In the Chinese capital, Tsinghua and Peking University both enjoy century-old reputations as the country’s most elite seats of higher learning.

In the rush to pick up the nation’s top-scoring students, however, both have accused their historic rival of bribery, cheating, deception, and harassment.

West Gate of Peking University. Photo: Wikicommons.

In a vitriolic flame war that has captured the nation’s attention, both universities’ recruitment teams for central China’s Sichuan Province posted a series of defamatory comments on their official Weibo pages on Sunday morning.

Peking University fired the opening shots on the popular microblog site by claiming that “a certain school’s Enrollment Group telephoned the top ten arts and sciences examinees who chose to study at Peking University, telling them that PKU had lied to them and could never fulfill their professional ambitions… Looking back at the past five years, it is in fact this school that has broken their promises time and again and has failed to fulfill their commitments. Please stop harassing incoming PKU students.”

Less than one hour later, their Tsinghua counterparts returned fire, charging PKU educators with “consistently harassing Tsinghua applicants and promising [them] vast sums of money.”

“Brothers,” the Tsinghua recruiters implored, “it’s no problem at all if you provide examinees with more information about PKU to enable them to make a better decision – even if you do go a bit too far. But aren’t you afraid that superseding policy and throwing around money to buy students might lead children astray?”

PKU and Tsinghua on Weibo
PKU and Tsinghua exchange acerbic remarks on Weibo. Photo: Sina Weibo.

“Brothers,” PKU then responded with thinly veiled sarcasm, “must I really mention Guo, Tang and the others you have bought over the past five years?”

By 11:00am, both universities had wiped their Weibo pages clear, removing all content save for a brief message wishing examinees luck.

According to mainland media reports, both monetary inducements and other perks as well as the slandering of rival institutions are weapons regularly used by elite universities in the battle to bring in the country’s top-scorers in the annual gaokao college entrance examinations.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others