The beauty of education: Tsinghua University students’ meme goes viral

Photos of students before and after they enter the Beijing research institute becomes an internet sensation, but its admissions office is accused of orchestrating a PR stunt

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 12:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 3:41am


“Off to Tsinghua to become white, rich and beautiful” – or so that’s what some students from the research university in Beijing would have you believe, based on pictures they’ve posted online of themselves both before and after their Tsinghua University days.

The fad quickly became a popular internet meme, with the images being reposted by many internet users and even on the Tsinghua admissions office’s official microblog.

But some users have slammed the meme as a public-relations campaign orchestrated by the university admissions office, The Beijing News reported. The office has denied the claims.

The meme all began with Lin Li, a student in the university’s school of aerospace, who posted photos of herself before and after she started studying at the institute on her personal website, the paper reported.

The popular post quickly caught on with other female students, who then posted similar images of themselves online.

Internet users noted that the students appeared significantly whiter and prettier in their “after” shots, thus creating the meme “Off to Tsinghua to become white, rich and beautiful”.

The phrase “white, rich and beautiful” for women – and “tall, rich and handsome” for men – is often used in China to describe the three most important characteristics of an ideal partner.

After the meme went viral, the images were reposted on the Tsinghua admissions office’s official microblog, prompting criticism that the university had orchestrated an advertising campaign to draw interest from potential students during the admissions season.

The admissions office denied the claims, saying it had not anticipated the negativity spawned from the lighthearted sharing of an innocent meme about life after entering the university.

“After an unforgettable experience at Tsinghua, changes in one’s appearance and attitude are not all that shocking. Character building is the most important,” the admissions office stated on its official blog.