China’s ‘Bed Army’

By Sadie Bass

Sep 9, 2009 9:14am

ABC's Chito Romana reports from Beijing: At first glance it looks like a scene from the quake zone last year when thousands of affected families sought shelter in a huge city stadium. But this photo was taken last Monday night at a university gymnasium in central China. This “bed army” is made up of people who spent the night on mats laid out on the floor. They are parents who accompanied their sons and daughters to enroll at the Central China Normal University in Wuhan, about 800 miles south of Beijing. A university official told ABC News that about 500 fathers and mothers spent the night there. The university provided them with sleeping mats and blankets, as well as bottled water and hot tea. The parents were also allowed to use the gym’s shower facilities. The central air-conditioning in the gym was maintained throughout the night while the university’s security personnel patrolled the area at night. This official said the university has been providing this service free of charge since 2006 for parents who are unable or cannot afford to find lodging in crowded hostels or inns nearby. In this way, these parents will at least have a place to sleep while their kids are spending their first night in their university dorms. Unlike other universities in China, students in this university and other normal schools are exempt from tuition. They are provided with a monthly allowance of 400 yuan (about $60) by the government. This is part of Beijing’s policy of encouraging young people to pursue education as a career in order to solve the country’s shortage of teachers. With the rapid increase of university enrolment in recent years, a large number of parents are sending off their kids to campuses with the start of the new school year this month.  In 1998 China had only 1.08 million freshmen but 5.6 million are joining the ranks of university students this year. It looks like more parents will be joining China’s “bed army.”

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