While Indian parents complain about academics cooping children indoors, Chinese parents don’t want to let them out. They are now vexed by a government order that school and college students must run at least one km daily through China’s brutal sub-zero winter.
From October to next April, the students will run a total distance in multiples of 60 — 120 km, 180 km or 240 km — perhaps to mark 60 years of the Communist Party.
Nobody knows where the children will run since many schools lack open space. Despite China’s Olympics gold rush, its schools don’t favour play on the grounds that studies would be neglected.
“In some primary and middle schools in Beijing, students are prohibited from even playing basketball in spare time in the absence of their headmaster,’’ the government-owned Beijing Review reported in October. “Half an hour after school finishes, students are asked to leave campus and are not permitted to play sports on school property.’’
But now, run they must, ‘in principle’ and even on holidays, keeping a record of distance covered in the Hundreds of Millions of Students Sunshine Winter Long-Distance Running Programme.
Making primary students weighed down by multiple layers run one km a day, and older students run 1.5-2 km daily, will strengthen their will, says China’s education ministry.
But the Party elders really want Chinese youth to lose weight piled on with the milk, meat and fast-food meals that they never enjoyed 30 years ago before China’s economic reforms. Official studies have revealed that fitness levels of young students have fallen over the last 20 years, but obesity levels are expanding faster than in India or the US.
This week, Beijing turned to anti-SARS hero Dr Zhong Nanshan to convince its citizens. Zhong, who led medical efforts during the 2002 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome crisis , declared to State-run media that he jogs three to four times a week. “Look, I’m 72 and still in very good shape,’’ he said.
So I’m no longer surprised when I see even uniformed office employees running in double file on chilly Beijing’s pavements, supervised by a suit-clad boss who doesn’t jog but walks.