Olympic gold medalist/Shanghainese stud/great Chinese hope Liu Xiang (刘翔) shocked the world by announcing that he intended to obtain a doctoral degree, aka a PhD, in sports management (体育管理). A Chinese athlete going to school towards the end of their career, or even after formal retirement, is not uncommon. For these people, a second career is a necessary reality they have to face, but no one thought Liu would make such an announcement at this phase in his career.
The controversy lies in the fact that Liu Xiang doesn’t have to take any kind of entrance examination in order to get into this program at Eastern China Normal University (华东师范大学). In this article (in Chinese), various opinions on this are stated: some think that Liu Xiang deserves this chance because he was deprived of a chance for a real education because he was training all the time (so what about all the poor kids in the boondocks that drop out because their families are poor?), while others say that he deserves this because of what he’s given to China (“we can now kick your ass on the track AND the ping-pong table”). Of course, there are detractors that think this whole thing is just an Eastern China Normal University publicity stunt. Others think it’s a good idea, but are skeptical of Liu finishing the degree in the normal five years because of his busy schedule.
Shanghaiist thinks that this article has a deeper perspective on the issue. Comparing students to tea cups and PhD advisers/professors to the teapots, the author states that it is not uncommon in China for one professor to act in the capacity of PhD adviser for thirty students — something unthinkable virtually anywhere else where there is a robust higher educational system. Now here comes Liu Xiang, and they’ve already promised him over at ECNU that they are setting up a team of ten professors from various fields to serve as his teachers. So not only is Liu Xiang not competing with thirty other people for the attention of the adviser, the situation is exactly the opposite. These professors, to some extent, are going to cater to him. We have to agree with this author, in the end, because no matter how great Liu Xiang is, giving him a free spot and priveleged treatment goes against the spirit of what meritocratic education is. You could argue that well, that’s just a myth, or at least just an ideal, and heck, this is China after all, and you would be right. And now we’ll shut up.