Should trains have separate compartments for 'bear children'?

Should children be seated in a different compartment from child-free adults? Image copyright China News Service
Image caption Should children be seated in a different compartment from child-free adults?

As millions of people travel on trains across China in order to celebrate the new year, they are asking: "Should trains have children's compartments?"

The hashtag #ChineseNewYearTravel2019 has been viewed more than 879 million times on Weibo where thousands of people are debating the issue.

China's flagship radio station (CNR) discussed the question on air.

A senior official at the China Railway Corporation, Huang Xin, thinks the idea is very creative.

Billions travel for Chinese new year

Nearly three billion trips - including train, road, air and boat - are expected to be completed between Jan 21 and March 1 this year, with 413 million of those by rail, according to China media.

With so many people moving across the country at the same time it is perhaps inevitable that social media users are discussing ways to make travelling as stress-free as possible.

Image copyright VCG
Image caption People are divided over whether there should be a separate compartment for children on trains

According to the Chinese newspaper People's Daily, separate compartments for children has attracted a lot of discussion online recently.

More than 2,000 Weibo users have been discussing whether it would be a solution to "noisy…bear children" on the journey.

'Bear children'

Some support the idea, saying "what most people are afraid of on a train is noisy bear children".

A "bear child" is a common Chinese slang phrase meaning a child who is spoilt.

The use of the word "bear" in this instance suggests some people in China think some children on trains can act in a feral way.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption There's an emerging generation of "bear children" (children who lack discipline) in China

The comment "a carriage full of 'bear children', I can't even imagine" gained more than 4,000 likes on Weibo.

One Weibo user says: "Imagine them crying, one after another…"

Another says that maybe there wouldn't be a problem with excessive noise, if a child had people to play with.

One says that there's room to discuss partitioning trains for family areas, adult-only areas, and private mother and baby areas.

Children's compartments already exist in Germany. Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) offers a Mutter/Klein Kind (mother and small child) compartment in their newest trains.

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But many think the idea is ludicrous. One says it is a "lazy" solution, and that "parents should be teaching their children public etiquette".

Another agrees, saying "it doesn't make sense, nor improve the quality of people."

One Weibo user says: "I don't support this! If I have children in the future, I don't want to have to sit in that carriage!"

Some joke that it's a hark back to Cultural Revolution times, with one asking whether landlords should be segregated in their own carriage too.

Analysis: Kerry Allen, BBC Monitoring

Perhaps bizarrely, there have been a lot of stories in China's media in recent months, stressing that there's a demand for better controls on Chinese trains.

This started with a spate of incidents involving "seat robbers" going viral. Travellers began flagging up badly behaved people refusing to move out of seats belonging to other people, and social media users jumped on the bandwagon sharing videos that they had seen of bad behaviour leading to nationwide shaming.

At the same time, there has been a lot of dialogue in recent years about an emerging generation of "bear children" - children who are raised with no discipline, and misbehave at will. The one-child policy has been partly to blame for parents spoiling their only children and leading them to believe they can get whatever they want.

Newspapers recognise that it is a modern phenomenon, and similarly, videos have circulated online shaming the parents of "bear children", and commentaries often appear debating how such children can be properly dealt with.

China Railway Corporation's Huang Xin, said she always welcomed new ideas being put forward to the rail services.

"(Translated from Mandarin) Whether or not it's necessary to concentrate noisy children in one compartment, all public transport faces a similar situation.

"There are people suggesting that those who like to watch films or listen to music should be concentrated in one department. These suggestions provide inspiration for the improvement of the public transport sector, but also bring new challenges about how we can further improve and refine the services of public transportation."