Parents might worry puppy love will get in the way of their children's studies - or worse - and forbid them from spending free time with the opposite sex. But Heilongjiang province has gone a step farther and introduced a regulation listing puppy love as misconduct.
The Regulation for the Protection of Minors of Heilongjiang Province reads: 'Parents and other guardians should reprimand and educate children who are minors when they are involved in misconduct and unlawful acts including 'young love', illegal cohabitation, drug use and prostitution and should prohibit and rectify such misconduct and unlawful acts.'
Heated discussions have taken place in the media and on websites nationwide. An online opinion poll held by www.baidu.com indicates that 39.5 per cent of 99,013 voters think puppy love is a natural emotion among teenagers and should not be stopped while 2.8 per cent think it should be banned.
Many critics have also pointed out that puppy love (literally 'early romance' in Chinese) is ill-defined and that the authorities are being too simple-minded.
In the face of such criticism, Wu Wenbin, deputy director of the Committee for Internal and Judicial Affairs of the local People's Congress, which was responsible for drafting the regulation, said some people had an incomplete understanding of the new regulation. Wu pointed out that it did not directly ban puppy love. Rather, he said, it reinforces the responsibility of parents and guardians to protect their children.
Li Zhining, a psychological consultant at South China Normal University's Affiliated High School, said there is no definition of puppy love. 'Educators in Guangdong call it overly close company with the opposite sex,' Li said. 'It's understandable and natural that teenagers have the desire to affiliate with the opposite sex.'
Liu Chunyan, a doctoral graduate in sociology at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, said puppy love is a social issue that needs extensive discussion.
'Puppy love is a physiological and psychological phenomenon that indicates the development of teenagers' cognition, emotion and will-power. The Heilongjiang's legislation banning it violates human nature,' she said.
Providing guidance, rather than banning it, is a better way to reduce the negative social effects of puppy love, Liu added. 'Relationship education that focuses on the correct attitude towards love and sex, ethics, morals and values should be provided for teenagers,' she said.
Wang Jinfei, a 23-year-old university student from Harbin (), thinks romance between teenagers is not a bad thing. She is also concerned that, due to the rebellious nature of teenagers, the regulation will encourage more juveniles to have romantic relationships.
'Puppy love is a kind of emotion, and it is natural. It cannot be controlled by regulations,' Wang said.
'The legislation was made perhaps because puppy love has some negative effects, such as teenage pregnancy and abortion. Instead of enforcing a law, giving appropriate guidance is more important.'
But Wu Liangying, whose son fell in love in high school, believes that it is a bad thing. She said teenagers should concentrate on studying and romance will be a definite distraction for them. 'Teenagers ... are not mature enough to handle relationships and it may result in problems, such as teenage pregnancy.'
But she doesn't think legislation will work. 'The problem can't be solved legally. The key lies in family education.'