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Peking University students protest China’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions

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Hundreds of students at China’s most prestigious university tore down a metal wall and yelled at school administrators trying to seal them in their dormitory – in a rare case of widespread public anger in a street protest against official coronavirus controls.

The protest at Peking University in Beijing late Sunday is the latest example of student dissent in response to controls that include confining students to their dorms for weeks, requiring appointments to use communal bathrooms and their ban on showering.

A student who attended the protest, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said students at Wanliu, an off-campus dormitory in Beijing’s Haidian district, were growing frustrated with the restrictions prohibiting them from leaving to go to the main campus or even to the hospital. Cafeteria options had become limited, including for minority students with dietary restrictions, and food deliveries were blocked, the student said.

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On Sunday evening, students discovered workers erecting a sheet metal wall separating dormitories from faculty quarters, which would allow faculty members to come and go while restricting students to the compound. The news spread via a WeChat group. Soon, 200-300 students crowded outside the dormitory, and some of them started tearing down the wall to the cheers of the crowd.

“I didn’t expect the support to be so strong and to have so many people expressing their demands,” the student said.

Footage posted online showed students yelling at the university’s vice president. After about two hours, the protest dispersed as student representatives continued to meet with university staff until the early hours.

China is one of the few countries pursuing a zero covid policy through strict lockdowns, mass testing and restrictions on resident movement. As controls continue to cripple daily life, residents have begun to lose patience with once-vaunted government methods.

The protest, though short and relatively small, is of greater significance for having taken place at Peking University (PKU), also known as Beida, which has played a key role in previous political movements, such than the student protests of 1989 which were crushed by the army. In 2018, dozens of PKU students were arrested for supporting factory workers in southern China who were trying to form a union.

News of Sunday’s protest was quickly censored on Chinese social media, but not before netizens were able to see videos and posts from students involved. Many on microblogging site Weibo praised the group for their bravery, with some referring to the dismantling of the fence as the Berlin Wall was being torn down. Some published excerpts from Youth, a literary magazine launched in 1915 that called on Chinese youth to launch an intellectual and cultural movement to revitalize the country.

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“Beida students are really something, wrote one user on Weibo. “I want to be a Beida student in my next life,” posted another. “It must be Beida,” wrote one commenter, referring to the school‘s history as a center for student activism.

The protest in Beijing is one of the first examples of students demonstrating in person against the pandemic’s chaotic controls on campuses. Students at Nankai University, where they had been confined for nearly two months, hoisted red banners from university buildings in early May criticizing the containment measures.

Last month at Tongji University in Shanghai, a student representative on a Zoom call with school administrators to discuss food safety and student access to showers and toilets grew impatient. when he was not allowed to speak. He wrote on a presentation slide that he silently shared with the group: “Stop reading your notes. Anyone can do it. Can you please reactivate us. »

Last month, students at East China Normal University in Shanghai protested shower restrictions. A student, who said she hadn’t showered in 12 days, used black tape to write on her door and shared washing machines: ‘I want to shower! »

At PKU, the wall construction project at Wanliu has been canceled and students can now go to the main campus, according to the student who attended the protest. A post from the university said the school had set up dancing video games in several dorms, in an apparent effort to appease students.

“What we did was nothing big or powerful. We just wanted to do normal requests, be able to commute to get slightly better food, but I didn’t expect it to be so hard to make such a normal request,” the student said.

“Yet I also didn’t expect that this small act of resistance could give so many people some hope and strength. It shows how hard it is to resist in this place.