Hot Flicks at Their Fingertips

Tsinghua University's tradition of subjecting students to stoic forms of discipline is now being matched by exposing them to the epicurean pleasures of Western music and film.

At the school's user-friendly library, a new video salon seems like a miniature American multiplex: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Tom Hanks, and other Hollywood stars flicker across banks of television screens.

Of the 100-plus students mesmerized by the monitors on a recent afternoon, not one had rented a Chinese video. Among the current Top 10 hits at the salon, says an attendant, are "Men in Black," "Twister," "Wall Street," and "Jurassic Park: the Lost World."

"I like 'Sleepless in Seattle' because it shows that tragedy can sometimes be the prelude to happiness," says a young liberal arts student. "And it's romantic," she adds.

Another undergraduate, apparently searching for a politically correct reason for watching 'Volcano,' says the action drama "shows the spirit of collectivity in fighting a disaster."

Despite this freedom to explore the newest waves of Western pop culture, Tsinghua undergraduates are still under the watchful eye of the Communist Party. Like their classmates across China, every undergraduate is required to join outdoor flag-raising ceremonies and gymnastics just after dawn.Crowded into poorly heated, concrete-block dorms packed six to a room, students must also attend weekly political study sessions.

Absence at these mandatory activities is marked in the party-controlled file that follows every Chinese from the cradle to the grave, and "patriotic demerits are calculated into each semester's grades," says a second-year student.

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