Chinese College Dorms

Here’s a photo comparison of some Chinese college dorms. (Sorry, none of these pictures were taken for the purpose of comparing the dorm rooms, so they’re not perfect.)

Some of the commonalities you will find are: no full mattresses, no hot running water in the room, one room, not super spacious. Students get hot water by bringing it in thermoses (see Hangzhou pic). There are public showering facilities.


ZUCC, my former workplace, is definitely the nicest of the three. There are only four bunks in a rather large room by Chinese dorm standards. The bunks have decently thick pads. There’s running water (cold) in the room’s own bathroom, and a squat toilet. You can’t see them, but I’m sure at least some of the students have computers on their desks.

Unidentified Location in China

I believe this photo to be more typical of many dorm rooms across China. The “bed pad” is probably a woven mat. It’s hard to tell if that top “bunk” is actually a bunk or not, but by the “toothbrush cups” on the desk we can deduce that six students live in this room. The clothes you see hanging up are drying after being hand-washed. I’ve seen other (poor) schools in Hangzhou that looked like this.


I actually stayed one night in this very room in 2001. I forget the name of the school, but the campus was located northwest of city center, within walking distance of the Summer Palace. (Don’t misunderstand; I’m not trying to imply that Tsinghua Universtity dorms or Peking University dorms look anything like this!) Note the pipes coming out of the walls. The light hung from a wire in the ceiling. The newspapers are pasted to the walls because the white paint is so cheap that it will rub off on you if you touch it directly. You can see the woven bed mat here. The white object on the upper bunk is a blanket, not a pad.

If you have pictures to add to the comparison, please e-mail them to me.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I liked Bingfeng’s comparison of girls’ dorms vs guys’ dorms.

  2. Paint? Whether it’s technically classified as plaster or as whitewash, I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t call it paint. In any case, it’s common enough around China, so you have to be careful about leaning against indoor walls or you might end up with white dust all over your back.

  3. FreeJack Says: March 26, 2005 at 6:57 pm

    It amazes me that they’re able to successfully complete college, living in conditions like this. Hell, I dropped out of college after one year in the States, and the dorm was like a hotel room by comparison!

    Incidentally, I dropped out because I discovered that what I thought I wanted to do for a living wasn’t, in fact, what I wanted at all…which is another luxury students in China don’t have, I understand. Ugh!

  4. greg pasden Says: March 26, 2005 at 8:34 pm


    This reminds me of my crashpad for working w/ the airlines (where is the glamour).

    Greg P

  5. xia bi ru you shen Says: March 26, 2005 at 10:10 pm

    In china, wherever you go, things are almost the same.4 students at least in one room, no bargain!
    but in the overseas students’ dorms,things are totally different…
    one or two students sharing a room equiped with AC and toilet is common.

  6. The students should consider themselves lucky; it used to be 8 to a room.

  7. Elvis Has Left The Building Says: March 26, 2005 at 10:58 pm

    I know when I tell my students about American dorm rooms, they are quite shocked. The Chinese college student dorms are certainly spartan, but also, it touches me that some of them can try to make the best of it–despite the hardships and they have to PAY to take showers!
    The resident dorm rooms for first year teachers here–would break your heart, far worse than the students–extremely filthy.
    It definitely makes me very lenient with them. I don’t think I could study being cold or hot all the time.

  8. The pipes and radiator in the Beijing dorm indicate that they have heat in the winter, unlike Hangzhou and Shanghai.

  9. Sleeping on a wooden board cot is nothing compared to the unheated concrete wall dorm rooms in the winter. While the foreign teachers are up in the apartments with the heat units (wall mounted) and bitching that they are inefficient and not working (it’s as cold inside as it is outside – freezing 0 degrees), unless you’re directly sitting in the vent of the heater), the students have valid reason to complain because at 11pm, the power went out (to prevent students from staying up, watching TV, surfing the net – and you know damn well, they’d all stay up late if they could), but more importantly, the power went out so their personal heaters would be rendered useless all night, during the coldest parts of the night. A few students would complain about this to me during the winters, but the majority of them just bundled up.

    Now, if you wanted to compare the student dorms to the cafeteria worker dorms… you’d be sitting at dinner and the food would be served. Sometimes you’d be watching the food too closely and catch a glimpse of the hand of the waitress – and fingers would be blue, purple, or even black from frostbite.

    Ahh, it’s nice to look out and see a blue spring sky right now as I type.

  10. The organisation I’m working for is currently building a new dormitory building for the Guanting middle school. At the moment, they have so little room that the younger (smaller) students sleep 3 to a bed, and the beds are about the same size as in those photos. 5 bunks in a room = 10 beds = 30 students. There’s no heating either, of course.

