The “Tents of Love” Phenomenon: Chinese Parents Sleep in Tents At Their Kids’ New University

At the start of a new semester, more universities across China are setting up tented camps for parents who are seeing off their college freshman children. On Chinese social media, netizens discuss if these so-called ‘tents of love’ (爱心帐篷) are indeed a sign of love, or if they epitomize the non-independence of China’s post-1990s generation.

It is the first week of the new semester at Nanjing’s Forestry University (南京林业大学). While new students are getting enrolled and settled in their dorm rooms, their parents sleep in tents in the university sports hall.

Multiple Chinese universities, from Tianjin to Guangzhou, have started to set up tented camps at the start of the semester for the families of new students. There are also schools that simply provide mattresses, blankets and an air-conditioned space for parents of freshman students.

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The so-called ‘tents of love’ (爱心帐篷) are a relatively new phenomenon in mainland China. In 2012, Tianjin University was the first to set up an indoor ‘freshman parents’ camp with 200 tents, providing air-conditioning, free water, and shower facilities.

“Tents of Compassion”

It is common for Chinese parents to accompany their child when they first go to college. They sometimes run into problems, however, when they do not have a place to stay in the place where their child studies.

Some families arrive in the middle of the night after long travels, and nearby hotels and guesthouses are often fully booked at the start of the semester. There are also many parents who simply do not have the money to pay for accommodation.

Because this would previously result in parents sleeping on benches or laying down a mattress somewhere, some Chinese universities now offer free accommodation as a sign of compassion towards their student’s parents, which is why tents are called ‘tents of love’ or ‘tents of compassion’ (爱心帐篷).

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On Sina Weibo, netizens discuss the ‘tents of love’ after several Chinese media posted about them. The news has triggered discussions about China’s post-1990s generation. Many Chinese netizens think it is not right for parents to join their kids on their first days at college, as it makes them less independent and too pampered. There are also many, however, who think it is very normal for parents to see their children off and help them get settled in during their first days at university.

Spoilt and Pampered

“I went to school all by myself ever since kindergarten. Times have changed, and these are all only children – so precious to their parents,” one netizen comments.

The students that are now going to university belong to the post-1990s or post-1995 generation, a much-discussed age group in Chinese (social) media. Sometimes loved, sometimes hated, the generation is truly unique for being born in the new modern China, growing up amidst rapid socio-economical changes.

Not only are the post-1990ers mostly only children due to China’s one-child policy, they have also grown up in relative wealth in the era of modern house appliances, computers, and mobile phones. Because they generally are used to receive a lot of attention and (financial) help from their (grand) parents, they are often perceived as ‘spoilt princesses’ or ‘little emperors‘.

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“When I started university, my parents were busy. Nobody took me. I am quite envious of these kids,” one Weibo commenter says. Others say: “I understand they might want to bring their kids there, but why do they need to stay the night?”

On A School Trip

But many netizens support the initiative to set up tented camps for parents during the first days of college, and defend the custom for families to go to the university’s enrollment days together.

As one Weibo user writes: “What’s wrong with parents seeing off their kids? Who says it is a sign of their non-independence? When I just went to university, my parents also went with me. They stayed in a hotel, I stayed in my dorm room. After the registration process was finished, we went out to see my new town and new university together. It was like a family trip. I don’t see what’s bad about that.”

There are many reasons for families to join their kids on their first days at their new school. Mostly, it is for practical and emotional support. For many students it is the first time to leave their hometown, and their parents do not want them to travel alone to a strange city.

Setting out to start their life at campus, new students also bring a lot of luggage and are not able to carry everything by themselves. As a generation that has been pampered most of their lives, many post 1990s students can also use some help in other basic matters, such as purchasing bedsheets or navigating the city. One netizen writes: “My dad also brought me to college. He arranged my bed for me and cleaned the room. He left after he gave me a map of the city.”

But besides the worries parents have about their only child going off to a new school in a new city, there is also the simple curiosity of seeing the place where their child will study for the years to come. “There are many parents who do not necessarily have the money to stay at a hotel, but sending their kids off to college might be one of the very few chances for them to travel outside their hometowns,” one Weibo netizen says.

Another person remarks: “Parents also go because they want to travel a bit, have a look at the university their kid will be studying at, and walk around to see the scenery there. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

No Parents Allowed

In some cases, families are so proud of their college-going kid that they arrive at the university with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. As Quartz magazine reported, one family arrived at Anhui University with a group of 14 last year. The school even put the family picture on social media.

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But not everybody is happy with new students’ entourage, and tell them not to bring them. “My university says we have to come alone,” one female netizen comments: “Parents are not allowed to come. But I am a girl with many things and I can’t carry it alone. I am also going to a strange city. So I’ll let my dad come with me. My mum also insisted on coming, but I told her no. Her eyes teared up. But there’s nothing I can do.”

For most netizens, however, parents joining their children for their first days of college is nothing but normal. As one female netizen from Henan says: “The people who hate on these parents bringing their kids to university are crazy. Some students have to cross the entire country before they can study. Some have had very little contact with the outside world before going off to college. It’s only normal for parents to worry about them and coming along, and also it is a chance for them to make a trip. It’s just very good.”

– By Manya Koetse

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