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Peking University slammed for giving scholarship to non-Chinese-speaking Filipino

Once again, an established Chinese university is in hot water for giving what is perceived as preferential treatment to foreign students.

Last week, Peking University, one of China’s top institutions, found itself in a heap of backlash (in Chinese) after it offered a full scholarship to a Filipino student to enroll in its prestigious medical school. The generous scholarship, which is estimated to be around 470,000 yuan ($66,350), sparked intense criticism after internet users discovered the foreign student couldn’t speak any Chinese and would need to spend an extra year taking language classes before officially starting her study.

According to an offer letter leaked on the internet, the Filipino student was admitted to the 2020 class of the school’s clinical medicine program. But given that all the classes at the medical school are taught in Chinese and the student’s “Chinese-language proficiency didn’t reach the level” where she could take courses with local students, Peking University required her to catch up on her Chinese at Shandong University from September 2019 to July 2020.

The news quickly drew the ire of internet users, who argued that the Filipino student didn’t deserve the scholarship given her lack of language skills, and claiming this was another example of Chinese schools’ persistent favoritism for overseas students.

In July, Shandong University was embroiled in a complicated scandal caused by its long-running study-buddy program, which assigned three Chinese volunteers to help one foreign student in all aspects of their lives. Last year, Shenyang College came under fire for absolving foreign students of the responsibility of cleaning dormitory buildings, an activity that local students were forced to engage in to earn special credits needed for graduation.

Meanwhile, it’s not uncommon for Chinese universities to lower their admission standards for foreign students. In 2017, Tsinghua University, whose reputation is on par with Peking University, provoked fury after it changed its admission requirements for overseas students, who may now apply without taking any entrance exams as long as they hold a high school diploma and are relatively proficient in Chinese (HSK Level 5 out of 6).

In response to the criticism, Peking University issued a statement on August 19, noting that the student was admitted through a government-funded program and that the scholarship was offered on the grounds that the student was one of the top-performing high school students in the Philippines. Regarding the controversy about her Chinese ability, the university said that the offer was in fact conditional because the students needs to pass language tests after a year of studying Chinese.

The explanation, however, did little to quell the anger from internet users (in Chinese). “The scholarship could have been given to Chinese students from impoverished areas. I’m so disappointed by Peking University,” a Weibo user wrote. A significant portion of internet users who commented on the news took issue with the student’s nationality. “Since when did people from the Philippines become foreign masters too?” one Weibo user wrote. Employing the derogatory term “monkey,” which is often used by Chinese people who talk about people from the Philippines, another angry netizen wrote, “Even a monkey can attend Peking University. What a joke!”

Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.

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