  11. Though I am a student from Hangzhou(Zhejiang gongshang University,once was called Hangzhou University of commerce),our dorms’ condition is not as good as the first picture is shown. I have 4 roommates,we share 3 beds of top and down bunks.(This makes us have a vacancy bunk to put our stuffs) We haven’t got own bathroom as well as toilet,and also get hot water by thermoses.The suck thing is that even our floor is wooden.It can be very dangerous for us to use computer or aother appliance which may outgo much more electricity,cause it catches fire easily.

  12. Besides the ones already mentioned, I can think of three other institutions of higher education that have dorms within walking distance of the Summer Palace:

    Beijing Sports University ±±¾©ÌåÓý´óѧ
    Beijing Forestry University ±±¾©ÁÖÒµ´óѧ
    Beijing Bailie University ±±¾©ÅàÀèְҵѧԺ

  13. what are the girl in the ZUCC dorm doing? Why are they holding up random household objects? Why does john have a picture of a girs dorm?


  14. Alf,

    Well, you know, I had to do my bi-monthly random household object inspection…

    (If you click on the image you’ll see where I got it.)

  15. Spicygirl Says: March 27, 2005 at 11:08 pm

    Wow, those pictures brought back so much memories. I have never seen a picture of any college dorm room since I graduated years ago. But from what people told me, I’m actually quite amazed by the changes. We used to have eight girls in one room (four bunks), one public bathroom and shower room for the whole floor (25 rooms, 200 people one floor), no hot water. In the winter, we would buy 4 hot water bottles to get enough hot water for a quick shower. The alternative is to wait in the cold for two hours before the public shower room (with hot water shower) open to get in before it closes.

  16. Todd,

    How does one send money to your organization, from the States?

  17. John,

    You must have hit the big time now that the AP is quoting you:

    I guess it is understandable if you end up deleting this comment considering the topic of th story.

  18. ÍеÄ,

    Thanks for the heads up. I may be paranoid, I’m not worried about links to AP news stories.

  19. Da Xiangchang Says: March 29, 2005 at 6:22 am

    Damn, those are pretty nasty rooms! But the outside of the dorms are often worse than the inside. China’s weird like that. It doesn’t look backwards at times so much as some sort of futuristic dystopia.

  20. The conditions in the second photo is really appalling – it’s shocking to see that.

  21. Wilson,

    I believe you mean chilblains (¶³´¯). If I’m not mistaken, flesh black from frostbite is dead and will eventually fall off. Chilblains, while sometimes quite painful, are recoverable.

  22. what absolutely disgusting living conditions … surely these people could clean the place up a little … it looks (and probably smells) like a pig sty

  23. The middle room looks a lot like those at Hagongda and Nantong Daxue (only two dorms I’ve been lucky enough to visit).

  24. ±±¾©µÄÄǸöËÞÉáҲ߯²ÒÁ˵ã°É¡£

  25. xiaomin Says: May 11, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    Take my study life for an example.When I studied in junior school,we had 16 persons in our room;When I sdudied in high school,we had 8 persons in our room;When I studied in university,we had 4 persons in our room;now,I’m studying in an institute for postgraduate degree,we have 3 persons in our room;and in the futture when I study for doctor’s degree,we will have 1~2 persons in our room.

  26. waterlily Says: June 22, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    well, I’m terribled to think of my next year college life, but the truth is the truth. What i have to do, i think, is just to get over it, like,experiencing something unsual and yet wonderful from a new aspect.

  27. I looked for some imformatiion about america collge life and chinese college life,I finally found this.I’m chinese ,those pictures are not ture,
    in university we do not stay in dorms like those,if it happens,the university
    counldn’t be permissed.
    at least all college i see in china is not,and my high school is not ,too.

  28. I am a Chinese girl.and I live in Beijing. But now I study in Chengdu. I think if you look at our dorm, you will change your mind

  29. I am chinese , and I study in Wuhan techology and science unversity zhongnan branch ,Hubei province ,China .I think those picture of chinese collage dorms is for a few college students many years ago. I am in the 4 person dorms .it is so better than those dorms . there is internet Broad for us though Its speed of Broad Band is so slow. And each guys in our dorm has personal computer .But I must admit there have a lot of defects in chinese collage dorms .for example, No hot running water in the bathroom, no single room for us etc. If I take same picture of our dorms I shoud post them on this web page.

  30. a Chinese Says: April 4, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    I agree with a bean and Jasmine. Please do not say sth you are not that sure. IT’S BETTER FOR YOU FOREIGNERS TO VISIT CHINA YOURSELVES! You’ll love her, I’m sure!

  31. a Chinese Says: April 4, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    pp Says:
    what absolutely disgusting living conditions … surely these people could clean the place up a little … it looks (and probably smells) like a pig sty

    Watch your words!!
    You just don’t know the truth

  32. […] culture could be developed based on those sharing values. While in China, students are placed in dorms. The arrangement can be made based on majors, gender and ages. Merely China universities provide […]

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