All-girl schools, almost extinct in China after the women's liberation movement in the early and mid-20th century, have made a popular return in Beijing, overcoming public controversy.
When the non-governmental Beijing Experimental High School for Girls opened in 2000, it received a warm welcome from teenage girls and their parents.
Undaunted by its high fees of 7,000 yuan (US$843) a year - seven times that of a public school - more than 900 applicants registered on the first day. They had to sit for strict entrance tests later to compete for the 90 places.
The other two girls' schools in Beijing - Chinese Women's College and Huaxia High School for Girls - have expanded rapidly since their establishment in the 1990s.
Most of the girls' parents feel a girls' school, without the distractions of puppy love or other adolescent problems, is an ideal place for their daughters to concentrate on their studies and cultivate their minds.
A recent survey found that boys and girls are dating at the tender ages of 14 to 16 in big cities.
"I can rest assured that my daughter will not be harassed by the same problems most girls tend to face at her age," said a father, Wang Lisheng.
The intense competition for the limited places at college, along with the high pressure it brings to the students and their parents, are the main reasons why girls' school are so popular, said Zheng Xinrong, a professor of education with Beijing Normal University.
Besides a safer and quieter environment, the management at the schools all say they provide an education that has been tailored to the teenage girls' needs.
"To start with, we aim to help the young girls look at the world from a sensitive and feminine perspective," said Li Yiru, head of the Huaxia High School for Girls.
Most girls' schools have incorporated housekeeping and ikebana into their curricula, and held forums to help the girls protect themselves and be prepared for future competition with their male counterparts.
The schools have also boosted young girls' confidence in science, a field where boys are believed to enjoy more advantages than girls.
"Most girls tend to cower behind the boys in science classes in traditional schools," said Wang Juan, a student at the Beijing Experimental High School for Girls. "We're now more active and do not have to worry about losing face in front of boys."
About two-thirds of the teachers at the girls' schools are female, and they have to wear only light make-up at work. The male teachers are also requested to dress formally - T-shirts and shorts are forbidden.
Most teachers say they feel comfortable with the girls, who are very cooperative in class, although they are often quieter than the majority of boys.
The girls, compared with their peers at public schools, are more sensitive toward women's rights, their teachers say.
"Whenever our graduates hear an employer does not want to accept girls, they will argue with him, while other female job hunters will quietly go away," said a teacher with Chinese Women's College, a non-government institution that offers higher education exclusively to females.
(Xinhua News Agency December 11, 2002)