Chinese students graded on number of WeChat friends

By Sarah Jenkins and Kerry Allen
BBC News and BBC Monitoring

  • Published
A picture illustration shows a WeChat app icon in Beijing, December 5, 2013.Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
WeChat is the equivalent to WhatsApp in China

A university professor in China has divided opinion after setting his students an assignment to add as many friends as possible on the messaging app WeChat.

Those enrolled on the Internet and New Media course at Henan University of Economics and Law in Central China's Henan Province, have been set the task as part of a social media management module.

Students say they need to add at least 1,000 new WeChat friends to pass the assignment, which accounts for 30% of their final grade.

WeChat is the equivalent to WhatsApp in China - and with more than one billion monthly users - it is the country's most popular social media platform.

Image source, WeChat/Pear Video
Image caption,
A student contacted China's Pear Video website about the assignment

Students at the university began contacting Chinese media about the assignment, with one messaging Pear Video to inform them of the "extremely demanding course".

Another student, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "I've had WeChat for many years and only have some 100 friends [crying emoji]. Everyone is a nervous wreck."

In response, a teacher at the university said: "The class majors in new and online media, this class is a core module, what we're saying is that afterwards, when these students go looking for work, they will have the basic skills for this type of social media operation."

Image source, Pear Video

Pear Video's story about the assignment has been viewed by more than seven million people on the popular microblog site Sina Weibo and it has attracted more than 10,000 comments.

The hashtag #GradedOnNumberOfWeChatFriends has since been used more than 23,000 times on Weibo - but opinion is divided on whether the assignment is useful or not.

One Weibo user said that while it may be a difficult assignment, it is definitely "reasonable". Others suggested it would be a good way to make friends.

Some also questioned the logic behind it, with one comment saying: "WeChat friends are not equal to real friends. Is this not just malicious marketing?"