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Another University Murder: Time To Get Serious About Dorm Life Problems?

A recent Sichuan university murder case has shocked China’s netizens. As one of the most heinous campus crimes in China’s recent history, it has attracted much public discussion about the underlying factors that played a role in the murder. Is it time for Chinese universities to get more serious about its dormlife problems?

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A recent Sichuan university murder case has shocked China’s netizens. As one of the most heinous campus crimes in China’s recent history, it has attracted much public discussion about the underlying factors that played a role in the murder. Is it time for Chinese universities to get more serious about its dorm life problems?

On the 27th of March, Lu, a 20-year-old art student in a university in Chengdu (Sichuan), was brutally killed and beheaded in his dormitory. Two weeks later, on April 15, a regional branch of Chengdu Police Bureau confirmed to local media that the case was solved and that the suspect, Teng, was placed under arrest. A psychiatric evaluation has been ordered for him.

“March 28 is a day that will be engraved in my mind forever”

According to fellow roommates, Lu and Teng had an altercation on March 26. Lu was singing in their dormitory that night, which reportedly annoyed Teng. When their conflict became physical, the other boys took them apart. The following night, Teng returned to the dorm room with a cooking knife and asked Lu to come out.

Lu’s body was later found in the study area of his dormitory building. As reported by several media, Lu had been stabbed over 50 times and was then decapitated by his roommate. Lu’s brother told The Paper that his younger’s brother’s body was so mutilated after the attack that it had cost 18,000 RMB (±2800 US$) to reattach the body parts by stitching.

While the case is still under court procedure, the victim’s brother has opened a Sina Weibo account to advocate justice for Lu: “Netizen friends, hello,” he wrote on April 18: “I am Lu Haiqiang, the brother of the victim of the 3.28 campus murder case. I first want to thank you for following this case. March 28 2016 is a day that will be engraved in my mind forever..”

“I cannot sleep with all this noise”

Meanwhile, the suspect Teng has admitted to the murder and the police has agreed to psychiatric evaluation. Results of this evaluation will be released in late April or early May. Teng’s mother reportedly said that her son had done two suicide attempts when he was still in high school by cutting his wrists. His family has been seeking psychological help for their son ever since.

Further investigation is needed to establish whether Teng was mentally disturbed at the time of the crime. Teng’s family does not know what caused their son to commit such a heinous crime, but the mother stated that during his first year at university, the boy had called home to complain about dormitory life, saying: “It’s too noisy here at night, all this farting and snoring. I cannot sleep with all this noise.”

“The Fellow that Sleeps on the Bunk above Mine”

What turned a seemingly trivial fight into a matter of life and death? At the base of Teng and Lu’s was a disagreement about the proper use of their shared living space. With half a dozen youngsters living together in a compacted room, China’s campus life is not always easy.

Most universities in China provide on-campus dormitories for their students. A dorm room is often around 20-30 square meters, with bunk beds, tables and wardrobes in the living area. A toilet is included in some cases. For undergraduates, usually 4-8 people live together in one room. Students will be randomly allotted a dormitory at the beginning of their campus life, often sharing with fellow students of the same major or department.

For many students, the dormitory is like their first social environment, second home, and third classroom. Besides sleeping there, students on average spend 5-7 hours in their dorm. Roommates often get along well and end up being friends for life. Chinese folk singer Laolang has a famous song about this kind of roommate friendship, titled The Fellow that Sleeps on the Bunk above Mine (睡在我上铺的兄弟).

Dorm life is not all roses

But dorm life is not all roses. A group of grown-ups living together in a compacted space without knowing each other too well can cause problematic situations. A 2010 survey of 850 university students in Hebei province showed that almost 60% of students were not content with their dorm life; nearly a quarter said they didn’t want to live with their current roommates if they had the choice. Apart from the generally poor living conditions, frictions among roommates are often a source of complaint.

Different backgrounds, peculiar personal habits, certain personalities, and even the social life of each individual can become a cause of disagreement amongst roommates. In a survey of Chengdu universities, 60% of participants said they disliked one or more persons in their dorm.

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Living together with total strangers can be a challenge in itself, but is extra strenuous for China’s single-child generation, who never had to share their space with brothers or sisters. Leaving the comfort of their parents’ home, university dorm life is their first experience of a shared living space. Small things like eating habits and one’s daily rhythm can suddenly become the reason for troubled dorm relations, causing much stress for those involved. For students who are already mentally unstable, this might worsen their condition.

While most conflicts stop at cold words or small mischiefs, they sometimes get out of hand. In 2004, biochemistry student Ma Jiajue at China’s Yunnan University killed four of his roommates. He said he hated the victims because they didn’t treat him as a friend.

