As classes got underway at schools and institutions of higher learning across China this week, incoming freshman and returning sophomores at one Yunnan university received a bit of a surprise. At its semester opening ceremony on September 1, officials at Yunnan University of Finance and Economics (YUFE) explained that all first and second year students will be required to complete an app-monitored fitness regimen in order to graduate.
The announcement was made to more than 4,000 new students at the university campus on Longquan Lu. Zhu Haiying (朱海营), who is in charge of physical education at YUNE, took time during the event to elucidate the necessity of making exercise a habit. He then introduced the now-compulsory regimen to a mixed reaction.
Each YUFE student must download a university-sanctioned app to monitor their progress. And that progress involves jogging, quite a bit of it in fact. Students must run 240 kilometers over the course of a single school year, 120 during each semester. In an effort seemingly designed to get sleepy pupils out of bed, at least 30 kilometers each semester should be completed between 6:30 and 7:30am.
When finished, statistics gathered by the app must be uploaded to a university system by the end of each semester. Those who fail to reach the school's goals will have to begin the same regimen again the following year in order to graduate. Also mandatory is a swimming proficiency class.
Many Chinese universities require matriculating students to pass a swimming test and attend some form of physical fitness class, often taiqi. However, in the words of YUFE's instructor Zhu, such demands are not stringent enough. He told the gathered students that the running course was necessary because "the physical fitness of our country's youth has been on the decline for 30 years".
Whether or not such a statement is true, China is struggling with skyrocketing obesity rates. A report issued this year by the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 12 percent of all Chinese people are obese, with a further 30 percent deemed overweight. The report is especially harsh in its assessment of the country's heavily populated northeast, characterizing China's north as fat and the south thin ("北胖南瘦"). Incidents of diabetes — a disease once unheard of in the Middle Kingdom — are also alarmingly on the rise.
It is fairly easy for YUFE administrators to implement their exercise initiative, as the institution has one of the largest endowments of any school of higher learning in the province. The Longquan Lu campus maintains two of Kunming's largest indoor pools and several football fields ringed with running tracks. In the words of one father attending the school's opening ceremony, "Kids of the one-child generation are spoiled. If they can learn more about fitness, why not?"
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