A former Peking University president has lashed out at those who criticised him for calling American education “a mess”, saying some of his countrymen were “pathetic” for being afraid to criticise the United States.
Zhou Qifeng took heat from mainland netizens three years ago for what was widely seen as a pro-Beijing, anti-US rant that lasted for two hours during a Changsha school ceremony in December 2011.
Microbloggers branded him a lackey of the so-called “50 Cent Party” - named after the fee paid to internet users who post favourable comments about the party.
He addressed the controversy in public for the first time when he gave a speech before more than 100 alumni at Hunan University in his hometown.
“By calling [the American] education system ‘a mess’, I was referring to the fact that their elite graduates had not been taught how to respect others,” Zhou was quoted by the Changsha Evening News as saying yesterday.
“Certain Chinese people are very pathetic,” Zhou said. “They feel comfortable criticising their own mother, but not the US.”
“American education was a mess judging by its ability to train world citizens,” he said. “[For example] American presidents always enforce their will against other countries.”
His comments were circulated widely on Weibo and amassed hundreds of comments.
A few agreed with Zhou’s view. “Certain Chinese people … are not as close to their own parents as to the States,” said Xiang Ligang, the president of an internet firm in Beijing.
“President Zhou, Chinese people like you are the most pathetic. They can criticise the US, but not the Chinese government,” a Shenzhen microblogger with the user tag Fenderlee said.
Zhou also brandished his credentials to hit back at those who said he was unqualified to make those statements. The 67-year-old has a PhD from the University of Massachussetts Amherst and has been a chemist at the state-run Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“Many of those who criticised me are not as qualified as I am. They criticised me anyway, as if they would lose their sense of existence when they stop criticising,” said Zhou, who retired as head of Peking University last year.
But a policy adviser and former Xinhua reporter, Zhu Youdi, pointed out: “If not for an American degree, Zhou might not be able to win a position at CAS.”
“Zhou’s comments on ‘certain Chinese people’ revealed what kind of people those so-called public intellectuals really are,” a war veteran from Yunnan province posted on Weibo.
Others said Zhou appeared to be even closer to the 50 Cent Party after retirement.
Zhou is no stranger to controversy, grabbing headlines in 2008 when he led a delegation to pay tribute to the “creative reforms” imposed by Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, who years later would be prosecuted for corruption, abuse of power and other crimes.