The proper gap between the sexes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 January, 2011, 12:00am

If a boy and a girl are less than 50cm apart, it's socially unacceptable. So says 'the code' at a middle school in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

The code of behaviour, being taught at Yandaojie Middle School, is part of new push for etiquette education under a new national guideline for primary and middle school students made public over the weekend.

The guidelines mandate that all schoolchildren undergo lessons on etiquette - the intricacies of basic decorum, respecting elders and proper table manners for primary school pupils, and for middle school students, politeness in conversation and courtesy to others, in particular their peers of the opposite sex.

But when Xiao Longyun, a school official overseeing morality teaching at the school, set the proper distance between boys and girls at between 80cm and one metre, and said that 50cm or less was too intimate, it raised some eyebrows, China National Radio reported yesterday.

No one at the school would comment, but the push came amid rising concerns among educators over more uncivilised behaviour, such as sightings of teenage students caressing each other in public, campus bullies and teen pregnancies. They blame the lack of education about such matters on schools.

A mobile video clip that has shocked the nation shows a girl student at a vocational senior high school in Shenzhen being beaten by a number of her classmates in April, while many others just stood by and watched.

Li Bian - director of the Beijing-based Aids Prevention Education Project for Chinese Youth, who specialises in sex education for teens - said he doubted the effectiveness of etiquette education in Chengdu and questioned whether their methods were scientific.

'But I'm not surprised by such bizarre etiquette codes, given that authorities have failed many times to honour their promises on sex education for middle school students,' he said.

Even so, the issue was not one that should be pushed at the national level. Rules on sex and etiquette should be established at the regional level, or even school by school.

Yin Jianli, a mainland specialist on teen education, said such rules were absurd, as they could drive a wedge between male and female middle school students, keeping them from forging healthy relationships later.