Primary schools in eastern China are making students wear physical distancing hats in the classroom inspired by a style worn by ancient Chinese government officials, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Monday.
The hats are part of an effort to teach young children how to maintain a distance from one another amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Some schools in certain regions of China have recently reopened as the country claims to have successfully contained coronavirus in some areas. On Monday, in Wuhan — the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China late last year — the Chinese government claimed there were zero people hospitalized with coronavirus. Local Wuhan residents have told foreign media that they believe the claim of zero coronavirus patients to be a “political show.”
In Hangzhou, students returned to a primary school on Monday, SCMP reports, citing Chinese state media. The pupils were encouraged to create and wear their own handmade physical distancing hats, which have long extensions on either side, like wings, to keep them at least three feet apart from each other, per physical distancing guidelines. Global health authorities have encouraged people to maintain a distance from others to curb transmission of the coronavirus, which reportedly can spread through the air via moisture droplets when coughing or sneezing.
According to Chinese state media, the students’ hats were inspired by an ancient design during the Song Dynasty, which ruled China between 960 and 1279 AD. Photos of the Hangzhou pupils show them wearing both the special hats and face masks, in line with a recent Ministry of Education requirement for students to wear protective face coverings in the classroom.
According to the SCMP, “the first Song Emperor ordered his ministers to wear hats with two long wings on the sides so that they could not gossip” in court assemblies without being overheard, according to one legend. Tsui added that “the Song emperors … were also depicted to have worn this kind of headwear with wing-like flaps.”
An ancient imperial city, Hangzhou was the capital of the Song Dynasty from 1127. Venetian merchant Marco Polo visited Hangzhou in the late 13th century as it was a center of commerce. The Italian explorer stopped there as he traveled through Asia along the ancient Silk Road, a network of trade routes linking East to West.
Italy and China maintain close economic and political ties to this day through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a project to promote Chinese-funded infrastructure in developing nations. BRI projects in Italy have helped develop the country’s major ports and have expanded Italian shipping trade throughout the Mediterranean — at the price of giving the Communist Party outsized influence in the European nation.
Italy was one of the countries hit hardest, and earliest, by the coronavirus outside of China. Experts believe Italy’s outbreak was worsened because the nation delayed its initial efforts to contain the virus out of a desire to protect strategic links with China.
According to health officials, two of the first three coronavirus cases in Italy originated from Chinese tourists in January. This forced Italy to cut off lucrative transport links with China, which it hesitated to do because of the loss of revenue it would cause for both countries. At press time on Tuesday, Italy had 201,505 infections and 27,359 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.