A course called "mental health for college students" that is currently elective may become mandatory at all Beijing universities. The final draft of the new course syllabus for college students was recently completed by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education and offers expanded content about "relationship skills" and "confusion over homosexuality," compared to the first draft that was enforced in 2005.
"It's about time to change, because students have changed a lot," said Zhao Guowei, an official with the commission.
To get one course credit, students would need to attend 16 to 18 class hours and complete a textbook of nine chapters total.
Chapter four is all about communication skills, while chapter seven specifically deals with relationships and is called, "Happiness starts with learning how to love."
"Compared to other issues, failing in a relationship has been a main cause for mental health problems in college. We'll try to help students with their love skills, including how to properly confess one's love, accept another's or to turn it down," said Lin Guirui, a professor at Capital Normal University who led the updating of the syllabus.
Yang Wei, a 20-year-old China Agriculture University student, found the idea of learning about love in class "refreshingly interesting," but doubted the course's effectiveness.
"I don't think theories in a textbook can walk us through maintaining a relationship," Yang said. "If it could, then there wouldn't be so many shengnüand shengnan," she added, using the terms for people who have passed the average age of marriage but remain single.
Xiong Hanzhong, director of the Beijing Youth Stress Management Service Center, also teaches the mental health course at Beijing Normal University and worried about the methods of delivering the syllabus' "good wishes."
"How to maintain a relationship should be a big lesson in college, and many don't know how to confess their love and think little of themselves after being rejected, which might lead to extreme behavior like committing suicide," Xiong said, adding that the lessons should not be exclusively from the textbook. "They need to engage in more experimental practices, like role-playing."
However, Xiong felt that the course should continue to only discuss heterosexual relationships and that homosexual relationships on campus should not be "emphasized" because it may "mislead students who are still exploring."
Professor Lin, however, told the Global Times that she saw the inclusion of a chapter on homosexuality as necessary.
"We are not going to 'correct' anyone's behavior, and only intend to help analyze the reason behind homosexuality, to see if it's genetic or because of family issues," Lin said.
Famed blogger and race car driver Han Han once criticized Chinese parents for wishing that their children would marry the perfect person immediately after graduation while still opposing that they date in college, so it remains to be seen how parents might react to the course possibly being made mandatory.
"If relationship skills and values are taught correctly and well, then the course should even start from high school, because it's a fact that kids now start to date very young," said Pang Hong, a Chaoyang district mother whose 18-year-old son is in college. "It's better that than having them be misled by the massive amounts of inaccurate information online," she said.