A recent video aptly titled "dirtiest female dorm room ever," of a dormitory at a Chinese university, was recently uploaded and shared on social media, which attracted attention from netizens around the world for the students’ blatant display of filth and neglect.
The room, strewn ankle-deep with rubbish and refuse, was inhabited by female students, one whom filmed the video and can be heard proclaiming, "Our room stinks so bad that two people have decided to leave."
Comments from concerned netizens asked how any human could live in such a place, as it was nearly impossible for the students to walk through the room without tripping on the trash. As a foreign student who attended Shanghai’s Fudan University for over six years, I can answer this question: Chinese students don’t mind living in such messy environments.
Based on the countless dorms of Chinese classmates I visited over the years, disorderly rooms were quite common. Books and papers were everywhere, laundry was hung on clotheslines inside the rooms and old takeaway food cartons, garbage and dirty tissues were also just left around the room for weeks or even months. Windows were rarely opened for fresh air.
Chinese students often give the excuse that they are "so busy" with their classes when asked why they don’t tidy up their living space, but usually these same students spend all their free time sleeping or playing computer games, so the truth is that they are just too lazy to clean.
Having said that, I think that there’s a bigger issue behind why Chinese dormitories are so disgusting and why these students don’t cherish their living space or adopt their rooms as their second home.
First, most Chinese university dorms don’t have any central heating systems or air-conditioning units. These rooms become unbearably cold in the winters and sweltering in the summers so that nobody can bear to study in them. Instead, students usually spend their days in the well-heated/cooled library and only go back to their rooms to sleep.
When I first arrived at Fudan, I got a kick out of seeing so many "towelheads" walking around. And no, I don’t mean this as a derogatory insult to turban-wearing Middle Easterners but rather all the Chinese students who have to cross campus in their bath towels, sandals and basins of shampoo and soaps to and from the school’s showers. I learned that the Chinese students did not have their own bathrooms and had to go to another building just to bathe. What’s worse is that there were no private shower stalls but only public, open shower rooms where all the boys or all the girls had to bathe together.
Meanwhile, foreign students such as myself were entitled to extra-special treatment: we had air conditioning units in our rooms as well as our own private showers and bathrooms. My dormitory at Fudan Handan Campus was surrounded with a wire fence in order to isolate us from Chinese students (and prevent them from seeing how well we lived).
For sure, accommodation fees for foreigners and Chinese cannot be compared; they paid much, much less than us, so really it was a case of getting what you pay for. But for an educational institution that proclaims itself to teach "socialist values" to its students, it was hard to see any equality in our living standards.
I personally always believed that foreign students at Fudan (and any other university in China for that matter) should be allowed to live with the Chinese. And not just allowed, it should be a rule. Ethnic diversity in the dorms would benefit everyone, as it would allow our best habits to rub off on each other - e.g. the intense study habits of Chinese students and the cleanliness and good hygiene of foreign students.
Sure, individual students can be criticized for being untidy and lazy, but really it’s the mismanagement of Chinese universities and the misappropriation of funds that have led to their practically uninhabitable dormitory conditions.