In 2013, a Fudan student died of drinking from a poisoned water cooler. A fellow medical student who had trivial conflicts with the victim had purposely poisoned it. That same year, in Nanjing, a boy killed his roommate for disturbing him when playing his video game – showing how trivial matters can lead to extreme aggression.

Time for universities to step up?

Under the hashtag of ‘Sichuan Normal University Murder Case’ (#四川师范大学杀人案#), thousands of Weibo netizens have been discussing the murder on Lu. One netizen says: “Looking at this murder case, I’d like to raise again that some things about dorm life require attention. I hope people will start to understand this, so that problems can be dealt with in time.”

There are few alternatives for those unhappy with their dormitory life. Students who live close to their hometowns can move back to their parents’ place; but many students attend university in cities that are far from their family. Renting an own place is often difficult and expensive, especially in big cities. In some cases, students are lucky and can switch to another dorm. Psychological help for students suffering from the pressures of dorm life is often unavailable, and long-term stress can negatively influence study results.

Extensive exposure to irritation and low chances of changing the situation makes dormitory conflicts an important source of psychological stress amongst students. According to an article by a Chinese school psychologist, 45% of his 200 consultancies in 3 years concern problems in dorms. According to the article, the solution to China’s dorm problem is in the students’ hands: they have to divert their attention, put themselves in the shoes of their roommates, and clearly communicate with each other.

“How to avoid getting murdered in your dorm”

On Weibo, the recent murder case has seemed to raise more awareness on preserving the peace amongst dorm students. According to a Sina Weibo post on how to live a better dorm life, student’s suggestions are small and simple: make sure to be quiet when others are sleeping, use earphones when listening to music, clean up your things and do not use each other’s things without asking.

But sometimes seemingly simple solutions are easier said than done. Apart from encouraging students to solve their own dorm problems, it is time for universities to step up. Acknowledging that the downsides of dormitory life can lead to serious problems is a first step. Students need help and support in dealing with their dorm troubles. This kind of guidance would also allow school authorities to detect problems before they get out of hand.

China’s dormitory system is unlikely to undergo significant change in the coming years due to China’s population density and increasing university intake. But universities could lighten some pressure by showing more flexibility and giving students a chance to change into another dorm if their current situation shows no signs of improvement.

Although little research has been done on whether university dorm living conditions actually heighten the risk of conflict, the many shocking tragedies that China’s universities have seen over the past decade are a clear sign that the potential downsides of dorm life require more social attention. By now, the hashtag ‘how to avoid getting murdered in your dorm’ (#如何避免在宿舍被杀#) is gaining popualiriy on social media. However crude it may be, it might be a first step in opening the discussion on a safer and more pleasant dorm life.

– By Diandian Guo

Read more on crime in dormitories
http://www.china.org.cn/chinese/2013-04/22/content_28621559.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yao_Jiaxin_murder_case

Read more on dormitory lives of Chinese university students
许传新,大学生宿舍人际关系质量研究,《当代青年研究》2004(4): 6-9
曹加平,大学生宿舍人际冲突原因与对策分析,《江苏大学学报·高教研究版》2006, 28(2):27-30

Featured images: (left) the murder scene – study room in a dormitory building, blocked after the crime. Pictures from The Paper (澎湃新闻). (right) ordinary dorm room in Chinese university.

Additional editing by Manya Koetse
©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Rob

    April 23, 2016 at 1:57 am

    One of the issues that keeps students from going for help is the fear that they will be black-listed in some fashion by admin. I know that my students would not go to the counselling department or department heads because (a) they were made to feel that they were being a burden, (b) they feared getting in trouble, and (c) there was no real privacy. The minute a student spoke with the fudaoyuan at our school, their details were disseminated throughout the department to every teacher, and the standard response was to simply walk on eggshells around the students and go easy on them so they wouldn’t commit suicide. There really is no impetus from the school to actually treat the issue; they simply want to avoid any collapse until such time as the students are no longer their responsibility.

    There comes a time when the schools have to take responsibility and actually deal with the issues they help to create rather than avoid them or pretend they are not there.

    • Avatar

      Diandian GUO

      April 24, 2016 at 7:11 pm

      Hi Rob! When a university student, I experienced the exact thing you described. Teachers in my department were reluctant to tackle a dormitory problem where one boy seemed to be disturbed, unstable and had intentions to hurt. In the end the boy was detained to a lower year, but he still had problems with his new room mates.
      I was wondering if you have seen more cases of dormitory problems? Do you think these problems should have attracted more attention? Can bad dormitory life affect university life in general? From you words, I think you are a teacher. Do you have any thoughts on how things could be improved?

