While some students are reliant on government financial aid to fulfill their college studies, others have enough money from their parents to squander on houses and cars, luxury cosmetics and fashion.
This is the mixed landscape of campus life in China today, which illustrates a financial disparity among Chinese college students and implies a looming social problem for young people, according to sociologists and psychologists.
There is a popular saying in China's universities: "500 yuan a month is poor, 1,000 is hardly enough, 2,000 can be cool, and with4,000 you are well-to-do." The average monthly earnings of a white-collar worker in Chinese is about 5000 yuan.
Yet this is believed to depict the real life of Chinese college students nowadays. Quite a few of them live a lavish, or as some put it, "aristocratic" life.
With monthly expenses of more than 3,000 yuan (US$361.45), Li, studying at Xinjiang Business School in Urumqi, capital city of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, has rented a flat equipped with a wide range of electric appliances. Though he has to spend 600 yuan (US$72.29) in rent and a bit more in water and power supplies a month, he has a comfortable life.
"Though my spending is rather high compared with my classmates', it makes up only a very small proportion of my parents' income," Li says. "I don't think it's extravagant."
Wearing Esprit fashions and Lancome cosmetics from France, WangHui, an English major in the city, is a bit different from Li, as she spends about 2,000-yuan (US$240.96) each month that she earns from teaching English and doing translation work part-time.
But college students like Wang Hui, who are financially independent, account for only 10 percent of the total number of powerful consumers on campus, according to a questionnaire survey of university students in Xinjiang.
"Last semester I spent nearly 10,000 yuan (US$1,204.82),excluding tuition fees and related charges," Li Na says with a guilty conscience. When her parents asked her about where the money had gone, she dared not tell them, as most of it was spent on luxuries.
The extravagance is opposed by some students. "It leads to competition on campus and a mentality of reliance," says Wei Li from the Xinjiang Teacher's Training University.
But as many as 60 percent of students investigated say that extravagant spending is a personal activity and irreproachable provided the family concerned can support it, according to the survey.
It seems that the tolerance has encouraged overspending and unfortunately, has imposed extremely high pressure on students from low-income families.
"I used to be a poor student, longing for a life as a rich student," says Liu Wei.
A farmer's daughter, Liu Wei had lived a simple life before she tried on an expensive dress one day, which she could not afford. She started to complain about her poverty, and after several failed attempts to find a part-time job, she applied for education loans and continued to seek more money from her parents.
Liu Wei changed her life and enjoyed her new life with the rich students. "Then I lived in vanity and thought that I had dignity and self confidence," she recalls.
However, she gradually felt pressed to make ends meet, as the students competed with each other. She began to ask for more money from her family and borrow from schoolmates, having nightmares about how to pay her debts.
Now Liu has managed to change her consumer mentality and regained ground in her learning. "I hope those who are struggling between vanity and embarrassment as I used to do will wake up," she says.
According to China Youth Daily, poor students now account for 30 percent of the total number of college students on the Chinese mainland, and the proportion of those extremely poor stands at 10-15 percent.
The poor students need scholarships, government aid and loans to complete their studies. They can not afford computers, digital cameras and mini audio recorders, which are popular among rich students.
The financial disparity has put the rich and poor students into different social classes, some sociologists believe. And how to value money has thus become a problem which both the rich and the poor should face, they say.
"To admit the existence of the disparity and act in mutual respect and tolerance should be encouraged for modern students," says Liu Ge, an adolescents' counselor with the Xinjiang Education Institute.
She believes that college students are not mature in their consumption habits, and can be guided by teachers and parents.
The families should play an important role in helping students build up a reasonable consumption mentality, says Professor Yang Xueliang, with the Xinjiang Teacher's Training University.
Professor Wang Xuejian, from the moral education office of the Lanzhou University in Gansu Province, holds that it is imperative to exert more efforts to upgrade students' values on campus.
Some other scholars believe that besides financial support, poor students need more psychological guidance.
(Xinhua News Agency March 25, 2004)