All fired up
Updated: 2012-06-18 10:34
By Zhang Yue (China Daily)
Only You host Zhang Shaogang (right) has been criticized for his dismissive attitude toward some job seekers. Photos provided to China Daily
Guo Jie faints on the show, after it was alleged his master's degree was a fake.
A job-hunting TV show that has stirred controversy by criticizing students who have returned from studying abroad has had to rethink its attitude. Zhang Yue reports in Beijing.
China's most popular employment reality TV show, Only You, has seen 305 applicants find jobs since it started in late 2010, with 51 of them being students who studied overseas. It doesn't sound like a recipe for controversy, but it is.
Only You is filmed by Tianjin TV Station and hosted by Zhang Shaogang. On its May 20 broadcast, the 32-year-old Guo Jie, who had studied in France for 10 years and earned three degrees, fainted on stage when it was alleged his master's degree was a fake.
The judging panel mistook his BAC+5 degree (equivalent to a master's degree) as a high school graduate diploma.
This is not the first time that overseas returnees have been challenged on the show.
In January, Liu Lili, who studied in New Zealand, answered Zhang's questions, replying in English occasionally and claiming her favorite literature was William Shakespeare's "heroic couplets" - which appeared to irritate Zhang immensely.
Over the past few months, the TV program has been a controversial topic online, especially on Sina Weibo, because of Guo's fainting incident and because many viewers think the program is biased against overseas returnees.
A video of the show was also posted on YouTube, with English subtitles, and has had tens of thousands of hits. There is even a parody of the show, which turns Guo (with a rainbow colored face) and the judges into cartoon characters.
The former chief of Google China, Kai-fu Lee, who was educated in the United States, responded by initiating a campaign to boycott the show.
During the one-week online activity, 410,402 participants showed their opposition to the program, while 24,438 participants were supportive.
"I can't accept the way the program slanders and teases the applicants for no good reason, except to attract audiences," Lee said in an interview with website Zhongguo Wangshi. "I asked the program to apologize to the students and they did not take any action, so I started the online campaign against it."
Other returning students were also incensed and on June 7 the production team of Only You, including presenter Zhang Shaogang, appeared in Beijing to face more than 20 student returnee representatives and apologize.
The discussion was heated, and lasted for four hours, with the students describing their experiences of studying abroad.
Xue Lei, who graduated from The University of Sydney, in 2009, said every returning student was required to have their degree ratified by the Overseas Students Center, affiliated to the Ministry of Education.
He said every student who studied abroad knew this, but presenter Zhang had no idea.
"It was during this discussion that I realized I knew very little about students from abroad," admitted Zhang after the meeting.
"We tend to be more critical to applicants who return from overseas because we want them to understand the job market in China is harsh," Zhang explained.
"I've never studied abroad, and my only experience of being abroad is traveling," Liu Shuang, producer of the show, said at the meeting. "After several unpleasant incidents, we realize that we know too little about international education or students' experiences abroad. We need to learn a lot from you about your studies and experiences as we carry on with the program."
Among the student representatives, four had returned from France and showed their education certificates and explained how a master's degree is earned in France.
Even so, there are also returning students who support the program's position.
Zhang Meng, one of the four students from France, said: "I think Zhang Shaogang is doing exactly the right thing. I stayed in France for quite a few years and I watched the show when I was in France. It is true that there are students who lead a spoiled life, cheat in exams and even spend a lot of money on fake degrees. They can also get good jobs when they return to China."
Zhang Meng said it is "100 percent OK" to question returning students about their degrees.
"It's just the way he is and that is why we watch the program," she said.
In a survey conducted by www.eol.cn, China's largest education portal, 9 million people registered for the national college entrance examination in 2012, 1.4 million fewer than in 2008.
At the same time, student applications to study higher education abroad have increased 20 percent year-on-year since 2008.
"I understand their concerns and I will try to improve myself," Zhang Shaogang said.
"But, those criticisms I made would not bother me at all."
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