Sat, Sep 08, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Students target inequality in China

Young rights advocates in China have spoken about the self-interest and materialism they say is prevalent among students at elite universities, but they would rather address growing inequality and other social concerns

By Sue-Lin Wong and Christian Shepherd  /  Reuters, HUIZHOU, China

While some students on China’s elite university campuses expressed sympathy for Yue and other rights advocates, others told reporters they saw them as “radicals” or said they had not heard of their activities.

The groups say the government has responded to their activities by, among other things, putting them under surveillance, pressuring their families and detaining many.

At dawn on Aug. 24, police raided an apartment in Huizhou where Yue and about 50 rights advocates were staying, taking everyone away. The activists had traveled to Huizhou to support workers at a factory owned by Jasic, a welding equipment company. Supporters of the groups in Beijing and other parts of the country were also detained.

That evening, Xinhua news agency released the first state media coverage of the protests, condemning the factory workers and alleging they had been supported by organizations backed by foreign governments. The story did not mention the raid in Huizhou.

The article made one reference to the students, saying they had been “swept up” by the “persistent agitation” of overseas Web sites.

Some students have been escorted back to their hometowns by their parents and the police, where they are under varying degrees of surveillance, according to interviews with some of the activists. Others remain missing.

For some, the Huizhou detentions were not the first time they have stared down Chinese authorities.

In December, eight were detained for “creating a disturbance” after organizing a reading group in the southern city of Guangzhou that delved into social issues and Marxist theory.

Shortly afterward, the group launched an online publication called Pioneer Magazine, with posts about student activism, factory workers, Marxism and social inequality. Articles are shared via github, a coding platform that remains unblocked in China.

Three of those detained in December, Xu Zhongliang (徐忠良), Zheng Yongming (鄭永明) and Gu Jiayue (顧佳悅) were also detained in the Huizhou raids and are still missing.

Reporters spoke with the activists before they were detained, in the four-bedroom apartment they had rented on the outskirts of Huizhou.

They had rosters to share duties for preparing meals and cleaning, as well as shooting and editing videos, outreach and social media.

Several students talked about the diverse range of social issues they were engaged in through on-campus clubs — from fighting against sexual harassment to improving the lives of migrant workers in megacities like Beijing.


About 50 students — including about 20 from Peking University — and other rights advocates originally came to Huizhou after some Jasic workers were detained by the authorities.

Their numbers more than doubled after a leader, Shen Mengyu (沈?鈺), was taken away in a car by three unidentified men on Aug. 11.

“Something that is really drilled into us at university is this concept of having sentiments for the family and country,” said Feng Ge (馮歌), 23, a Peking University student. “It can’t just be an empty slogan. Here we have an opportunity to act.”

Support for the factory workers has poured in from across the country, the students said, adding that many friends and classmates had sent donations over WeChat.

Yue and Zheng said new supporters had been calling each day, saying they wanted to join them, but were too afraid.

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