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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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Press Conference on Chinese Student’s Death: Hu Xinyu Left Message on Voice Recorder

These are the most important details shared during the 2.2.23 press conference on the disappearance and death of Hu Xinyu.

Manya Koetse

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The disappearance and death of the Chinese 15-year-old Hu Xinyu has become one of the biggest topics on Chinese social media recently, with dozens of hashtags related to the story receiving millions – sometimes even billions – of views.

Hu Xinyu went missing from school on Oct. 14, 2022. The boy’s whereabouts were a mystery for 106 days, during which family, friends, police, and dedicated search teams searched for the student all across the Yanshan County region in Jiangxi Province and beyond.

On Jan 28., 2023, Hu’s remains were found by a local guard on the premises of a grain warehouse not far from the school. For a full timeline of Hu’s disappearance and the details surrounding his death, see our previous article here.

A voice recorder was also found near Hu’s remains, but the data on the small 4GB recorder initially seemed to be unretrievable, and it was sent back to the manufacturer for analysis.

On the morning of Feb. 2, 2023, local authorities and the dedicated task force organized a live-broadcasted press conference on the case and the latest findings.

The most important pieces of information provided in the press conference on February 2nd are as follows:

◼︎ Hu Xinyu’s death has been ruled a suicide by hanging. Hu used shoelaces, which were removed from the shoes found near Hu’s remains.

◼︎ As previously reported, Hu was found at a nearby grain warehouse. It has now been clarified that the area where Hu’s remains were found is a grain reserve depot area. The grain reserve depot area is prohibited to enter and is guarded 24/7. It is a very large plot of land that includes a zone (over 8000 square meters) with twenty buildings on it – including warehouses and living quarters, – and a forest area of approximately 9300 square meters. Although the area is encircled by a wall, some parts of the wall are lower due to uneven ground. Hu’s body was found in the wooded area, hanging from a tree near the wall, close to one of the spots where the wall height was significantly lower.

School area (top circle) and the grain reserve depot area (lower circle).

◼︎ The location where Hu’s remains were found is just 226 meters away from the Zhiyuan Middle School and it had been searched before, not only through the use of thermal drones, but also by search teams on four different occasions in October and November of 2022. Although all the buildings in the area were searched along with other parts of the zone, the specific wooded area where Hu was later found was not searched. There were also no clues that led search teams to believe Hu Xinyu had walked a specific route through dense vegetation surrounding the grain depot area.

People’s Daily released a 3D video visualising the situation in the area where Hu’s remains were found. Due to uneven ground / piled-up mud, the high wall is relatively easy to jump over from outside. Inside the wall (which is on the grain reserve depot grounds) there is a wooded area.

Hu Xinyu’s body was found hanging from a tree at the interior of the wall, in a place that was not clearly visible.

◼︎ The voice recorder plays a major role in this case. It was previously known that Hu Xinyu had purchased a voice recorder and that it could not be located after Hu Xinyu went missing. Although earlier reports stated that the data on the recorder could not be retrieved as the device had been exposed to sun, rain, moist, etc., it has now been announced that the audio files have been retrieved and that Hu Xinyu recorded two messages on Oct. 14, 2022, at 17:40 and 23:08, in which he expressed the will to commit suicide.

◼︎ The involved experts in this case have also concluded that through analysis and based on Hu’s own notes and other evidence, the 15-year-old boy was struggling with his mental health and emotional disorders related to loneliness, insecurity, and lack of communication. Hu also experienced additional stress when he was getting lower grades, and he suffered from insomnia, difficulty concentrating, abnormal eating patterns, and an overall sense of hopelessness.

During the press conference, reporters were allowed to ask questions related to the case. In response to a question related to the many rumors the Hu Xinyu case has attracted over the past months, one official declared that at least two persons have been arrested for fabricating videos and purposely spreading false rumors about the case.

After Thursday’s press conference, it has once again become clear just how big the social media attention is for this case. The hashtag “Content of Hu Xinyu Voice Recorder” (#胡鑫宇录音笔内容#) received over 390 million views on Weibo; the hashtag “Hu Xinyu Expressed Will to Commit Suicide on Voice Recorder” (#胡鑫宇录音笔中音频表达自杀意愿#) received over 640 million views; the hashtag “Hu Xinyu Died due to Self-Hanging” (#胡鑫宇系自缢死亡#) received over 950 million views.

