Administrators of an elite Beijing university have backed away from plans to further tighten pandemic restrictions on students under China’s ‘zero-COVID’ strategy after a weekend protest at the school , according to students on Tuesday.
Peking University graduate students staged a rare but peaceful protest on Sunday against the school’s decision to erect a tin wall to keep them further sequestered on campus, while allowing professors to come and go freely. Discontent was already simmering over regulations prohibiting them from ordering food or having visitors, and daily COVID-19 tests.
A citywide lockdown in Shanghai and extensive restrictions in Beijing in recent weeks have raised questions about the economic and human costs of China’s tough virus controls, which the ruling Communist Party has heralded as a success by compared to other major nations with a much higher death toll. While most people have complained privately or online, some Shanghai residents have clashed with police, volunteers and others trying to impose lockdowns and take infected people to recovery centers. quarantine.
Scores of Peking University students protesting outside a dormitory on Sunday took cellphone videos as Chen Baojian, deputy secretary of the university’s Communist Party committee, urged them through a megaphone to end the protest. the demonstration and to talk to him one-on-one.
“Please turn off your cell phones, protect Peking University,” he said, to which a student shouted, “Is this protection? What about our rights and interests?”
The crowd of around 200 cheered and cheered as half a dozen protesters broke through the sheet metal barrier behind Chen.
The phone videos were quickly shared on social media, but just as quickly deleted by government censors. Some supportive comments remained, though many were also deleted, while some videos remain on Twitter, which is blocked in China.
“Peking University students are great!” wrote one person on popular social media platform Weibo. “Fight for rights. A single spark can ignite a prairie fire.”
The Communist Party is moving quickly to quash most activism and any signs of unrest, which it sees as a potential challenge to its grip on power. Peking University is among a handful of elite institutions that played a prominent role in political movements, including the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 and student-led pro-democracy protests in 1989 , centered on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, which were crushed by the military.
After the protest, university leaders met with student representatives and agreed to remove the sheet metal barrier, the South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.
A graduate student who took part in the protest, who did not want her name published due to possible repercussions, said the wall was taken down soon after and further concessions were made to students , including the organization of free deliveries to supermarkets.
“We achieved our goals on Sunday night,” said the student, who said she was confined to the university’s residential compound in Wanliu for 7 days before the protest.
The complex is about 5 kilometers (3 miles) southwest of Peking University’s main campus, housing junior faculty and graduate students. It also has a gym, supermarket and other facilities.
Authorities have tightened campus access restrictions and surveillance of classroom instruction and student life, making such protests extremely rare. In 2018, police detained students at schools, including Peking University, who had sought to form an alliance with protesting factory workers, displaying their refusal to tolerate even slight attempts at political activism.
While most other countries around the world have started easing restrictions and gradually reopening, China is tenaciously sticking to its zero COVID policy.
Strict lockdowns with most public spaces closed have wreaked havoc on jobs, supply chains and the broader economy, and are becoming increasingly difficult for people as the highly transmissible omicron variant proves more difficult to stop.
In Beijing, authorities restricted more residents to their homes on Tuesday as part of a now 3-week effort to control a small but lingering outbreak of COVID-19 in the Chinese capital.
Seven adjacent areas of the city’s Fengtai district have been designated lockdown zones for at least a week, with people ordered to stay at home in an area covering about 4 kilometers by 5 kilometers (2.5 miles by 3 miles). The area is near a wholesale food market which was closed indefinitely on Saturday following the discovery of a cluster there.
The additional restrictions come as Shanghai, China’s largest city, slowly begins to ease a citywide lockdown that has trapped most of its population for more than six weeks.
China recorded 1,100 new cases on Monday, the National Health Commission said on Tuesday. Of these, about 800 were in Shanghai and 52 in Beijing. The daily number of new cases in Shanghai has fallen steadily for more than two weeks, but authorities have moved slowly to ease restrictions, frustrating residents.
In Beijing, the number of cases remained stable but new clusters appeared in different parts of the city. City spokesman Xu Hejian said Beijing’s top priority was to screen people linked to the cluster in the wholesale food market and isolate those who tested positive. A second wholesale food market in Fengtai district was closed on Tuesday.
Most of Beijing is not on lockdown, but the streets are much quieter than usual with many shops closed and people working from home.
Rising reported from Bangkok. Associated Press researcher Chen Si in Shanghai and press assistant Caroline Chen in Guangzhou, China, contributed to this report
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