Hundreds of students enrolled at China’s Zhengzhou University in the capital of Henan Province gathered in protest of new lockdowns enacted across school grounds.
Crowds were seen chanting across campus, on balconies and in dormitories — demanding an end to the country’s prolonged lockdowns, and calling for the “restoration of basic human dignity.”
The mass protest, which took place on the evening of Sept. 28, saw students chant in unison: “Today they restrict our movement, tomorrow they cover our mouths and bind our hands,”— a reference to how oppression seeps slowly and worsens over time — culminating in arrests, jail time, and the loss of basic rights for those who speak out against government policy.
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Though it’s unclear the exact number of students involved in the protests, pictures and videos posted on social media suggest a turnout of at least several hundred people — many of which were heard chanting the slogan: “End the lockdowns now!”
According to Baidu, (China’s largest search engine), the university, which is located in Henan’s Zhengzhou city, has more than 47,000 full-time undergraduate students, over 24,000 graduate students, and about 2,700 international students from more than 100 countries currently enrolled.
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While other countries increasingly loosen COVID restrictions and resume normal travel, authorities in China have doubled down on attempts to control the virus. The draconian measures have resulted in prolonged lockdowns, movement curbs and travel bans across dozens of large cities and provinces.
In many cases, the heavy-handed measures have resulted in tragedy and violence as authorities strictly enforce “zero-COVID” rules, and resort to arresting or even beating people who violate the restrictions.
On Sept. 28, a social media group named “general awareness group” (喊楼总群) posted an announcement requesting that students call for an end to the lockdowns from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m atop their dormitory balconies.
“Our only demand is for the lockdowns to be lifted,” the announcement said.
“Students: freshmen and sophomores, the purpose of this protest is to take matters into our own hands, and reclaim the [college life] that we want,” the notice read, urging students to, “Fight for your dignity as a human being!”
Call out the hypocrites
The notice also called for students to address the “hypocritical behavior” of school staff.
“Shout out all the dissatisfaction in your heart, classmates!” the notice read, adding that students should: “Call out the arrogant higher-ups and teachers who are going to take the school bus home, while we can’t even leave our dorms.”
“Call out the employees who happily count their money while we are locked inside our rooms, and call out the students who are still being ignorant and insensitive!”
Beginning Sept. 28, dozens of students could be seen defiantly walking out of their dorms and gathering to protest. A student wearing a black T-shirt was filmed shouting: “It’s safe for teachers to go in and out [of campus], but why isn’t it safe for us?!”
Chants of: “End the lockdowns!” reverberated across campus as more students joined in protest.
Will lockdowns be lifted?
Following the protests, multiple students said on social media that the appeals appeared to be successful, and the lockdowns were to be temporarily lifted.
“The [campus management] said that the lockdown will be lifted for three days,” one student said in a group chat.
Although some social media users reported that campus administrators had decided to lift the lockdowns for three days, an announcement from Zhengzhou University posted on Sept. 29 said: “Please don’t gather on campus, and report any problems you notice to teachers or class cadres in a timely fashion.”
The notice did not mention that the lockdowns would be lifted for 3 days, or whether school policy regarding virus controls had changed.
Some netizens expressed concern for the students’ safety. One person said, “I am wary of the Chinese Communist Party’s capacity for retaliation. God forbid they detain all these kids and make them disappear.”
A great risk
Publicly speaking out against the government, or government-mandated policies, comes at a great risk in China. Speaking out can lead to arrest, jail time, torture while in detention or worse yet — a sudden disappearance.
Thousands of activists, human rights lawyers and religious believers remain behind bars or under strict surveillance for trying to defend or speak out for oppressed and disenfranchised groups in the communist country.
Another user warned that the authorities could label the protests as offenses of “malicious questioning” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” — a charge commonly used by Chinese authorities to detain and arrest people who speak out against government policy.
A user going by the name “Donglingyu” said: “Many of the students at Zhengzhou University are very clear about things, and how they’re bound by the Party’s control. I have known some of these students.”
“Support them, and give them at least a single glimmer of hope!” he said.
Vision Times reporter Li Muzi contributed to this report.