Among the many responses, there are those who argue that schools should offer more channels to provide support to students dealing with mental health issues. Others hope that Hu Xinyu can now finally rest in peace.

 
For information and support on mental health and suicide, international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
 

By Manya Koetse 

 

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What Happened to Hu Xinyu? Disappearance and Death of 15-Year-Old Student Attracts Widespread Attention in China

Although Hu Xinyu’s school had 119 cameras, his disappearance remained a mystery for 106 days. Near Hu’s remains, a voice recorder was found.

Manya Koetse

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After 106 days of searching, Hu Xinyu’s parents now know their son has passed away. The student’s remains were found at a grain warehouse near his school, but questions still linger on what happened to the 15-year-old and why it took so long to find him.

The case of a Chinese 15-year-old student named Hu Xinyu (胡鑫宇) has been trending on Chinese social media over the past few days. Ever since October of 2022, Hu Xinyu’s case has been a much-discussed topic.

The young man from Jiangxi was missing for 106 days before his body was discovered, leaving many unanswered questions surrounding his death and why search teams were unable to find Hu in the months before.

One of the reasons why Hu Xinyu’s disappearance has been attracting widespread attention is because many people believe there are some details or occurrences surrounding Hu’s case that are purposely being hidden or not revealed to the public.

 
Hu Goes Missing: A Timeline

The story begins on Oct. 14, 2022, when Hu Xinyu, a student at the Zhiyuan Middle School (致远中学), first went missing in Yanshan County, Shangrao City. The Zhiyuan Middle School is a private school where students live in the dorms, only going home to their families on days off. Hu allegedly had good grades as a student at Zhiyuan.

The incident attracted attention due to the peculiar circumstances surrounding it. It was first reported that security cameras allegedly had not recorded the student leaving the school’s premises and that Hu’s family suspected that the security camera system had been tampered with. The school reportedly has a total of 119 cameras installed on its premises.

Later reports claimed that security cameras did in fact capture how Hu left the dorms at 17:51 that day, but there was no footage of him actually leaving the school premises.

On Oct. 15, after unsuccessful attempts by friends and family to locate Hu Xinyu, he was reported as a missing person at the local police office.

On Nov. 20, when Hu had already been missing for over a month, local authorities set up a joint task force to try and speed up efforts to find Hu and further investigate his disappearance. Hu’s social media and bank accounts reportedly had zero activity since he went missing.

On Nov. 22, 2022, Chinese media reported that rescue and search teams still had not found a single clue about where Hu might be. Meanwhile, his parents were gradually losing hope of finding their son back alive.

Missing person posters for Hu Xinyu (via 163.com).

On Nov. 29, 2022, 46 days since Hu went missing, a chemistry teacher by the name of Wang was called in for questioning but he was later released. Weeks later, on Jan. 1, the police informed Hu’s relatives that – despite rumors – they ruled out the possibility of school staff being involved in Hu’s disappearance.

On Dec. 25, 2022, Hu Xinyu’s mother shared some more information via social media about some contents in her son’s old notebooks, in which Hu allegedly had noted how he felt that it was not easy for him to adapt to his living environment at the school and that he felt hindered by his introvert personality. These contents were later deleted again.

After Jan. 7, 2023, the search for Hu continued, including teams with search dogs, and thousands of people volunteered to join.

On Jan. 28, 2023, a body was found hanging near the woods in the Jinji mountain area in the town of Hekou. A voice recorder was also found at the scene.

The body was reportedly found by a local guard who was near the premises with his dog to look for a chicken that had wandered off. The dog started barking at something, and the guard then discovered the remains, which were not immediately clearly visible.

One day later, on Jan. 29, Chinese media reported that DNA research confirmed that the remains belonged to Hu Xinyu. He was wearing his school uniform when his remains were found. Hu’s parents decided to have a post-mortem examination of the body to determine the cause of death. The voice recorder found near Hu’s body was sent for analysis.

The hashtag “Hu Xinyu’s Remains Found” (#胡鑫宇遗体被发现#) was viewed over two billion times on Weibo.

 
The Latest Details Surrounding Hu Xinyu’s Death

Chinese news outlet The Paper reported that the location where Hu’s remains were discovered is a large grain warehouse area just about 300 meters or a 5-minute walk southeast of the Zhiyuan Middle School.

According to a spokesperson of the search & rescue team, the area where Hu was found had been previously included in search efforts (#搜救队曾去胡鑫宇被发现地周围搜寻#).

