Why 'tents of love' are popping up in Chinese colleges

Story highlights

  • Chinese parents accompany their children to start college
  • Many of the kids are the first in the family to go to university
  • Photos sparked debate about whether kids are independent enough

(CNN)These are called "love tents" but they're not what you think.

Chinese colleges have come up with an unusual way to help freshmen settle in.
    They turn their gyms into campsites for moms and dads, some of whom have traveled thousands of miles across the country, to say goodbye.
    For the past five years, Tianjin University in northern China has provided free accommodation for parents in what it calls "tents of love." Other schools let parents sleep on mats in school gymnasiums.
    Chinese workers arrange sleeping facilities for parents of freshmen at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an.
    "Going to college is a life moment and my parents didn't want to miss that," said Xiong Jinqi, a freshman at Tianjin University majoring in applied chemistry.
    His parents traveled with him on the 19-hour train journey from Jiangxi province in southern China.
    "My parents are eager to see what my life will be in the next four years."

    Coddled?

    Images of schools gyms packed with parents have been widely shared on Chinese social media prompting a debate on whether China's only children are too coddled.
    Some have voiced criticism of Tianjin University, saying that they think both the parents and the children should be more independent.
    Rows of tents are set up to accommodate Chinese parents at Tianjin University in Tianjin, China, 25 August 2016.
    Of course, "helicopter parents" like these aren't confined to China.
    But China's millennials are often doted on by parents and two sets of grandparents, prompting fears that China has produced a generation of "little emperors" unable or unwilling to take care of themselves.
    Xiong Bingqi, the deputy director of think-tank 21st Century Education Research Institute and no relation to the Xiongs, thinks the problem is overstated.
    "It has always been a problem in China that at the start of every school year, colleges are packed with parents who come along to drop off their children and stay with them," he said.
    "For some families, it's their way to celebrate the first-ever family member who's able to go to college," Xiong added. "There's nothing wrong with sharing the happiness."

    'No brainer'

    Xiong's father said the decision to escort their son was a no-brainer. He and his wife are among the many "campers" who sleep in the 550 temporary tents set up in the Tianjin University gym.
    "My child has lots of luggage and we also want to go travel," said his father Xiong Yonghui.
    "The hotels nearby are fully booked so I had to sleep in the tents."
    Their son also shrugged off the criticism although he said he was looking forward to living on his own for the first time.
    "Being accompanied by my parents doesn't mean I'm spoiled."