      • Avatar

        Rob

        April 27, 2016 at 1:10 am

        Hi DianDian,

        Yes, I have worked as a teacher at a Uni in Beijing. I’ve had talks with my students who have had issues with roommates – one looked to transfer her major just to get away from her roommates; another student has indicated that one of her roommates has an issue with everyone in the dorm, so they avoid her as much as possible. It’s a challenge, absolutely, and it definitely goes unreported – as someone who is Chinese, you probably understand the cultural focus on harmony and unity and NOT rocking the boat, which also compounds the issue. The Uni I taught at even had a murder-suicide at one point (but this was attributed to the female roommates being lesbians, though I have my doubts).

        Among the males, there are different issues, but they still have issues (especially among the students who are gay).

        I can guarantee that an unstable living environment will definitely impact students negatively, both in terms of their studies and social interactions but also in terms of stress and depression.

        As for how things can be improved – when I lived in York, we shared a living area but had private rooms, which would be a nice design for the dorm rooms, but of course, with large populations this becomes a challenge. What might be worth trying is to limit dorms to four people, and then cycle roommate groupings each year. This may increase student socializing and give them greater access to forming networks. As well, an induction teaching them to be sensitive to each others needs might be a good requirement – have students sign a contract regarding mutually respecting each other and then submit it to the fudaoyuan; if something comes up, then students can approach the fudaoyuan who can resolve the issues based on the contract/roommate agreement.

        Those are just thoughts off the top of my head.

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About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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More Than Just a Visit: Explaining the Chinese ‘Cuànfǎng’

‘Cuànfǎng’ became a popular word on Chinese social media and in official Chinese discourse this year. But what is it?

Jin Luo

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Since Pelosi’s stopover in Taiwan, the word ‘cuànfǎng’ has been all over Chinese social media to refer to this controversial visit. But ‘cuànfǎng’ is more than just ‘visiting’ alone. Jin Luo explains.

It was a sleepless night for many Chinese people when U.S. House Speaker Pelosi flew to Taiwan on August 2nd of 2022. A new Chinese word created in recent years, cuànfǎng (窜访) appeared in the official statement that was issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry at 11 pm that night, and subsequently it appeared all over social media.

Meanwhile, a pop song released more than 30 years ago titled “Tonight, Are You Coming or Not” (“今夜你会不会来”) suddenly became a Weibo hot topic before it was taken offline. What is this word lost in translation, and why did people suddenly get nostalgic over an old romantic song?

 
Cuànfǎng: A ‘Sneaky Visit’
 

Here is the original wording in Chinese and the official translation to English from the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on the evening on 2 August:

In disregard of China’s strong opposition and diplomatic discontent, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited China’s Taiwan region” (“美国国会众议长佩洛西不顾中方强烈反对和严正交涉,窜访中国台湾地区.”) The word ‘visited’ in Chinese that is used here is “cuànfǎng” 窜访.

While the English verb “visit” is a neutral word by itself, the Chinese “cuànfǎng” 窜访 has much stronger connotations. According to the Wiktionary, the word is a derogatory, officialese way to say “to visit.” But it is not an easy word to translate, as there is no direct equivalent in English, and both the literal and implied meaning of the word need to be understood.

Cuànfǎng is actually a compound word: cuàn 窜 refers to fleeing, escaping, hiding, or running away; fǎng 访 refers to inquiring, seeking, or visiting.

Cuan as a compound character (Sohu).

To make matters more complicated, cuàn by itself is also a compound character. It is written as ‘竄’ in traditional Chinese: the top radical ‘穴’ means ‘hole,’ and the lower part is the character ‘鼠’ which means ‘mouse.’ The character, having the shape of a mouse hiding in a hole, therefore has the meaning of ‘hiding’ and ‘escaping.’

The origins of the character ‘cuan’ explained, image via Sohu.com.

The mouse or rat is an animal that is more often associated with negative things in Chinese culture. They are often considered sneaky, dirty, running around everywhere, and able to reproduce quickly. With mice so often carrying a negative association, cuàn ‘窜’ also refers to a kind of hiding and escaping that is negative or objectionable.

The second character fǎng 访 is a neutral word that simply means “to visit.”

At the New York Times, Chris Buckley captured the underlying meaning of this word in writing: “The Chinese word used in the official statements for ‘visit’ — cuanfang — connotes a sneaky or illicit encounter, not an aboveboard meeting.”

 
The Evolution of Cuànfǎng
 

Although it is a relatively new word, cuànfǎng already existed before the Pelosi incident and was not created in light of this controversial visit.

Since the word’s first appearance, translators have had some difficulties in properly translating the term into different languages.

