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China’s Weirdest University Courses

Losing weight, climbing trees, Harry Potter, and writing your final farewell…there’s a university course for everything

Obesity, once considered a sign of status in China, is becoming such a serious issue that Nanjing Agriculture University has decided to tackle it—by launching a special weight-loss course, only open to those of a certain weight, and graded by percentage of body mass lost.

According to a report from Yangtze Evening Post, a newspaper based in Jiangsu Province, students are encouraged to lose weight through exercise and dieting; eating disorders were not mentioned. Sixty percent of their grade is related to how much weight they are able to lose: A seven percent weight loss at the end of the semester ensures full marks.

Course founder and lecturer Zhou Quanfu told the newspaper that the course is only available to those with 30 percent body fat, or a body mass index over 28. Students take three or four PE classes per week, are encouraged to do jogging and sit-ups, and required to record what they eat every day, and upload the photos to a WeChat account, to be assessed by professional nutritionists.

Wu Xiuyang, a 1.8 meters-tall sophomore, is reported to have lost 25 kilos over a year, and says his BMI and the body fat percentage have all decreased to a normal level. The course has drawn a lot of attention online, as people discuss what students can actually “learn” from this kind of program, but it’s far from the first time an unusual course has cropped up at a Chinese university. Some of the oddest include:

A tree-climbing course (Xiamen University)

In 2012, Xiamen University announced a PE option in which students were taught how to climb trees safely and move forth and back between them. Unsurprisingly, the public questioned the practical utility of these lessons. The university’s defense? Tree-climbing is a kind of “emergency escape” skill. Well, maybe the teachers can use those skills when their critics come after them.

The Theory and Practice of Romantic Relationships (Tianjin University)

To some degree, relationships are still a sensitive topic on campus. In some schools, students are even forbidden to get too close with classmates of a different gender. So a course like this was always going to raise eyebrows. Supporters say the course, by Tianjin University, represents progress by treating romantic relationships with an open-minded attitude. Critics call it an attention-grabbing stunt and question its practical value. In response, the university said “the course is supposed to teach students to face the ups and downs in their lives calmly.”

Life and Death (Guangzhou University)

Since 2000, Professor Hu Yi’an has been talking life and death with his students in class. Death is usually a taboo in topic in Chinese culture, but this course tried to break some unwritten rules. Lectures involved illness, aging, catastrophe, war, abortion, suicide, hospice and euthanasia. The students not only discus life and death on the level of philosophy, but are also required to write a “last note.” In terms of the meaning of this course, Hu said in an interview with Guangzhou Daily that “When you learn how to approach a life, you know how to be responsible for yourself.” In 2012, Beijing Normal University began to offer a similar course.

Harry Potter and Genetics (Sun Yat-sen University)

In 2012, Sun Yet-sen University launched this creative course. From the name, you can guess that it was pretty popular. But is this really about the Boy who Lived, or is this more the result of a savvy professor, marketing standard genetics classes to students? Here is a syllabus:

  • Introduction
  • The Genetics of Magic
  • What makes Hogwarts so colorful?-The genetics of skin/fur pigmentation –I
  • What makes Hogwarts so colorful?-The genetics of skin/fur pigmentation –II
  • Parseltongue and the gene for language
  • Who should take responsibility for Voldemort going bad? –The genetic and epigenetic contributions-I
  • Who should take responsibility for Voldemort going bad? –The genetic and epigenetic contributions-II
  • Harry Potter and Obesity-I
  • Harry Potter and Obesity-II
  • Harry Potter and the elixirs-I
  • Harry Potter and the elixirs-II

Reportedly, many students enrolled in this course felt deceived after taking the class. Maybe they’re genetically susceptible to savvy marketing?


Cover image from NetEase


author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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