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    China’s Colleges Are Locked in a Heated Debate … About Curtains

    What started as a fire safety measure has spiraled into a debate about privacy and social interaction inside China’s crowded college dorms.
    Apr 23, 2024#education

    To some, they’re a fire hazard and an “invisible wall” that is destroying social interaction on China’s college campuses. To others, they’re a final refuge in an intolerably crowded environment.

    This week, students across China have been locked in a heated debate about an unexpected issue: The makeshift curtains that many young people hang around their dorm room bunks.

    In China, students generally live in dormitories where four to eight people share a room. So as to give themselves a bit of privacy — and shut out unwanted light — in these often densely packed spaces, many students choose to erect makeshift curtains.

    But universities are increasingly banning the practice on safety grounds. Some also argue that the curtains are destroying social life on campus, as students are literally walling themselves off from each other.

    Curtain bans have been coming thick and fast in recent weeks. On March 27, Xinjiang Medical University announced that students were now prohibited from hanging curtains, as did a department at Gansu Minzu Normal University. The same month, Hebei Zhangjiakou University launched a special campaign to remove curtains from its dormitories.

    Students, however, aren’t taking the clampdowns lying down. When domestic media reported on the issue on Tuesday, the story sparked heated debate online, with a related hashtag receiving more than 4 million views on microblogging platform Weibo.

    Most netizens spoke out against the colleges’ actions, arguing that their anti-curtain policies were unreasonable. “Bed curtains are a final guarantee of privacy in dormitory life,” read one of the most upvoted 

    Universities have cited a variety of reasons for removing curtains. The most common is the concern that they represent a fire hazard. Xinjiang Agricultural University, for example, published an article on March 16 arguing that the curtains are flammable and will make it harder for students to escape in the event of a fire. Three fires involving bed curtains have been recorded in recent years, it said.

    Other universities have also pointed to the danger curtains supposedly pose to campus social life. They argue that if students hide behind their curtains, it will prevent them from building relationships with their dormmates.

    “The existence of bed curtains creates ‘invisible walls’ with the dormitory, hindering communication and interactions among classmates,” a student counselor from Nanyang Normal University wrote in an article on March 28.

    In a few cases, universities have also said that curtains obstruct the airflow inside dormitories and hinder inspections. One even mentioned a recent case in the eastern Jiangsu province where a student died in their bunk and wasn’t found by their classmates for two days, as their body wasn’t visible behind the bed curtain.

    Some students say they understand the colleges’ concerns. “Hanging bed curtains is inconvenient, as it does indeed reduce communication among roommates,” a sophomore at Hebei Zhangjiakou University surnamed Li told Sixth Tone.

    Li said her university’s anti-curtain campaign in March had been pursued vigorously and that the students who had previously hung bed curtains had now taken them down.

    “I personally don’t find it inconvenient not to use bed curtains,” said Li. “Maybe some people care more about having some private space, but I prefer a spacious and bright space.”

    But many others disagree. “If bed curtains are flammable, then so are our clothes, mattresses, and blankets. We can’t possibly avoid using them all, can we?” a 24-year-old student surnamed Zhang from East China Normal University in Shanghai told Sixth Tone.

    Zhang said she had used a bed curtain since her freshman year and felt it hadn’t affected her social life. Whenever people feel like chatting, they simply pull back their curtains, she said.

    Additional reporting: Li Dongxu.

    (Header image: An interior view of a dormitory at a university in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, March 18, 2019. VCG)