Chinese parents get in line to give their kids a taste of campus life

Tours of the mainland’s most prestigious universities are now so popular over summer that at least one has set a daily limit on visitor numbers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 1:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 11:58pm

This summer, some ­middle-class mainland parents will take their children to visit the most prestigious overseas universities in the hope of inspiring them to greater academic heights. And many of these parents will be doing the same thing at home.

Beijing’s top two colleges, Tsinghua University and neighbouring Peking University, are now popular attractions for ­domestic tourists – and Tsinghua even had to impose quotas to ­control the crowds this year.

The university now has two sessions for visitors over summer – one starting at 8.30am and the second at 1.30pm – with the ­number of visitors for each ­session capped at 3,000.

But given the limited slots, tourists have taken to forming queues far ahead of those visiting hours – often before dawn breaks. By the time the campus opens at 8.30am, the morning quota has usually been filled, meaning those who come later must wait in line for the afternoon session. Once that has been filled, visitors are turned away for the day.

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Shandong native Liu Jianq­iang, who lined up at Tsinghua with his six-year-old son last week, said the pair got up at 4.30am so they could leave their hotel in time to guarantee themselves a good spot in the queue.

The father and son, who were visiting Beijing for a week, arrived at the university at 6.30am and were let through the gate an hour later. Hundreds of people were ahead of them and there were several hundred more in the queue behind them. All of the visitors ­appeared to be Chinese.

Liu, who did not go to college himself, said he wanted his son to experience the atmosphere of a top university campus before he started school next month.

“The old part of the Tsinghua campus is really attractive,” the father said, referring to a part of the university built in the early 20th century. But the architectural features may have been lost on his sleepy looking son, who was more keen to talk about their trip to the Beijing ­Museum of ­Natural History the previous day.

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Over at Peking University, a 15-minute drive away, Guizhou resident Chen Xiaofeng was braving rain, smog and the sweltering humidity with her 10-year-old twin boys. Peking also has fixed visiting hours – 7.30am to 11.30am and 2pm to 5pm – but it doesn’t have a quota.

Hours before the 2pm tour, queues stretching back hundreds of metres had already formed outside the east gate.

“My boys will start the fourth grade in autumn and they’re starting to understand the concept of university,” Chen said. Queuing for hours was no big deal, she said, adding she had also taken her sons to Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou last year.

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“It will be too much pressure if I pin my hopes on them going to this university, but I can at least show them Weiming Lake [a scenic spot on campus] and give them a sense of what it feels like to be at China’s top university,” she said. “Hopefully they will be ­enriched by these experiences.”