Students at Fuzhou University have recently received a questionnaire in which they were asked to respond using their real names to inquiries about their private matters.
The questions included "Are you dating anyone now?" and "Where is your partner from?". The form also asked students to report quarrels they had had with their significant others.
After being posted on Fuzhou University`s online forum, a picture of the "register your relationship" questionnaire spread on the Internet, drawing public criticism over the institution`s alleged invasion of the students` privacy.
"I think the school`s behavior was just ridiculous and pathetic," an anonymous student from Fuzhou University said, "as if we`re really going to tell them the truth."
In response to critics, the university denied having a policy asking students to participate in "relationship registration". It said the forms were released by a group of students who thought the questions offered a good means of learning about the relationships of their classmates.
"The origin of the investigation was a student`s suicide last Thursday," said Ge Haixia, a public relations person with Fuzhou University. "A sophomore hanged herself in the dorm, just because her boyfriend hadn`t replied to a short message."
"We were shocked by how young a life we lost and how vulnerable college students can be," Ge said.
Fuzhou University then adopted a series of measures meant to help students deal with emotional turmoil. To better prepare for such crises, it began collecting information on the relationships of students.
"The survey was not mandatory, nor very effective," Ge said. "As you can see most students took it as a joke."
Although the concern over the "real-name relationship" proved to be a false alarm, it does reveal some problems.
According to a survey co-sponsored by China Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ministry of Education in 2007, about 20 percent of college students suffer from mental troubles of some sort, the worst of them involving difficulties in communicating with others.
Fuzhou University carries out a psychological test on some 5,000 freshmen every year, and the results are "not propitious", according to Pan Xi, director of the university`s psychological consultation office.
"I now see two students every evening, six days a week, and we`re usually fully booked," she said. "It`s a good thing that students are more open to talk about their troubles, but it also suggests the greater pressures they`re facing today.
"About 20 percent of students, mostly girls, said they have relationship problems," she added.
"After the suicide, we sent psychology majors to monitor students who are more introverted, and will have them report to us if they see abnormal behavior," Pan said.