in journalism can be acquired by competent high school graduates, and the ability to gather and evaluate information is a fundamental skill that extends beyond the journalism field, primarily developed through life and work experiences. Therefore, Liu argues, it becomes challenging for students to acquire specific journalism-related skills and knowledge in universities.

Furthermore, Liu points out that journalism is often perceived to have a relatively low entry barrier, as many successful media professionals do not hold journalism degrees at all. On the other hand, knowledge in areas such as science, technology, economics, finance, or law can be advantageous for journalism work. In practice, media organizations often prefer candidates with these kind of educational backgrounds, as they are the ones with specialized expertise in specific industries.

3. Lack of Freedom (“无自由”)

One third complain and common perception of journalism departments is that they primarily teach students how to align with the state’s agenda, which has led to accusations of Chinese journalism being severely restrictive.

Author Liu Shen Leilei (六神磊磊), a former journalist of Politics and Law at the Chongqing Branch of Xinhua News Agency, shared his thoughts on this topic on Weibo. According to Liu, journalism departments lack substantial theories and instead instruct students to be obedient and comply with authorities.

One journalism graduate agreed with Liu’s post, suggesting that they were being compelled to say what the state wants: “I graduated in journalism, and I have a deep aversion to the field. We not only lack the freedom to speak the truth but are also deprived of the freedom to remain silent.”

Even if students possess enough passion to overcome the ‘impractical’ and ‘uneducational’ aspects of journalism education in Chinese universities, they may be disillusioned when they find that the practice of “journalism” in China does not align with their expectations and ideals.

In response to Liu Shen Leilei’s post, another commenter emphasized the profound challenge of reporting the truth in today’s context and asserted that “journalism has died (新闻已死).” This statement reflects the perception that authentic and truthful reporting has become virtually non-existent. Instead, media outlets are believed to employ various tactics to attract attention and disseminate state propaganda. On social media, there is a frequent suggestion to “rename journalism departments as propaganda departments” to reflect this perceived reality.

An End to the Debate?

As the Zhang versus Zhang discussion on pursuing a degree in Journalism continued, Dr. Zhang Xiaoqiang recently took to his social media to express his desire to end the debate, acknowledging the overwhelming criticisms from netizens (#张小强称给自己和张雪峰争论画上句号#, #张小强说和张雪峰争论结束#).

“I still firmly believe that journalism and communication are good majors with promising prospects,” he wrote. “However, media professionals and educators need to foster a positive public opinion and social environment for their own development. We must first prove ourselves.”

Meanwhile, on Chinese social media, various hashtags have emerged in light of this discussion. One of them is “Who Do You Support in the Zhang Xuefeng Journalism Studies Debate?” (#张雪峰新闻学之争你支持谁#), which has reached over 130 million views on Weibo by now.

There even is a possibility to vote on whose side you are.

With more than 42,000 votes, it is clear who the majority of netizens agree with most: 39,000 voters agreed with Zhang Xuefeng that studying journalism is not a favorable option for Chinese young people today.

“They’re starting rumors, smooth things over, and oppose the people,” another person criticizes the state of journalism.

While the debate between Zhang Xuefeng and Professor Zhang Xiaoqiang may have temporarily subsided, the ongoing discourse surrounding the significance of journalism in China is bound to continue.

By Zilan Qian

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Part of featured image via Xigua Shipin.

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Zilan Qian is a China-born undergraduate student at Barnard College majoring in Anthropology. She is interested in exploring different cultural phenomena, loves people-watching, and likes loitering in supermarkets and museums.

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China Local News

Changsha Restaurant Employee Pays the Price after Protecting Abused Child

A Changsha restaurant employee who intervened when a mother beat her child ended up paying the price for it.

Manya Koetse



The story of a restaurant employee who had to pay the price for sharing a video of a mother beating her child has triggered anger on Chinese social media.

The incident happened on September 14, when Mr. Jiang (江), an employee at the ‘Peng Shu’ Western-style restaurant in Changsha, stopped a mother from beating her young daughter at the shopping mall where the restaurant is located.

As reported by the Guizhou media channel People’s Focus (@百姓关注), a mother and daughter at the restaurant drew the staff’s attention when the mother began physically assaulting her daughter.

The mother, clearly overwhelmed by her emotions, resorted to kicking, hitting, yelling, and even attempting to strike her child with a chair, allegedly in response to the child accidentally spilling ice cream on her clothing.

During this distressing incident, which was captured on video, Mr. Jiang and another colleague intervened to protect the child and immediately alerted the police to the situation.

But the one who was punished in the end was not the mother.

The video of this incident was shared online, leading the woman to repeatedly visit the restaurant in frustration over her unblurred face in the video. The police had to mediate in this dispute.

