LIGHT 'EM UP!

Remko Tanis • 19 December 2018

Wang Meng, a professor at Communication University of China in Beijing is the Marlboro Man of Academia.

Smoking, Wang says, is inspirational.

Sure, it’s not allowed to smoke in public spaces like university lecture halls, but Wang regards his desk at the front of the room as ‘another world’. A world where he could smoke, and where anyone of the students was welcome to join him. As long as they’d light up.

Professor Wang Meng smoking while lecturing at Communication University in Beijing, as shown in a video that went viral on Chinese social media.

Professor Wang Meng smoking while lecturing at Communication University in Beijing, as shown in a video that went viral on Chinese social media.

Wang promptly apologized after he was called out on Chinese social media. “It is wrong to smoke in public places, and it is even worse that I was smoking in a classroom. I did not care about students’ feelings, and did not consider the possible impact of second-hand smoke on my students,” he wrote on Weibo, according to the SCMP.

You could forgive him for honestly thinking he wasn’t doing anyone any harm by smoking in the classroom, though. If you’re to believe the messaging coming from the Tobacco Museum of China, in Shanghai, smoking is indeed inspirational. A couple of years ago, the government labeled the museum as ‘advanced, patriotic destination for the education of youth.’ That means a lot more kids on school trips have been learning that all great men in China’s history smoked.

I visited the museum, which sits right next to a cigarette factory and is the largest tobacco museum in the world. But hey, of course it is: this is China.

Photo of Mao Zedong as a smoker in the China Tobacco Museum.

Photo of Mao Zedong as a smoker in the China Tobacco Museum.

Deng Xiaoping smoking his ‘favorite Panda brand cigarette’.

Deng Xiaoping smoking his ‘favorite Panda brand cigarette’.

A relatively small display in a room on the second floor points out smoking can be damaging to your health. However, the text then immediately emphasizes the advanced achievements of the Chinese tobacco industry in lowering the amount of tar in cigarettes.

You’re not meant to think too much about it. The displays in the next room bring you back to the glorious advantages of smoking. Like the billions in taxes the government receives from smokers.

Big photos, hung behind glass, show CEO’s of tobacco companies handing out giant checks to various charities.

Read my full story on the museum here.

Display at the China Tobacco Museum featuring relaxed smokers. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

Display at the China Tobacco Museum featuring relaxed smokers. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

Researchers at Fudan University asked middle school students their opinion on smoking both before and after they had visited the museum. Before, 83 percent said they thought smoking was mostly bad for your health. Afterwards, only 49 percent of them was still convinced of that.

The number of students who thought the tobacco companies have the well-being of the people as their highest priority tripled after a visit to the museum.

Just some context on where professor Wang Meng is coming from when he argues it is inspirational to light up a smoke while teaching.