Overruled

March means that school is once again in session for Chinese students. Not only will they face the nightmare of demanding courses, heavy homework load, and impossible exams, but also rules and regulations controlling the minutiae of their lives.

Of course, respecting the rules is a hallowed Chinese tradition: As an old saying goes “不以规矩,不能成方圆 (bù yǐ guījǔ, bù chéng fāngyuán)”, which can be roughly translated into “Nothing can be achieved without rules.” Some schools, though, have taken the obsession too far.

Recently, a middle school in Zaozhuang, Shandong province launched several new rules over interaction between students of different sexes. These rules include:

  • No inappropriate physical touching between students of different sexes.
  • Students of opposite sex are not allowed stay by themselves in dark or isolated place in the campus.
  • Students are not allowed to walk classmates of the opposite sex to dormitories or the school clinic.
  • Students of opposite sex are not allowed to loiter “shoulder-to-shoulder” on the campus.
  • Students are not allowed to address others of the opposite sex with “little sis” or “big bro,” or any other terms of endearment.
  • Students of opposite sex are not allowed to celebrate birthdays together on campus.
  • Students are not allowed to introduce friends of the opposite sex to one other.

If it’s not obvious already, all of these rules aim to prevent romance (evidently of the heterosexual kind) on campus. In Chinese, there is a particular word referring to this kind of romance — 早恋 (zǎoliàn), literally “early romance,” which implies that it’s too early for middle school or high school students to fall in love. Therefore, countless schools around China have implemented rules in attempts to prevent 早恋, some of which are extremely bizarre.

In 2013, Chunhui High School in Wenzhou drew national attention for their warnings against close interaction between classmates of not only the opposite sex and but also the same sex, calling them “severe disciplinary violations.” Because so many netizens commented on the issue, calling the rule “insane”, the school gave an official response — close interaction between students of the same sex can also lead to “early romance.” This is actually kind of heartwarming due to the school’s apparent open mind regarding sexual orientation — that is, LGBT people can exist, but they still can’t romance one other on campus.

In a middle school in Henan province, boys and girls can socialize only if they’re in a group of at least five, and in a well-lit location. A Hangzhou secondary school banned boys and girls from going around on campus in twos, and students of opposite sex must maintain a distance from each other of half a meter or more at all times.

Some school prefer not to even acknowledge the existence of “early romance,” and instead turn to the euphemism “distraction.” It’s not rare to hear of a school that prohibits girls from wearing short skirts or a tight top, because it could “distract” the boys from the all-important task of studying and preparing for gaokao. Even female teachers can be distracting: some schools have reportedly banned them from wearing black stockings.

It should be clarified that these over-cautious rules are not common in China, though always entertaining to read about, and most people don’t support such regulations. A recent editorial by the China Youth Daily pointed out that school romances cannot be suppressed. It stated, “It’s not right to advocate romance on campus, but [schools] shouldn’t resort to such extreme measures to control and suppress them.”

However, absurd school rules in this straitlaced country don’t just stop at romance — let’s have a look at some other aspects of campus life that school administrators have tried to regulate:

Hair length

Compared with the “half-meter between opposite sexes” rule, this is quite tame, but quite common in Chinese secondary schools. Usually, boys are required to keep a buzz cut and no hair dye is allowed. As for girls, the regulation on the hair length is a little more relaxed, but some schools prohibit girls from having long hair hanging loose. They always need to tie their hair in a bun or wear a ponytail, and again, no dyeing and no perms.

Formal applications to go to the bathroom

Students are typically discouraged from interrupting class unless they have to. Usually, if a student needs to use the bathroom during the class, they just need to raise their hand and get the teacher’s approval. However, a middle school in Hong Kong regulated that if students want to go to the bathroom during class, they need to fill an application form and hand it to the “bathroom administrator” (we’re not sure what this means, but picture a guy sitting at a big oak desk in front of the bathroom).

Shoes made in China

Recently, a middle school in Jinjiang, Fujian province launched a new rule that students are not allowed to wear “imported shoes.” The school claims it was to prevent the students from purchasing expensive foreign brands in attempt to show off their wealth.

Canteen or bust

Yanbian University in Jilin province prohibits students from ordering take-out food. The regulation states that vehicles delivering the food will be confiscated (we’e not sure how this works either, but imagine brawling/lawsuits between school, restaurant, and deliveryperson).

Watermelon-free dorms

At the Shenyang University of Chemical Technology, you cannot eat watermelons in the dormitory, because watermelon rots easily and affects sanitary conditions.

No sleeping naked

Beijing City University regulates that students cannot sleep naked in their dorm. The students said it’s probably because that the”dorm matrons” sometimes come to the room without knocking and it could result in an embarrassing situation, but the university has responded that they have never issued such a rule and it was the personal decision of a matron in one particular dorm.

Slim down or pay up

Dance, of course, is punishing on the body, but the dance department at the Chongqing College of Culture and Arts has found a way to help you beat it into submission: Students will be fined 50 RMB for every 0.5 kilogram they gain.

No football in the football pitch

Football is considered taboo at many schools, especially for students who are preparing for the zhongkao (senior high school entrance exam) or gaokao (university entrance exam). Many schools have been in the news for rules prohibiting students playing football on the field, explaining that the sport is very dangerous and students shouldn’t risk injury before an important exam. Sometimes, basketball is also banned for the same reason, so, suggests the schools, if you want to do some sports, find yourself a ping-pong table!


Overruled” is a story from The World of Chinese. To read more visit our website, become a subscriber, and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.

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