A team of students from China's top universities, including Tsinghua University and Peking University, will compete in the 2012 World Mahjong Championship, which has stirred debate nationwide.
More than 30 university students took part in the competitive qualifier and four players from Beijing and Tianjin stand out, West China Metropolis Daily reported.
This year's championship will be held in Chongqing on October 26. Mahjong, a game played with clinking tiles, is a favorite pastime in China and a gambler's game as well.
The controversial student team has drawn criticism on the Internet from some saying that university students shouldn't waste their time on folk games.
"Students should spend more time on their academic studies," said one commentator, Meng Mu Er Zi. "Mahjong is a bad custom that will distract students from studies."
Some supported the students and praised them for promoting Chinese culture.
"Why couldn't students play mahjong as long as they don't play it in the dorm, disturb the residents or gamble with it?" an Internet user asked.
The organizer told the newspaper that the tournament didn't offer any cash reward and students should be encouraged for their interest in traditional culture.
The universities said that they had no idea of their students' participation, according to the newspaper. University officials said students should have the freedom to take part in their own pastimes as long as they do not affect their studies.