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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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China Insight

Looking at Your Phone While Crossing the Road Will Now Cost You Money in Zhejiang

Pedestrians looking at their phones while crossing the road are getting a red light in Zhejiang.

Manya Koetse

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Zhejiang Province in eastern China has recently launched a new policy: pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phone risk getting a 50 RMB ($7) fine.

The policy has been attracting the attention of netizens on Chinese social media, where the so-called “Bowed head clan” (dītóuzú 低头族) – a slang word for smartphone-addicted people – has been a recurring hot topic.

People paying more attention to their phone than watching traffic while crossing the road can lead to very dangerous situations. Some graphic videos making their rounds on Weibo today show security camera footage of people getting run over by cars while looking at their phone.

The majority of people responding to the hashtag “Should people be fined for looking down to their phone while crossing the road?” (#低头玩手机过马路该罚款吗#) agree that this kind of behaviour is a risk to traffic safety, but some wonder if a small fine would be effective in combating this problem.

Some cities in China have introduced sidewalks with a “phone lane” and “no phone lane” over previous years, with Chongqing being the first city to do so in 2014.

Mobile phone sidewalk in Chonqgqing. Source https://tech.qq.com

As of earlier this year, the Pedestrian Council of Australia is also looking to implement a law that makes it possible to fine pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their phones.

In Honolulu, the ‘distracted walking law’ already makes it illegal for people to be distracted by their cellphones while walking in a crosswalk.

“Fine them!”, some commenters on Weibo say: “And also fine those people using their phone while driving their electric bicycles!”

“I’m not sure about the fine,” another person says: “I only know I bumped into a tree today walking looking at my phone..”

For many commenters, however, the issue is a no-brainer: “Just don’t use your phone while crossing the road. Personal safety comes first.”

Also read: The ‘Bowed Head Clan’ (低头族): Mother Watches Phone While Son Drowns in Pool

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Jialing Xie.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

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