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July 4, 2024

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What’s that putrid smell in classrooms? A risky lark called ‘stinky water’

Spittle, cockroaches, stinky tofu juice, starch, leg hair. Students are mixing repulsive cocktails of ingredients, left to ferment in bottles until they explode and spray noxious liquid onto classrooms.

So-called “stinky water” antics are sweeping schools across China, and the trend has some school officials and psychologists worried.

The ingredients can be everyday items, including ink, disinfectants, insecticides, food waste and even dead insects or small animals.

The ingredients are listed on the side of a bottle. Students bring their bottles to school and compete to see whose concoction is the most putrid.

For many students, these unauthorized chemical experiments are exciting.

“It’s like a science project,” said an elementary school student surnamed Lan from Shanghai. “We see who can make the most horrifying, destructive concoction.”

However, these shenanigans can have unintended consequences.

“One bottle exploded in our classroom,” a local student posted on the social media platform Red. “The smell was so bad that several classmates vomited.”

Social media platforms have fueled the trend, with videos and posts detailing the ingredients and processes for making “stinky water” going viral.

A popular online recipe for stinky water includes two eggs, one bottle of essence of rose, two black pen refills, three spiders, a few flies and two cockroaches — all fermented for one month.

“I saw it online and wanted to try it myself,” Lan told Shanghai Daily. “It looked interesting and different.”

This phenomenon is just the latest in a series of crazes among students. Recently, the “carrot knife” and “cigarette cards” have also gathered momentum.

The “carrot knife” is a plastic toy that is retractable and foldable, resembling the shape of a carrot, while “cigarette cards” involve collecting and trading cards made from various brands of cigarette packs.

These bizarre antics often reflect deeper psychological needs, said psychologist Zhang Yi. They provide a sense of peer acceptance and excitement, especially for students under academic pressure. The appeal lies in the thrill of the forbidden and the communal aspect of sharing these experiences with classmates.

Health experts warn about the potential dangers of “stinky water.”

Yao Qinghua from Zhejiang Xinhua Hospital told Hunan Daily that these mixtures can sometimes produce toxic gases like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which can cause respiratory issues and skin reactions.

Another concern is the risk of explosions. When the bottles explode, they can cause injuries and spread harmful substances, said Yao.

If “stinky water” causes explosions or injuries in classrooms, schools and parents could face civil liability for damages, said Li Enze, a senior lawyer at Yipai Law Firm.

Intentional use of stinky water to cause serious harm or property damage could lead to criminal charges.

Additionally, online vendors selling stinky water to minors may be violating the law due to potentially dangerous chemical reactions, Li explained.

In response to the growing trend, some schools have implemented strict rules against making “stinky water.”

At an elementary school in Beijing, students caught making these mixtures must write 200-400 word atonement essays and have their parents sign them. Despite these measures, students often find ways to continue their experiments outside school.

“It’s a way for students to seek attention and entertainment,” said professor Yu Xiaoting from Zhejiang Normal University.

“They are drawn to the novelty and the challenge of creating the smelliest mixture,” she said.

She recommends that schools provide more engaging and constructive activities to channel student curiosity and creativity.

Psychologist Liu Hongyan noted that while the trend might seem alarming, it is part of a broader pattern of adolescent behavior.

“Students are naturally curious and eager to explore,” she said. “The key is to channel those traits positively.”

Liu emphasized the importance of open communication between parents, teachers and students to address the underlying motivation for such behavior. Schools are urged to instruct students about the hazards involved and provide more productive scientific exploration.

For instance, a Beijing teacher proposed that students learn to make traditional snacks, such as tanghulu, which involve assembling complicated ingredients and provide a reward at the end. “It’s about turning a negative trend into a learning opportunity,” said professor Yu.


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