Red Hats

This is my first ever guest post, written by a colleague who travelled to Chongqing last week to visit some teachers at a university.  When she came back she told me about an interesting ‘civilization’ campaign the school is waging to try to improve the behavior of the students.  It was such a great story I asked her to write it up for my blog. 


Last week I was traveling to visit some teachers at a university in Chongqing.  I can’t remember when someone first mentioned The Red Hats, but they became a frequent topic of conversation while there.

This is not your mom’s Red Hat Club with older ladies laughing loudly in public. Instead, these Red Hats would be very much against that kind of behavior. Or at least they should be.

As with other things in China, the Red Hats are a perplexing weaving together of truth and rumor. Fact and fancy. Reality and perception. Enough fact to keep one grounded and enough rumor to keep one off-balance.

But this much is true:  there was an article written in The Global Times  naming the school in question and addressing student behavior.

The team in Chongqing University of Posts and Telecommunications (CUPT) was dispatched to supervise students’ “uncivilized behavior”, such as littering rubbish, trampling grassland, hugging and kissing in public.

Yang Jing, chief of Student Affairs Department in CUPT explains that the team is made up of student volunteers. They patrol four times a day, from Monday to Friday.

“We persuade, not force, students to quit these behaviors. But if they repeatedly ignore the advice, we will send them to a quality training course,” Yang added.

I can also verify that there are Red Hats and they will smile and hold up the mandatory “V” when you ask if you can take their picture.

Here’s where things become fuzzy. Supposedly after this article came to the attention of the mayor of Chongqing he required the school to mobilize a squadron of “Red Hats.”  The Red Hats are stationed along popular student routes and at the entry ways of classrooms to “to supervise students’ ‘uncivilized behavior’, such as littering rubbish, trampling grassland, hugging and kissing in public.” But because it’s hard to rat out your littering friends, your trampling classmates, and your hugging roommates, Red Hats are assigned to pathways and buildings not associated with their majors.

I asked some students how someone becomes a Red Hat. Do they volunteer? Are they conscripted by department leaders? Is this their big chance to get back at someone? According to the students there is a volunteer society on campus and the Red Hats come from this society.

I can only imagine that when they first joined the volunteer society they imagined themselves maybe picking up trash, planting trees, or helping in disasters, only to be handed a Red Hat and told to dissuade fellow students from kissing on their way to class!