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JISHOU, HUNAN — On Sunday we had a small student uprising, over hot water, or the lack of it.

The student dorms here do not have water heaters providing hot water from the taps, so students usually use hot water pots or immersion heaters to get some hot water for drinking, washing, etc. Otherwise, they have to go downstairs to hot water dispensers outside the dorms, drop in some coins and fill their oversized Thermos jugs. Considering some dorms have eight floors, you can see why having an electric teapot might be desirable.

Unfortunately, the wiring in some dorms is perhaps a little dodgy and at least 30 years old (I bet), so early Sunday morning there was an electrical fire in one of the women’s dorms. No big deal — no one was hurt and there was little damage — but the university responded with a typically quick bureaucratic response.

Ban all electric heaters. No teapots. No immersion coils. No hotplates. Nada.

This announcement came later that evening, and the students did not take to it kindly. In fact, they took to the campus, yelling, blowing whistles, banging metal lids together, around 11 pm, demanding the uni reverse its unilateral ban on hot water appliances. They kept it up well past 1 am Monday.

Someone even posted a video on one of China’s video-sharing sites, showing the announcements, a queue of girls getting hot water from the dispensers, and a gaggle of vacuum bottles waiting to be filled, while the audio played the students’ Sunday night protests.

As protest causes go, it may seem pretty minor, particularly if your own university in the States also had similar bans. (I know Princeton did. Who knows how old some of the wiring in the dorms from the 1920s are?) But we are in Hunan, where few buildings have central heating, and none of our student dorms have heat pumps to keep things warm in the winter or cool in the summer. So, you can imagine why students living in unheated dormitories when the overnight temperatures outside are just barely above freezing would like to heat up some water once in a while.

I am not sure if the problem has been resolved. Either the students have accepted the decision with typical Asian resignation, or the university has relented. If I hear loud mobs down campus tonight again, I’ll have my answer.

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