As Chinese netizens will point out, there has been no shortage of celebrities willing to massage their academic credentials. Taiwan singer Fan Wei-chi led people to believe that she had graduated from Harvard University, for instance. She was later revealed in 2019 to have attended Harvard Extension School instead (and she never graduated). In the same year, actor Zhai Tianli announced that he had been accepted by Peking University, one of China’s most prestigious institutions, in a postdoctoral research programme at the Guanghua School of Management. After the news started to spread, netizens discovered that two of his essays had been plagiarised from an older article. The university subsequently expelled Zhai from the research programme.
Last week there was another controversy to add to the mix, when China’s Miss World contestant Qin Zewen was soon being challenged on her eligibility for the role, as well as some of her other qualifications.
Qin’s road to stardom began in mid-August when she was announced as China’s candidate for the London-based Miss World competition. At the time, most netizens seemed happy enough with the choice. Qin was portrayed as a combination of brains and beauty: she had a master’s degree from Fudan University and had also worked as an analyst in a highly-rated investment research team.
But the choosing of Qin as China’s candidate was also open to challenge. For a start, she wasn’t even the champion of the Miss World pageant in China. In fact, the winner was Ruan Yue from Wuhan, although she was then stripped of her title in July on unspecified allegations of misconduct.
Instead of asking the runner-up to take Ruan’s place, organisers then picked Qin, who doesn’t seem to have competed in similar events before.
Netizens were confused by the decision. “So what’s the point of Miss World China? Is that just for fun? The winner was forsaken and the reason for that was never explained. Instead of asking the first-runner-up to take her place, they chose a contestant who had never been in a beauty pageant?” one queried.
Qin, who is 25, is a winner of several Latin Dance Championships in eastern China, plays the piano and sings Peking Opera, according to her Miss World bio. She is also described as a xue ba, or ‘academic guru’, having received a bachelor’s degree in software engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, before getting a master’s in finance at Fudan University. After graduation, she interned at Oracle and PricewaterhouseCoopers, before joining the equities team at Essence Securities.
In the wake of the questions surrounding their choice of Qin, Miss World China explained that while unconventional, she embodies “all the excellent qualities of women in the new era”. She would also fulfil that crucial purpose of Miss World in “promoting world peace, setting an example of outstanding women and helping hungry and disabled children”.
After her candidacy was made public, Qin went straight to work with a post on her personal WeChat account. “I can no longer keep a low profile,” she explained. “There is no shortage of female entrepreneurs, philanthropists, journalists, lawyers, writers and scientists among the champions of Miss World in other countries. But I plan to give women in my industry a voice on the global stage and empower them,” she added.
Netizens were soon uncovering a few holes in her resume, however. People who had graduated from Jiao Tong University at a similar time said they’d never heard of her and Qin’s name couldn’t be found in the school database. She responded by posting a letter of attendance online, although her critics were soon sniffing that it showed she had received her bachelor’s degree from the “Software Academy at Shanghai Jiao Tong University”.
It was claimed Jiao Tong did not offer software engineering courses, which led some to surmise that Qin might actually have gone to East China Jiao Tong University, a lesser ranked institution.
Meanwhile, the Securities Association of China has also been looking into Qin’s background and it was soon refuting the claim that she was a licenced investment analyst. Her former employer Essence Securities felt compelled to comment as well, telling ThePaper.cn that Qin was hired as an assistant analyst “to contact customers and collate data and other basic work”. She left the job at the brokerage last year, it added, which meant she had no connection to the company – somewhat undermining her earlier claim that she was representing women in the finance industry.
Such was the stink being made about Qin’s candidacy that even the London organisers of the overall Miss World competition felt that they need to comment, putting out a statement promising to give the situation their full attention.
“We will look into the matter and if the rules have been breached, appropriate actions will be taken,” it assured gravely.
In response to the brouhaha Qin posted a picture of herself with friends, captioned ‘An ordinary little girl’. But speculation is growing that she could be jettisoned from the role. There were “many odd things” about China’s selection for this year’s event, complained Du Yang, the 2014 Miss China winner. “I understand the economy is not doing well, and the organisers have many difficulties. But even with difficulties, there should be no act that severely violates competition rules,” she added, saying she would be contacting the organisers of Miss World in an effort to protect the brand’s reputation.
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