Don’t be surprised to hear phrases such as “Let’s go climb the tree!” and “Have you climbed the tree?” on Xiamen University campus in Fujian province.
The university will become the first on the mainland to offer a tree-climbing course, starting this semester.
“Climbing a tree is such an easy thing,” said Gong Wenhai, a junior year student. “Do they have to offer a course?”
Gong comes from the countryside in Hubei province and climbing trees is a common childhood game.
“Some students may even be better at it than the teachers,” he joked.
However, Zheng Daxiong, one of three physical education teachers who will teach the course, says the situation is not that simple and “this is actually an important complementary part of field survival ability. It’s not climbing trees as some did in childhood.”
Xiamen University has conducted field survival courses for 10 years. But previously it taught rock climbing or steeplechase, which sounds more professional than tree climbing.
Since Tree Climbers International – the world’s first tree-climbing school – was founded in 1983 in Atlanta, Georgia, many similar institutions have been established worldwide.
Hong Kong founded its tree climbing association in 2007 and organized a competition.
Zhu Chongshi, president of the university, visited Cornell University in June 2011 and was so impressed by its tree-climbing course that he decided to start one at Xiamen University.
The Cornell Tree Climbing Institute claims to “promote safe and environmentally responsible tree climbing techniques for recreation, education and research”.
Zheng says the course will teach students to climb trees in the safest and most correct way.
“For example, it’s dangerous to climb trees only with your hands. It’s essential to learn how to throw the rope and tie it to the tree, just like rock climbing, but it’s more difficult. Climbers can shift their weight on the rock but we rely more on the rope when climbing a tree. We have to coordinate among our hands, feet and legs to find the best posture. It will also train the students’ strength and flexibility.
“However, climbing higher or faster is not important. I want to go back to the time of climbing trees in my childhood and I will tell my students: Try to enjoy the class.”
The course once again put Xiamen University in the limelight, as it has previously grabbed attention by opening optional physical education courses including sailing, golf and the dragon-lion dance.
Surprisingly, tree climbing is a relatively expensive course as it needs a very experienced coach. In Hong Kong, a tree-climbing coach must have certificates and at least five years of experience. A coach usually charges HK$750 ($67) per hour.
And tree climbing needs expensive facilities and equipment. A set of basic facilities cost 6,000 yuan ($943) and should be changed every year to ensure safety.
So some netizens have questioned why the university would spend so much on an optional course, since educational resources in China are not that extensive.
Huang Lisheng, a marathon trainer from the university, said on his micro blog: “Most of our physical education resources are focused on these rare items, but the number of students who can participate is very limited.”
But in Zheng’s eyes, Xiamen University is ready to open the course. It is not difficult to find suitable trees on the seashore campus of Xiamen University, which has many birches, locust trees and banyans. And as the school has offered field survival courses for 10 years, many types of equipment can be shared among different classes.
“It’s just another optional course, which gives us more choices,” said Zhang Qifan, a student from the university. “We should encourage such breakthroughs and get rid of the stereotype of conventional education.”
“I hope I can release my pressure through this class,” Zhang says, adding he will apply to take the course since he feels disappointed he wasn’t enrolled in the golf class.
Other colleges also have unique courses.
Ocean University of China in Qingdao teaches sailing. Sun Yat-sen University offers “Harry Potter and Genetics”, Nanjing Normal University opened a course for women students to learn family management such as how to deal with a mother-in-law, how to keep fit and how to dress. Guangdong University of Finance has a Psychology of Love course, and China University of Political Science and Law uses the popular US TV series Lie to Me as a “textbook” for its course “Mentally Reflexive Response”.