Peking University has filed a lawsuit against one of its former professors after he accused faculty members of preying on young female workers at a nearby restaurant and giving them degrees in exchange for sex.
The incident has been widely discussed online since Zou Hengfu made the accusations on his microblog account on August 21. His comments were reposted more than 70,000 times and his number of followers has since soared from 80,000 to more than 200,000.
However, on Thursday, Zou admitted on his microblog that he was exaggerating when he said that the prestigious university's deans and professors had engaged in obscene behaviour at the restaurant, called Mengtaoyuan and located near the east gate of the university.
"I was referring to a small number of deans and professors I know," he wrote. "I usually like to overstate, and this is my style. People familiar with me all know this characteristic about me."
Peking University announced on Friday that it had filed the lawsuit against Zou. On Saturday, Mengtaoyuan also said it was planning to sue Zou, according to the Legal Evening News.
The 50-year-old outspoken economist responded on Saturday, saying he was not afraid of the lawsuit. He said he was helping the university clean up corruption and obscene behaviour, and that it should thank him.
Zou worked at the university from 1998 to 2007, when he was dismissed for not spending enough time teaching at the institution, which is commonly referred to as Beida. He has since sent letters to the university's management and to the Ministry of Education, in protest against the decision to dismiss him.
He made headlines in June when he said top mainland economists were too focused on earning money on the side, rather than focusing on their research.
Then came the accusations last month. On the day they were posted, Beida spokesman Jiang Langlang refuted them in an interview with the Beijing Morning Post. Jiang called Zou's comments irresponsible and speculated they were made because Zou was unhappy that his contract was not renewed.
Zou was ranked as China's top economist in June by Research Papers in Economics, a collaborative effort of hundreds of volunteers in 75 countries to enhance the dissemination of research in economics and related sciences.
The media soon started reporting his accusations. On August 23, Global Times ran an editorial saying Beida should look into the claims and release the findings to the public, while China Youth Daily said Zou's comments were irresponsible and amounted to hooliganism.
That day, the university formed a team to investigate the allegations and later said that it had been unable to reach Zou through e-mails or by calling him or his friends.
Zou put his e-mail address on his microblog the next day, August 24, and urged the university's investigative team to contact him. But then that evening, he said he wanted to speak about the issue only with the Communist Party's top disciplinary watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
On August 27, Beida said it had interviewed all 68 employees at Mengtaoyuan and none admitted to the allegations made by Zou or had heard such stories from colleagues.
Two days later, Zou said his actions were not an attempt to get revenge on the university for dismissing him, but were for the betterment of the entire education system on the mainland.
"I am against corruption and against obscenity," he said.