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'Lick' of trouble: Influencer's liberal arts comments spark controversy

By Quan Zhanfu | | Updated: 2023-12-11 21:01
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Online influencer Zhang Xuefeng sparked controversy on Friday after he claimed that "liberal arts majors are majoring in service industry" during a livestream. The comment, reported by Chongqing-based news portal Shangyou News, trended on the microblogging site Sina Weibo with over 200 million views.

During the livestream, Zhang elaborated on the service industry, characterizing it with the Chinese character tian, meaning "lick" in English, often associated with flattery or pleasing others with no bottom line. His comments sparked widespread attention, receiving both agreement and criticism.

On Saturday, Zhang issued a public apology on Weibo to those offended by his comments.

Zhang Xuefeng, born Zhang Zibiao in 1984, is a popular instructor for postgraduate entrance exams and the vice-president and co-founder of Suzhou Research Education Technology Co Ltd. He rose to fame in 2016 with a viral video titled Seven Minutes to Explain 34 Top Universities.

Despite his past statements about wanting to avoid the entertainment industry, Zhang's celebrity status has attracted attention. Since publishing his postgraduate exam preparation book in 2016, he has participated in several prominent TV shows.

However, his core focus remains postgraduate education. His critiques of higher education institutions have often sparked debate. In 2016 alone, he apologized on Weibo to two universities he had previously criticized.

Zhang's remarks are not his first to spark controversy. In May 2023, his claim that "any major is better than journalism" triggered backlash, leading him to state that he would "knock out" his children if they insisted on studying journalism.

Later, Zhang clarified his position, acknowledging that "80 percent of students majoring in journalism do not end up working in the field." He attributed this to the rise of self-media, which allows everyone to be a journalist.

Professor Ma Liang of Renmin University of China offered his perspective on Zhang's comments. He believes they reflect dissatisfaction with the current state of liberal arts education, which is often criticized for being tedious and lacking practical value. Ma emphasized the need for a new understanding of liberal arts, while acknowledging the importance of adapting to contemporary times.

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