Resulting from the altered relationship between universities and governments, university rankings have aroused enormous interest in China. The rankings emerged originally to meet the demand from customers, as market competition in higher education became more common, and the Chinese government adopted strategies of information provision to ensure academic quality, provide student consumers with much needed information, and inform universities and policymakers on areas needing improvement. The exercises, however, look rather dubious in many ways and their negative side effects have become increasingly apparent. This article examines the development of university rankings in China focusing particularly on their inclusions, definitions, methods, implications and effects. It is argued that the rankings have lost their original institutional meaning and failed to indigenise themselves according to China’s actuality, due to their superficial adoption of foreign practices and the modifications based on de-institutionalisation. This article concludes that the rankings have become shallow, distorted and misleading. It calls for great caution when they are utilised.