Student anger over lockdowns still fuels sporadic protests

New protests broke out on several university campuses in China this week, despite attempts by university administrations to clamp down on student unrest after the anti-‘Zero-COVID’ protests that took place on more than 100 university campuses and in many major cities in China at the end of November.

The protests at first appeared to have died down, with no reports of street protests on Tuesday 6 December in Beijing, Shanghai or other major cities, which were the site of several protests from 26 to 28 November, triggered by a deadly fire in an apartment block in the Xinjiang region.

Reports said residents of the apartment block had been unable to escape when it was sealed off as part of strict ‘Zero-COVID’ measures.

Small pockets of protest action were reported on campuses this week via social media sites, an indication that there is still simmering anger and frustration at the way in which university authorities are handling student grievances over COVID restrictions.

For example, students at Wuhan University gathered on 4 December to call for an open process and transparent information from their university administration, according to social media posts.

Campus protests this week appeared to have been triggered by university authorities suddenly putting the campus into lockdown, after a single COVID case was detected.

Lifting of harsh measures

Most of the reported student protests occurred before Wednesday 7 December, the day upon which Beijing announced the countrywide lifting of some of its harsher measures, such as forcing people into mass quarantine camps, and a decrease in testing.

Lockdowns will in future be more ‘targeted’, aimed at certain buildings or units rather than whole neighbourhoods, according to the new rules announced by China’s National Health Commission. Areas identified as ‘high risk’ should come out of lockdown after five days if no new cases are found, the commission said.

The commission had already issued 20 new rules on 11 November, cautioning university administrations against “overreaction” and prohibiting “random closures” of schools and universities. It announced at the time that lockdowns should be lifted if no positive cases were registered after five days.

Earlier this year university administrations were ordered to swiftly resolve student grievances after major protests in Shanghai during a long March-April lockdown, but students have continued to complain on social media about the lack of communication by university officials.

Nanjing protest

On 5 December, students at Nanjing University of Technology gathered to protest a five-day lockdown announced by the university authorities after a COVID-positive case was detected at the university. According to Chinese social media reports from the university, some students had asked to go back to their hometowns during the campus lockdown.

On Twitter, one student said students feared not being able to travel home for the winter break.

Video footage circulating on the internet showed students shouting slogans on campus, including calling for university leaders to stand down, and berating a teacher who tried to negotiate with them.

Separate video footage showed a police car arriving on the campus, but there was no apparent violence and students soon dispersed after university officials agreed to collect students’ written appeals, according to netizens. One student said via social media that after the incident the university postponed exams and said they would allow ‘voluntary’ returns to hometowns.

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