To the dismay of many netizens, the employee ended up being forced to pay the woman 10,000 yuan ($1369) in compensation for “moral damages.” He has since resigned from his job and has left Changsha. A related hashtag was viewed over 110 million times on Weibo (#餐厅员工发顾客打娃视频后赔1万离职#) and also became a hot topic on Douyin.

The majority of commenters expressed their anger at the unjust outcome where a restaurant employee, who had attempted to protect the child, faced repercussions while the mother appeared to avoid any legal consequences for her actions.

“Where is the All-China Women’s Federation when you need them?” some wondered, while others wanted to know why the incident was not followed up with an immediate investigation into the child abuse. Others suggested that if it were a man who had beaten his child, authorities would have been quicker to intervene.

The issue of corporal punishment for children often comes up in Chinese social media discussions. While many people find it unacceptable to beat children, using violence to discipline children is also commonplace in many families.

When China’s first national law against domestic violence came into effect on 1 March 2016, article 5 and 12 specifically addressed the special legal protection of children and made family violence against children against the law.

By Manya Koetse

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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China Fashion & Beauty

Fashion that Hurts? Online Debates on China’s Draft Law Regarding ‘Harmful’ Clothes

The proposed ban on clothing deemed harmful is stirring debate, with some arguing for the significance of protecting national pride and others emphasizing the value of personal expression.

Manya Koetse



China’s recent proposal to ban clothing that “hurts national feelings” has triggered social media debates about freedom of dress and cultural sensitivities. The controversial amendment has raised questions about who decides what’s offensive for which reason.

A draft amendment to China’s Public Security Administration Punishments Law (治安管理处罚法) has caused some controversy this week for proposing a ban on clothes that “hurt national feelings.”

The discussions are about Article 34, clausules 3 and 4, which point out that wearing clothing or symbols that are deemed “harmful” to “the spirit and feelings of the Chinese nation” could become illegal. Offenders may face up to 15 days of detention and a fine of 5,000 yuan ($680).

The revised Article is part of a section about acts disrupting public order and their punishment, mentioning the protection of China’s heroes and martyrs.

Especially over the past three to four years, Chinese authorities have placed more importance on protecting the image of China’s “heroes and martyrs.” In 2018, the Heroes and Martyrs Protection Law was adopted to strengthen the protection of those who have made significant contributions to the nation and sacrificed their lives in the process.

Those insulting the PLA can face serious consequences. In 2021, former Economic Observer journalist Qiu Ziming (仇子明), along with two other bloggers, were the first persons to be charged under the new law as they were detained for “insulting” Chinese soldiers. Qiu, who had 2.4 million fans on his Weibo page, made remarks questioning the number of casualties China said it suffered in the India border clash. He was sentenced to eight months in prison.

Earlier this year, Chinese comedian Li Haoshi was canceled making a joke that indirectly made a comparison between PLA soldiers and stray dogs, while also placing words famously used by Xi Jinping in a ridiculous context.

Screenshot of the draft widely shared on social media.

The draft is open for public comment through September 30, and it is therefore just a draft of a proposed amendment at this point.

Nevertheless, it has ignited many discussions on Chinese social media, where legal experts, bloggers, and regular netizens gave their views on the issue, with many people opposing the amendment.

This a translation of the first four clausules of Article 34 by Jeremy Daum’s China Law Translate (see the full translation here). Note that the discussions are focused on the item (2) and (3) revisions:

“Article 34:Those who commit any of the following acts are to be detained for between 5 and 10 days or be fined between 1,000 and 3,000 RMB; and where the circumstances are more serious, they are to be detained for between 10 and 15 days and may be concurrently fined up to 5,000 RMB:
(1) engaging in activities in public places that are detrimental to the environment and atmosphere for commemorating heroes and martyrs;
(2) Wearing clothing or bearing symbols in public places that are detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, or forcing others do do so;
(3) Producing, transmitting, promoting, or disseminating items or speech that is detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people and hurts the feelings of the Chinese people;
(4) Desecrating or negating the deeds and spirit of heroes and martyrs, or advocating or glorifying wars of aggression or aggressive conduct, provocation, or disrupting public order.”

Here, we mention the biggest online discussions surounding the draft amendment.

Main Objections to the Amendment

On Chinese social media site Weibo, commenters used various hashtags to discuss the recent draft, including the hashtags “China’s Proposed Amendment to the Public Security Administration Punishments Law” (#我国拟修订治安管理处罚法#), “Article 34 of the Draft Amendment to the Public Security Administration Punishments Law” (#治安管理处罚法修订草案第34条#) or “Harm the Feelings of the Chinese Nation” (#伤害中华民族感情#).

The issue that people are most concerned about is the vague definition “harming or hurting the spirit and feelings of the Chinese nation” (“伤害中华民族精神、感情”).

Although Chinese state media outlets, including the English-language Global Times, indicate that the clause is deemed to target some provocative actions to attract public attention, such as wearing Japanese military uniforms at sensitive sites, legal experts and social media users are expressing apprehensions regarding its ambiguity.

