Administrators at an elite Beijing university have backed down from plans to further tighten restrictions on students as part of China’s “zero COVID-19” strategy after a weekend protest at the school, students said on Tuesday.
Graduate students at Peking University staged the protest on Sunday over the school’s decision to erect a sheet-metal wall to keep them further sequestered on campus, while allowing faculty to come and go freely.
Discontent had already been simmering over regulations prohibiting them from ordering in food or having visitors, and daily COVID-19 testing.
A citywide lockdown of Shanghai and expanded restrictions in Beijing in the past few weeks have raised questions about the economic and human costs of China’s strict virus controls, which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has said is a success compared with other major nations.
People have grumbled privately or online, while some Shanghai residents have clashed with police, volunteers and others trying to enforce lockdowns and take people to quarantine centers.
Many of the Peking University students protesting outside a dormitory took smartphone videos as Chen Baojian (陳寶劍), the deputy secretary of the university’s CCP committee, admonished them through a megaphone to end the protest and talk with him one-on-one.
“Please put down your mobile phones, protect Peking University,” Chen said, to which one student yelled: “Is that protection? How about our rights and interests?”
The crowd of about 200 clapped and cheered as a half dozen protesters broke through the sheet-metal barrier behind Chen.
The phone videos were shared on social media, but removed by government censors.
Some supportive comments remained, although many were also taken down, while some videos remain on Twitter, which is blocked in China.
“Peking University students are great,” one person wrote on Chinese social media. “Fight for rights. A single spark can start a prairie fire.”
Peking University is among a handful of elite institutions that have played prominent roles in political movements including the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution and the student-led 1989 pro-democracy protests centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that were crushed by the army.
Following Sunday’s protest, university leaders met with student representatives and agreed to remove the sheet-metal barrier, the South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.
One graduate student who took part in the protest, who did not want her name published due to possible repercussions, said that the wall had been taken down a short time later, and that other concessions were made.
“We achieved our goals Sunday night,” the student said.
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