BEIJING — Students at a high school in China's Henan Province were greeted to an uncomfortable surprise this week when they returned for the new semester. Come lunchtime, they discovered that something important was missing from the school cafeteria: seats!

The previous tables, it turns out, had been replaced with new, chair-less ones — and all for the sake of efficiency, the Chinese media outlet Toutiao Bashi reports. The digital news source also posted an attention-grabbing video of the students — standing as they scoff down their bowls of food — that prompted a slew of critical and mocking comments from viewers.

The video made the rounds on social media as well, and eventually prompted school officials to offer an explanation. So what then was the motive behind the move? Was it a cost-saving measure? No. It's to discourage the students from dawdling, staff explained. The sooner the high-schoolers finish eating, they figure, the sooner they can get back to studying. "We learned this advanced practice from other places," school officials told the press.

"Our next step is to designate fixed places for students to stand. That way it should only take them 10 minutes to eat a meal," they added.

Chinese students certainly need to take their studies seriously given how famously difficult the country's university entrance exams are. Also, schools are ranked based on results and are thus in constant competition with each other. Still, many people (including parents of the students) see the seat-less cafeteria approach as taking the quest for efficiency way too far.

For starters, it's unhealthy, argues Gao Shan, a gastroenterologist at the Central Hospital in Xiangyang City, Hubei Province. The doctor notes how important it is for people to take their time while eating, to make sure they chew their food thoroughly. Standing and rushing through a meal will affect digestion and cause chronic diseases if done over a prolonged period, Gao Shan says.

Some observers described the chair-chopping measure as a "perversion" and said that if the school is really bent on improving efficiency, teachers and staff should also be forced to eat standing up. "This is the perfect way to destroy children's enthusiasm and desire to seek knowledge, and instead teach them to hate school," one Toutiao Bashi ​reader argued.


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