China schools seek to nip young love in the bud
In recent weeks a number of Chinese secondary schools have introduced prescriptive new rules designed to discourage teenage romance. But this has been met with scorn and outrage on both social and official media, as the BBC's Dong Le reports
On the campus of a secondary school in China's famous silk city of Hangzhou, pupils of the opposite sex have been given a very important new instruction.
They must maintain a minimum distance of half a metre (1.64 ft) from each other at all times. In addition, boys and girls are not allowed to go around school premises in pairs.
Another school, in the eastern city of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, has banned what it calls "close interaction" between students of the opposite sex as well as students of the same sex. They do not define what "close interaction" really means.
The school authorities in Wenzhou have threatened "severe disciplinary action" against offenders.
Secondary schools admit students aged just 11 - they are on the cusp of puberty and just the age when those notoriously raging hormones begin to wreak havoc.
And with reports that teenage romance (although not necessarily sex) has become more popular on campuses, school authorities - as well as parents - are worried that children's academic performance is being affected.
So some have moved to nip young love in the bud with stringent measures - and they will find support in some quarters.
The Chinese regard teenage romance as something undesirable, calling it Zao Lian, which literally means "early love" but in essence it denotes immature love.
Schools and education authorities are increasingly bombarding young people with information on the "undesirable effects" of Zao Lian.
There are entire websites dedicated to the issue of how to avoid the lure of the opposite sex and focus attention on study. Schools in China also run sex education courses.
Both teachers and parents believe that young people in schools must not deviate from learning and must concentrate on studies to lay a good foundation for building a future.
The schools in Hangzhou and Wenzhou are doing whatever it takes to achieve that and some believe they should be praised for this.
'Absurd and illegal'
But they have also been greeted by a torrent of angry posts from China's internet users after the rules were uploaded on Weibo microblogs.
Many said the rules were "barbaric and oppressive": "How do you keep measuring the space between male and female pupils?" one internet user asked.
Mainstream media also added its voice. The state-run newspaper, China Youth Daily, called the measures "absurd, ridiculous and illegal".
"It is normal for young people to fall in love. Teenage romance in schools must be discouraged, but it is not advisable to use extreme and oppressive methods to do that," said the paper
And the BBC spoke to some young people who also weighed into the discussion.
A high school graduate in Beijing said that schools had enacted rules banning students from being too intimate with each other, but it was up to teachers to decide how to implement them and some teachers were quite flexible.
One student from a high school in Shanghai admitted that campus romance had become a common phenomenon and many students had fallen in love with each other.
But, she added, "it isn't a bad thing as some eventually get married after leaving school."
"There is nothing wrong with students finding love as long as it is not affecting their academic work," said another student from Beijing.
Pure and innocent?
Prof Zhang Yuling from Nanjing University, whose field of expertise is education, told the BBC that efforts backfired because the value of what was acceptable was changing in China.
"Schools treat pupils like prisoners and people do not agree with that," he said.
But Prof Zhang did agree that schools needed to exercise more control over students.
"Thirty or 40 years ago before China embarked on reforms and opened up to the outside world, people were pure and innocent as far as sex was concerned," he said.
"But today's young people are exposed to more information and contents than any previous generations.
"People are particularly concerned over the availability to young people of pornography," Prof Zhang said.
Whether or not more schools join in this move to police the feelings and relationships of students, it is unlikely to become less of a talking point.
But what many will watch out for is whether the regulations do discourage romances or end up encouraging forbidden love among students with a taste for breaking the rules.