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Students at No.1 Middle School in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, sign their names on each other's uniforms at a graduation ceremony on June 3, 2015. Photo: CFP
For Chinese students, school is about hard work, forming friendships that often last a lifetime and wearing some of the ugliest clothes they will never put on.
Many middle school graduates have shared their feelings about China's school uniforms on social media after the entrance examinations for college and high school ended in June.
The hashtag "showing the most beautiful school uniforms in China" on Sina Weibo has garnered more than 88 million page views, while "are Chinese school uniforms really ugly" has earned over 140 million page views as of press time.
Students reached by the Global Times also complained their uniforms are too "sporty" and are poorly-made.
Wang Dingdong, an official with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education, previously told the Beijing Times that most primary and middle school uniforms in the city lack any kind of local details and are baggy, unstylish and unsightly.
The most complained-about part of school uniform designs is that they make boys and girls look exactly the same, with many joking that the only difference between boys' uniforms and girls' is their size.
According photos posted on Sina Weibo, many middle schools provide similar uniforms for boys and girls, with, at most, some slight differences such as their color. Very few, mostly art and private schools, provide skirts for girls.
Students' and workers' uniforms have been genderless for decades in China, Li Yinhe, a leading Chinese sexologist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
However, the aesthetic of young people's cloth has changed from a fixed standard that favors collectivity and unity in the 1950s to more inclusive fashions that highlight diversity, said Li.
She added that ensuring that students can make choices about what they wear is especially important for teenagers, who are experiencing a critical period in which they form their gender consciousness and self-identity.
The sexless style of uniforms to some degree reflects the educational authorities' fear of sex and the female body, which has traditionally been seen as threatening and hard to control, Yang Jianfeng, a professor with the Shanghai University of Sport, wrote in a commentary of Guangming Daily published in September 2015.
However, Shi Jinghuan, an executive vice-president of the Institute of Education at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times that the sexless design of school uniforms is not a totally bad thing.
She elaborated that gender stereotypes in China are still prevalent, and a clear-cut design for male and female uniforms is not a must in a society that respect gender diversity.
In addition, other factors, such as the affordability of uniforms, are also deciding factors, said Shi.
The cost of uniforms varies across China, from around 300 yuan ($45) for a 7-piece uniform at a Beijing primary school to as much as 2,180 yuan at a school in Dongguan, South China's Guangdong Province that requires its students to possess an 18-piece uniform, according to students reached by the Global Times.
Wear comfortably and safely
Apart from aesthetic complaints, many parents told the Global Times that they are also concerned about the safety of school uniforms.
Shanghai's quality control watchdog found in 2013 that school uniforms made by Shanghai Ouxia Clothing Company that were sold to over 30 schools contained carcinogenic compounds.
Last June, China's top education, commerce and quality control authorities, together with the Standardization Administration of China, jointly issued a document that aimed to regulate the safety of school uniforms.
The document said that school uniforms should be decided by representatives of students, parents and wider society, and students should have a say in the style and color of their uniforms.
It added that wearing school uniforms should be voluntary, but some people have argued that school uniforms should be mandatory as they help avoid students competing over their appearances at school, provide a sense of equality and make students focus on studying.
However, a student from Beijing Yu Cai School told the Global Times that he thinks expecting school uniforms to curb students' vanity is a waste of time.
"First, there's nothing wrong with a student wanting to look good and it does not affect others. Secondly, competing about appearances can also occur in regards to accessories and shoes. Thirdly, being a good-looking student does not mean one's academic performance is poor," he added.