SHIJIAZHUANG, April 22 (Xinhua) -- You would be forgiven for thinking that a picture uploaded last week on Sina Weibo was a snapshot of a correctional facility: Iron bars guard every stairwell and red propaganda banners flutter in the wind.
However, this compound is not a prison, it is a prestigious school in north China .
Hengshui No. 2 High School in Hengshui City, Hebei Province, has reportedly installed "anti-suicide iron barriers" across its campus in an effort to protect pupils, and with at least two of the school's students committing suicide in the past year, who can doubt their intentions?
On Wednesday, one member of staff told the Beijing Times newspaper that the school "did install 'anti-suicide barriers' [...] out of safety concerns," but that they also put plants on the barriers to "lighten up the mood".
"The pot plants are supposed to make the building feel less bleak," said the teacher.
Hengshui boasts several high schools notorious for their exacting approach to exam preparation. Many say these schools are nothing more than sweatshops that churn out successful "gaokao", the controversial college entrance exam, results.
The gaokao, which usually takes place every June, has been criticized as an academic treadmill that confines students' creativity and interests, not to mention exerting tremendous pressure on students.
One student told the newspaper that many of the school's buildings were only "partly guarded", but the building for "grade three students", those due to sit the gaokao, was fully guarded.
Some people interviewed by Xinhua did not seem alarmed by the barriers.
"I think it's understandable; the school is doing it for our safety," one student said.
Tian Susu, an expert with the Hebei Academy of Social Sciences, said the barriers may make the school feel like a penitentiary, but it was an extreme example.
Netizens, however, lashed out, with many saying that students had been turned into "angels in prison".
"Maybe the school should consider a policy of more love and care?" read one Weibo comment.
Officials with the school and the local education bureau declined to comment when contacted by Xinhua.