The biggest questions that remain and that are asked by so many on Chinese social media are: how is it possible that search teams previously did not find Hu if this is where he was all along? Is the place where Hu was found a crime scene or not? How is it possible that security cameras did not capture Hu beyond the dorms?

Some details that surfaced over the past few days provide further information on the case.

On Jan. 31, Chinese media reported that one of Hu’s teachers had discovered something written down by Hu Xinyu on the last page of his notebook: “What would it be like if I’m not longer here?” (#胡鑫宇曾写如果我不活了将会变得怎么样#).

It has also become known that Hu Xinyu purchased the voice recorder that was found with his remains. He purchased the 4GB-capacity recorder on October 4, 2022.

At the time of writing, the data on the recorder was not able to be retrieved (#胡鑫宇购买录音笔数据删除后无法恢复#). A recording device such as the one found near Hu’s body might become damaged due very low or high temperatures or by moist and liquid (#胡鑫宇录音笔已送深圳检测#).

A recording device that allegedly is similar to the one found near Hu Xinyu.

If the original manufacturer would be able to get the data on the recorder, Hu’s relatives finally might get some of the answers they have been waiting for for so long.

According to Hu Xinyu’s father, search and rescue staff previously had in fact been inside the grain warehouse premises, but apparently did not come to the exact location within the warehouse area where Hu was later found (#胡鑫宇父亲称未到达遗体发现点#).

On February 2nd, 2023, a press conference on the latest developments is planned to take place in Yanshan county in Shangrao at 10:00 AM. (Update: read about the press conference here).

 
Societal Distrust, Armchair Detectives, and Social Media

There are multiple reasons why the Hu Xinyu case is attracting such wide attention, and in some ways, the case is similar to the 2021 ‘Chengdu 49 Middle School Incident.’

At the time, the death of 16-year-old Lin Weiqi (林唯麒) also attracted nationwide attention and led to a wave of online rumors and theories on what might have happened to him.

Although Lin never went missing – he fell to his death from the school building, – there was also online speculation about corporal punishment and abuse taking place in the school, with one theory suggesting Lin had been hurt by a chemistry teacher. Just as in the Hu Xinyu case, netizens speculated that the school was trying to cover up the incident.

According to a joint statement later issued by the local propaganda department, police, and the Education Bureau said that they had come to the conclusion that the student had taken his own life due to personal problems.

The Lin Weiqi story sparked concerns at a time when security cameras had become a part of everyday lives. The fact that there were blind spots in the surveillance footage and that cameras never captured how and if Lin actually took his own life triggered doubts among Lin’s relatives and netizens alike.

The case surrounding Lin’s death also attracted nationwide attention in May of 2021.

Many reasoned that since there are security cameras all over the school, there must be a cover-up going on if the incident was not captured on camera. A similar thing happened in the case of the Tangshan BBQ Restaurant Incident in which female customers were assaulted and beaten by a group of men. Although the beating incident was captured by security cameras, the last part of the incident occurred at a nearby alley and was not captured by the outdoor security cameras. This led to a lot of speculation on what happened there and if local government officials were covering something up.

Another factor that plays a role is that there have actually been stories about schools or other institutes covering up scandals in recent years, such as in the RYB Education incident of 2017 that shocked the nation and did not help in improving trust in educational institutes.

Social media also plays an important role in how and why the Hu Xinyu case received so much attention. For some online communities of armchair detectives, identifying suspects and uncovering clues becomes like solving a puzzle, while following the latest details in these high-profile cases also becomes like a form of infotainment for others – comparable to the online sleuthing and major attention for the case of Gabby Petito in the U.S.

Furthermore, those who are closely related to the case also use social media to attract more attention. In Hu Xinyu’s case, his family members personally turned to social media and media reporters to ask for help or update with information. This also makes social media users more involved since they get the feeling they know the family, and sympathize with them. Very different from just reading a headline in the local newspaper, social media users feel involved and get involved.

For now, many social media users would like to see some clarity in this case and a conclusion so that Hu’s family can finally get some of their questions answered.

While many think it is highly likely that local authorities will soon come out with a statement that Hu committed suicide, others think there might still be other outcomes.

“It’s lasted long enough now,” some Weibo commenters write: “What is most important now is to finally know the truth.”

READ UPDATE TO THIS STORY HERE.

By Manya Koetse 

with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

 
For information and support on mental health and suicide, international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
 

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