Research papers in translation studies and international relations in China suggested that cuànfǎng is a “new derogatory term invented in recent years, specifically for the purpose of maintaining national security and unity, and condemning and exposing the national separatists” and “demonstrated the big wisdom of Chinese diplomatic discourse users; vividly described the image of the separatists, that they go on the run sneakily, just like thieves and mice” (source, in Chinese).

Other sources interpret it as “the unjust, improper visit conducted in order to reach hidden political agenda, to agitate and peddle the separatist ideas,” and:

1. You went somewhere where you were not supposed to go;
2. The visit was not accepted or welcomed by the (Chinese) government;
3. The purpose is to shake justice and create conflicts
” (source, in Chinese).

Cuàn was mainly meant to add an emotional aspect to the term and shows the contempt of the person who uses it.

Image via Wainao.

The word was first prominently used in Chinese official discourse when the Foreign Ministry in 2006 referred to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Israel. Since cuàn has the meaning of fleeing, it is especially suitable when referring to political dissidents who went into exile overseas.

Since then, it has been used again for further visits of the Dalai Lama to other countries (US 2014, Mongolia 2017), as well as for Rebiya Kadeer, Lee Teng-hui, Shinzo Abe, Joshua Wong, and others.

Although it is clear that the term is not only applied to Chinese dissidents, it is generally applied to those who conducted visits that were perceived to be hostile towards China, with Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit serving as a clear example.

Since the Dalai Lama has been living outside of China and conducted numerous visits to other countries, cuànfǎng was previously mostly used in this context until Pelosi’s visit, which ended up being good for more than 80% of the search results of cuànfǎng on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

If cuànfǎng is a word with such strong emotional connotations, why was it simply translated as “visit” in official English-language documents? Some say it is because of the mere difficulty to translate this word, while others say it is the routine sanitization of English translations by the Foreign Ministry.

David Gitter, president of the Center for Advanced China Research based in Washington D.C., said that the external goal of Beijing can be different from the internal goal towards the nationalist domestic audiences, and that “more accurate yet counterproductive translations … [often] breach normal diplomatic language.”

At this point, it remains up for debate whether this is a linguistic constraint or a political choice.

 
Tonight, Are You Coming or Not?
 

While the term cuànfǎng has been widely used in official discourse, it has also become a popular online word. Chinese netizens seemed to be as passionate as the Chinese Foreign Ministry – and perhaps even more so –  in condemning Pelosi’s Taiwan visit and demanding radical countermeasures.

Chinese netizens were watching the entire event unfold with mixed feelings – on the one hand, there was a strong sense of patriotism and anger, on the other hand, the massive attention to the event also turned it into something that was almost as exciting as a celebrity drama.

On that specific evening of Pelosi’s nearing arrival in Taipei, Chinese netizens were doing two things: watching real-time tracking of Pelosi’s flight, and listening to a classic pop song released in 1991 titled “Tonight, Are You Coming or Not” (今夜你会不会来) (video). Back in the previous century, Hong Kong singer Leon Lai expressed the emotions of someone waiting for his lover to arrive in this melodic song, singing:

“你是否愿意为我停留

Would you be willing to stay for me

今夜你来告诉我

Tonight, you tell me

你是否愿意陪我走过我的梦

Are you willing to accompany me through my dream?

我的所有

My everything

(Chorus)

今夜你会不会来

Tonight, are you coming or not?

你的爱还在不在

Is your love still there or not?

如果你的心已经离开

If your heart has left already

我宁愿没有未来

I would rather not have a future

今夜你会不会来

Tonight, are you coming or not?

你的爱还在不在

Is your love still there or not?

别让我所有的等待

Don’t let all my wait

变成一片空白

Go all in vain

 

In the middle of the uncertainty about whether Pelosi would come to Taiwan or not, this song served as entertainment for netizens and became a “collective carnival” of people jokingly applying the song to Pelosi, turning her into a ‘mysterious lover’ that might or might not show up. (Later, some were unable to play the song anymore, although it remains unclear if this was due to geographic restrictions or because the song was actually taken offline by censors.)

“Taiwan has been preparing for your cuànfǎng ‘sneaky visit’, are you coming or not tonight?” some netizens wrote, combining the title song with the cuànfǎng term. In doing so, Pelosi became both a ‘sneaky mouse’ and ‘mysterious lover’, both a target of condemnation and subject of fun and banter.

All jokes and cuànfǎng references aside, Pelosi did end up realizing that visit, and its aftermath, including a second Taiwan visit by a U.S. congressional delegation, has had a substantial impact on U.S.-China relations that were already strained before the move.

Will there be more cuànfǎng to Taiwan? It’s likely not an issue of if, but when. For next time, at least we’ve got cuànfǎng covered.

 

By Jin Luo 

Featured image by Alexa from Pixabay

 

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