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Tongyuan Canteen is open to the whole university between 19:00 and 22:00

Peking University, Nov.9, 2014: After being open to the Muslims exclusively for almost ten years, Tongyuan Canteen, the only Muslim cafeteria at Peking University, now opens its door to the whole university for the night snack period between 7 and 10 pm. Here, Students can taste the freshly cooked halal snacks such as lamb kebabs, chicken wontons and hot spicy dips.

This seemingly small change is actually the hard-won result of the efforts of numerous people. Liu Zhenjie, a student from the School of Government and a Muslim girl from Hebei Province, is one of them. A year ago, Liu took the course, “Psychology Training for College Students”, in which students were required to set up and run a project in a group of ten. As the group leader, Liu proposed that her group should undertake a research into the dining problem which had troubled the Muslim students for long. Her proposal was supported by the other group members.

The only two places where halal food is sold on campus are the small Muslim Cuisine Section in Nongyuan Canteen and Tongyuan Canteen with a relatively larger seating capacity. The Nongyuan Canteen, open during lunch and dinner periods only, is always densely crowded because of its convenient location. Naturally, Tongyuan seems to be a better choice for the Muslim students. However, breakfast in Tongyuan is served between 7 and 8:30 am and dinner is served between 5 and 7 pm. Muslim students have to get up early to be in time for the breakfast. Those who need to work in their laboratories for a long time ever day virtually lose the opportunity to have their supper in Tongyuan.

The initial idea of Liu’s group was to ask the university to run a Muslim white houselet. A “white houselet” is the byname given by the PKU students to the snack stores affiliated to the university canteens. Such a snack store is usually a small one-story building with white walls and a white roof. The opening hours of these stores are from 7 am to 11 pm each day. If such a Muslim white houselet could be opened for the whole university, it would not only fulfil the dining needs of the Muslims but also extend the food choices for all.

With the initial conception, Liu’s team strived to make their voice heard through various channels after they finished a survey into the Han students’ knowledge about Muslim cuisine culture and produced a video about halal food. They put forward their motion to the Student Union and the Center of Refectories and Restaurants, solicited support on the university BBS and popular SNS websites and submitted a written proposal to the President’s Mailbox. “I’ve been considering this suggestion for long,” said Liu, “I’m the only Muslim in this team but all the members have worked hard together for the minority.”

To devise such a plan is not easy; to carry it out is even more difficult. The staff in the Center of Refectories and Restaurants first heard about this proposal in a regular fortnightly meeting with the student canteen-supervisors. They said that the final decision to make Tongyuan open to the whole university during the night snack period, instead of running a new white houselet, resulted from numerous objective limitations. To build a new snack store entailed land planning, but the university had suffered a shortage of building land for long. Another obstacle was the limited number of Muslim cooking staff. In the end, the center resorted to an alternative scheme and re-arranged the working schedules of all the Muslim staff in order to provide night snacks in the canteen.

For most of the PKU students, perhaps the night snack period in Tongyuan means only a new, special dining option, but for the Muslim students, this shows the university’s respect for the minority. They have brought about a real change by effectively voicing their opinions. In the recent years, the university has been planning to extend Tongyuan into a two-story Muslim canteen. Also, the Center of Refectories and Restaurants has planned to substitute the unpopular dishes with new ones by collecting statistics on the students’ dining choices.

Written by: Yu Xiaohui
Edited by: Chen Jiayu
Source: Inside PKU, No.21, October 21, 2014