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Precarious arrangement

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-13 15:26

Precarious arrangement

China's dormitory culture is not that different from the West, but the closer proximity and the turmoil of society at large may provide fertile ground for head-on collisions of personalities or habits so startling and venomous they unnerve a whole nation.

When you have to share a room with someone for three or four years, you are essentially forming a relationship with many of the trappings of a marriage, except that you don't get to choose your partner.

In a Chinese university, students are usually assigned dormitories and a group of as few as four or as many as eight youths will stay roommates regardless of the dynamics.

Precarious arrangement

In other words, this is an arrangement you cannot easily end at will. Unless you move out and rent your own place at extra cost, you'll have to get along with the rest of the bunch even if you hate each other's guts.

Which has led to unexpectedly tragic results from time to time.

In 2004, a student named Ma Jiajue in Yunnan University hacked four of his fellow students to death in the dorm room after they accused him of cheating at a card game.

The public, while stunned by such a ghoulish display of violence, showed empathy for the perpetrator, who was deemed a victim of social prejudices because of his lowly upbringing. Ma's father elicited more sighs of pity when he went door to door to kneel down and apologize to the parents of every one of the students killed by his son.

In April this year, Huang Yang, a graduate student at Fudan University, died of poisoning. The police found traces of poison in the dormitory's water cooler and arrested a roommate surnamed Lin as a suspect. No motive has been revealed.

This has set off a chain reaction about a similar incident that took place 19 years ago in Tsinghua University. Zhu Ling, an outstanding female student, suffered from a mysterious illness, which was later diagnosed as thallium poisoning and has been paralyzed since. Her roommate, Sun Wei, was alleged to be the only one with access to the substance.

There was a police investigation, which the Beijing police recently said was too late to gather necessary evidence, and Sun denied any wrongdoing.

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