Questions arise: Who determines what qualifies as “harmful”? What criteria will be used? How will it be enforced? Beyond concerns about the absence of clear guidelines on which attire might be deemed illegal and for what reasons, there are fears of potential misinterpretation and misuse of such a law due to its subjective nature.

Some people question whether wearing foreign brands like Adidas or Nike could be considered offensive. There are also concerns about whether wearing sports attire supporting specific clubs might be seen as disrespectful. Another common topic is cosplay, a popular form of role-playing among China’s youth, where individuals dress up in costumes and accessories to portray specific characters. Can people still dress up in the way they like?

Well-known political commentator Hu Xijin published a video commentary about the issue on September 7, suggesting that the law in question could be more concrete and avoid misunderstanding by explicitly mentioning it targets facism, racism, or separatism. He also suggested that it is important for China’s legal system to provide people with a sense of security (– rather than scaring them).

Others reiterated similar views. If the clausules are indeed specifically about slandering national heroes and martyrs, which makes sense considering their context, they should be rephrased. One popular legal blogger (@皇城根下刀笔吏) wrote:

The legal enforceability of harming the spirit and the feelings of the Chinese nation is not quite the same as insulting or slandering heroes. Because it is actually very clear who our national heroes are. They are classified as martyrs and were approved by the state, it’s very clear. But when it comes to the feelings and the spirit of the Chinese nation, this is just very vague (..) And ambiguity brings about a mismatch in the practice of implementation, which will make people lose trust in this legal provision and makes them feel unsafe.”

Although a majority of commenters agree that the proposed amendment is vague, some also express that they would support a ban on clothes that are especially offensive. Among them is the popular blogger Han Dongyan (@韩东言), who has over 2.3 million followers on Weibo.

One example that is mentioned a lot, also by Han, is the 2001 controversy surrounding Chinese actress Vicky Zhao who wore a mini-dress printed with the old Japanese naval flag during a fashion shoot, triggering major backlash over her perceived lack of sensitivity to historical matters and the offensive dress.

Han also mentioned a 2018 example of two young men dressed in Imperial Japanese military uniforms taking a photo in front of the Shaojiashan Bunker at Zijin Mountain, where the Second Sino-Japanese War is commemmorated.

Kimono Problems

One trending story that is very much entangled with recent discussions about the proposed ban on ‘harmful’ clothing is that about a group of Chinese men and women who were recently denied access to the Panlongcheng National Archaeological Site Park in Wuhan because staff members allegedly mistook their clothing for Japanese traditional attire.

The individuals were actually not wearing Japanese traditional dress at all; they were wearing traditional Tang dynasty clothing to take photos of themselves. This is part of the Hanfu Movement, a social trend that is popular among younger people who supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing (read more).

According to Zhengguan News (正观新闻), there is no official park policy prohibiting the wearing of Japanese clothing, and an internal investigation into the incident is ongoing. The Paper reported that the incident allegedly happened around closing time.

Meanwhile, this incident has sparked discussions because it highlights the potential consequences when authorities arbitrarily enforce clothing rules and misinterpret situations. One netizen wrote: “It illustrates that when “some members of the public” cannot even tell the difference between Hanfu, Tang dynasty attire, and Japanese kimono, they are simply venting their emotions.”

Last year, a Chinese female cosplayer who was dressed in a Japanese summer kimono while taking pictures in Suzhou’s ‘Little Tokyo’ area was taken away by local police for ‘provoking trouble’ (read here).

A video showed how the young woman was scolded by an officer for wearing the Japanese kimono, suggesting she is not allowed to do so as a Chinese person. The girl was known to be a cosplayer, and she was dressed up as the character Ushio Kofune from the Japanese manga series Summer Time Rendering, wearing a cotton summer kimono, better known as yukata.

The incident sparked extensive debates, with differing viewpoints emerging. While some believed the girl’s choice of wearing Japanese clothing during the week leading up to August 15, a memorial day marking the end of the war, was insensitive, many commenters defended her right to engage in cosplay.

These discussions are resurfacing on Weibo, underscoring the divided opinions on the matter.

One Weibo user expressed a common viewpoint: “I believe wearing a Japanese kimono in everyday situations is not a problem, but doing so at specific times and places could potentially offend the sentiments of the Chinese nation.” Another blogger (@猹斯拉) also voiced support for a law that could prohibit certain clothing: “If you genuinely believe what you’re wearing is not harmful, you always have the right to make your argument.”

However, there is also significant opposition, with some individuals posting images of themselves reading George Orwell’s 1984 at night or making cynical remarks like, “Maybe we should say nothing and wear nothing, as anything else could lead to our arrest.”

“This is not progress,” another person wrote: “It’s taking another step back in time.”

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes


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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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