A couple caught cuddling on a university campus in eastern China has highlighted the often uneasy role that self-discipline committees play at educational institutions across the country.
On Sunday, the self-discipline committee of Binzhou University in Shandong province reprimanded a couple — and later beat the male student — for reportedly being intimate in public, according to Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper. The committee, a semi-autonomous body of students, is responsible for policing students’ behavior and ensuring that they adhere to university guidelines. However, such committees are often accused of enforcing excessively strict disciplinary measures and of violating the rights of young people.
“I think the committees shouldn’t abuse their power or use any excuse to violate students’ basic human rights, which is against higher education laws,” Tan Xiaoyu, a professor at the Shanghai Academy of Educational Sciences, told Sixth Tone. “Many universities support student discipline committees that function in the interest of students, but they should comply with the rules, too.”
Such committees are common at Chinese universities, as teachers and parents consider self-discipline a virtue. The principle of zilü has long been a part of Chinese ideology — Confucius preached about it in his social and political philosophies, the Communist Party of China requires its cadres to practice the principle, and the country’s top educational institutions, including Tsinghua University, also mention self-discipline in their official mottos.
But cases like Binzhou have caused controversy, especially when self-discipline committees tasked with managing students have instead encroached on their basic freedoms.
Zhang Duanhong, an assistant professor at Tongji University in Shanghai, even questioned the legality of such a group. “I don’t think it is traditionally recognized as a student organization, and is only affiliated with the student union,” he said. “Self-discipline committees should not overstep and play the role of a teacher or parent.”
Online, many are echoing this sentiment. On microblog platform Weibo, some users have accused the committee of “manipulating power,” while others question its relevance and authority. “Does the self-discipline committee discipline itself?” asked one Weibo user. “Who are they to regulate others?”
However, in the absence of intervention from universities, these groups continue to exert considerable influence.
The net user who first posted about the cuddling incident has over 860,000 followers on Weibo and identifies himself as “Binzhou intelligence bureau chief.” He told Sixth Tone that the no-cuddle rule is strictly enforced by the university’s discipline committee, according to information he obtained from several students. He also added that the university’s official campus patrol group partners with the self-discipline committee to keep close tabs on students and prevent couples from indulging in public displays of affection on school grounds.
While there are no specific guidelines pertaining to on-campus canoodling, many think of intimate behavior in public as indecent. In 2005, Peking University even listed “excessive intimacy” as one of its “10 uncivilized behaviors” on campus. At Binzhou, too, cuddling constitutes “uncivil behavior,” according to Weibo’s self-professed intelligence bureau chief.
Though Binzhou University said it has punished students involved in the cuddling incident, it did not elaborate on the actions of the self-discipline committee. A university official who refused to give his name told Sixth Tone that he was not aware of the incident, and that the school “does not ban love.”
Additional reporting: Qian Zhecheng; editor: Luke Sheehan.
(Header image: Two young people are locked in an intimate embrace on a university campus in Wuhan, Hubei province, Oct. 11, 2012. Yang Hongbin/VCG)