Whistleblower defies online wrath to take on TV celebrity

By Zhou Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-5 5:03:02

Qiao Mu stands in front of the library of Beijing Foreign Studies University. Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Every whistleblower has his own motivations. Some do it for the name, some for fame, some for revenge, and some for cash. But nobody does it for fun.

For Qiao Mu, a 45-year-old university professor, however, his whistleblowing on one of China's best-known celebrities put him at the top of the entertainment news.

A year ago, he was an associate professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) and an active blogger and media commentator. Now, he is a librarian there. Four years ago, he was a grass-roots activist. Born in Yulin, Shaanxi Province, he had a reputation among his students and colleagues as being persistent.

On May 13, Qiao accused He Jiong, a famous TV host, of misusing public resources by drawing a salary without actually working at the university. He Jiong has 64 million followers on Sina Weibo, while Qiao Mu has only 16,000. Qiao's accusations on Weibo drew an instant outcry from He's millions of fans. 

On TV, the young baby-faced entertainer He Jiong is known as "Teacher He" by fans around the nation. Though "teacher" is a common title given to anyone as a sign of respect, few people realized that He, 39, really was a teacher, until Qiao openly accused him of freeloading.

According to Qiao, He Jiong continued to receive a salary from the university despite years of absence to pursue his entertainment career.  As one of China's most successful TV hosts, He's career took off when he became the host of weekend entertainment show on Hunan Satellite TV in 1997.

Widespread discontent 

For years, discontent among teachers at BFSU was said to be widespread due to He's freeloading. Though the pay of a university professor in China is not high, the healthcare, housing allowance, pension and status that comes with the position bring a much higher value than the actual pay.

At first, both BFSU and He Jiong rejected Qiao's accusations amid massive media attention.

But several days later on May 17, the university announced in a statement that He had mainly been assigned to public relations work and other tasks since a 2007 staff reshuffle. The statement also said He had voluntarily resigned his post. This statement on the university's Weibo was forwarded and commented over thousands of times, with the majority supporting He.

Although Qiao seemed to have been vindicated, he has since endured an onslaught from He's fans on social media, receiving more than 8,000 abusive private messages.

While he may have expected the public response, he never expected to be the subject of an online witch hunt. His private telephone number and photo of his daughter were released to the public, as well as his remarks at university lectures on current affairs. Some demanded that he "leave the country." Some messages even threatened his family's safety to such an extent that he feels forced to take her daughter to and from school by himself.

On a friends circle on Weixin, which was supposed to be private and where he is connected to 140 former students, one of them accused him of "verbally insulting students," as well as being an "unqualified teacher" and "morally corrupt."  The backlash from former students came as a shock to Qiao, but he remains confident of his qualification as a teacher.

"Some students like me, some don't. I live on my thoughts and ideas, not on my face," said Qiao.

Under pressure

Even after He Jiong's resignation, the pressure continued. In a meeting at the university discussing He's case, some students present asked officials to punish Qiao.

But Qiao wasn't  going to back down. On May 24, he published another Weibo saying He's resignation and compensation of his salary to the university was not enough. Qiao insisted that He's drawing a university salary without actually teaching for eight years was an implication of an illegal act, and that He also allowed his fans to defame him. Qiao demanded an apology from He. 

Several days later, through a common colleague they both knew, He apologized to Qiao for the improper behavior of his fans. An official at the university confirmed that He Jiong had returned his salary of the last eight years, totaling 1.05 million yuan ($170,000).

For Qiao Mu, money was not the heart of this problem, but equal and fair distribution of public resources. Since last year, the central government has launched a national campaign targeting illegal freeloading cases. He's case is a typical example. However, because of his fame and celebrity status, for the last several years, the administrators of the university intended to use He's connections.

It was the "tenure university employment" and status of a university teacher that really attracted He, the millionaire celebrity TV host. For He's young fans, the huge financial benefits and status he enjoyed was not a problem. They continued to attack Qiao as acting "out of jealousy" and "private ambition."

Raising awareness 

For Qiao, this issue is part of a larger agenda, which is to raise public attention on fairness.

"I have followed and pushed the progress of this event. My intention is to raise public awareness of equality," Qiao told the Global Times.

 But none of these things are new to him.

Four years ago, Qiao ran as a grass-roots candidate for deputy of the local People's Congress at the campus of this university, his election district. He ran a full campaign, amassing a 30-student volunteer campaign team, making posters, using video advertising, and making full use of social media. Although he lost the election, the reason he ran was the same one that prompted him to take He to task.

"Public engagement for solving such issues is always good for society. As a teacher who specializes in media studies and public administration, the whole thing is a good way to push forward rational discussions. I have accomplished my goal."

Newspaper headline: Leveling the playing field

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