Chinese education blogger Zhang Xuefeng was direct and damning when a woman asked him during a live stream whether her son should choose to study liberal arts at university.
Zhang, who has more than 24 million followers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is a regular source of advice for education and the job market.
“All liberal arts graduates are joining the service industries! And all they need is grovelling,” he said during the event last month.
To many viewers – and arts graduates and students – the comments were offensive, not just for the choice of language but for suggesting their degrees were worthless in today’s economy.
Zhang later apologised – only for thousands of liberal arts students to say the comments struck a chord with them.
In a highly competitive job market, weighted heavily in favour of people with STEM skills, the blogger’s forthright assessment may have been harsh, but it wasn’t wrong, they said.
Academics and researchers say the controversy over the remarks reflects long-standing problems in Chinese higher education.
Liberal arts studies include humanities majors such as history and literature, social sciences such as economics, journalism and law, and some majors in business schools.
Zhang did not specify which liberal arts majors he was criticising, but the thousands of social media users who echoed his comments on social media platforms ranged from literature and journalism students to finance graduates.
An anthropology graduate from a leading university in Shanghai said his teachers told students at the beginning of the school year to be “mentally prepared” for not being able to find a job.