Top Chinese university under fire for using sex to sell school

·3-min read

One of the top universities in China is under fire for using women to lure applicants in a sexually suggestive online advertisement, with critics saying the college is objectifying women.

Nanjing University (NJU) posted the advertisement on Weibo on Monday, the first day of the gaokao exams, China’s national college entrance tests.

The advertisement featured six photos of current students holding up signs in front of different parts of the campus.

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Two of the photos attracted the most criticism. One included a pretty woman holding up a sign that read, “Do you want to live at the library with me, from morning till night?” and the other said, “Do you want me to become part of your youth?”

A woman poses with a sign that reads “Do you want to live at the library with me, from morning till night?” at Nanjing University. Photo: Weibo
A woman poses with a sign that reads “Do you want to live at the library with me, from morning till night?” at Nanjing University. Photo: Weibo

The other photos, especially when men held up the signs, did not feature the seemingly suggestive text. For example, one man was pictured holding a sign that said, “Do you want to become an honest, diligent and ambitious NJU student?”

The ads became controversial online almost immediately.

“The problem with this photo is that it treats women as if they should be someone’s belonging. These women made it to NJU, but now they are ‘part of someone else’s youth’? That is ridiculous,” one comment said on Weibo.

Another wrote: “As a top university, you should recruit based on your resources and quality of your academics, instead of using hot guys and pretty women to lure people.”

Even if these women express discomfort and anger, they are often labelled as ‘overreacting’.

Chengyusan, an NGO that fights gender-based violence

NJU deleted the ads after they were bombarded online. The school did not respond to the South China Morning Post’s request for comment.

Some people, however, questioned whether the criticism was an overreaction, saying the advertisement did not need to result in a deep conversation about gender equality.

One commenter said: “There is no need to be all serious in the ads, they can surely write this way to attract young people. No need to be picky,” one said.

Chengyusan, an NGO that fights gender-based violence, wrote:

“In our culture, people are acquiescent about objectifying women, and even if these women express discomfort and anger, they are often labelled as ‘overreacting’. We refuse adverts that do not respect women’s independence or regard women’s equal rights as a joke.”

In 2013, renowned Renmin University of China, colloquially called “Renda”, became one of the first schools in the internet era to use pretty women as an advertisement when it posted a woman’s graduation photo on its main website. Online, people flooded the website to see “Renda Goddess” and crashed the university’s server.

Last month, NetEase Games apologised after a human resources staff said they would drug female workers in a recruitment ad.

In the ad, the staff posted a photo of the entire team on WeChat moments and said, “Recruiting. If you like any of my female coworkers, I’ll try and get a date”.

Then in the comments, the staff member wrote, “Give me a resume, I can even help drug them”.

After the ad sparked concerns online, the human resources department of NetEase Games said in a notice that they had fired the staff member and apologised for such inappropriate behaviour.

NJU is one of the top public universities in China and is ranked 124th in Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings 2021.

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