A student who attended the demonstration, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of security concerns, said students at Wanliu, an off-campus dorm in Beijing’s Haidian district, were increasingly frustrated by restrictions banning them from leaving to go to the main campus or even to the hospital. Cafeteria options had become limited, including for minority students with dietary restrictions, and food deliveries were blocked, the student said.
Footage posted online showed students shouting at the vice president of the university as he appeals to them to go back to their dorms and claims he is just trying to safeguard the school. “Is this protecting? What about our rights,” a student can be heard yelling in a video. After about two hours, the protest dispersed while student representatives continued to meet with university staff until the early morning.
The demonstration, while short and relatively small, carries larger significance for having taken place at Peking University (PKU), also known as Beida, which played key roles in previous political movements, such as the 1989 student protests that were crushed by the military. In 2018, dozens of PKU students were detained for supporting factory workers in southern China attempting to form a union.
News about Sunday’s protest was quickly censored on Chinese social media but not before Internet users were able to see videos and posts from students involved. On the microblogging site Weibo, many praised the group for its bravery, with some referring to the fence’s dismantling as the Berlin Wall being torn down. Some posted excerpts from the Youth, a literary magazine started in 1915 that called on China’s young people to launch an intellectual and cultural movement to revitalize the country.
The protest in Beijing is one of the first examples of students demonstrating in person over chaotic pandemic controls on campuses. Students at Nankai University, where they had been confined for almost two months, in early May hoisted from university buildings red banners criticizing lockdown measures.
Last month at Tongji University in Shanghai, a student representative on a Zoom call with school administrators to discuss food safety and students’ access to showers and toilets grew frustrated when he was not allowed to speak. He wrote on a presentation slide that he shared silently with the group: “Stop reading from your notes. Anyone can do that. Can you please unmute us.”
Last month, students at East China Normal University in Shanghai protested against restrictions on showering. One student, who said she had not showered in 12 days, used black tape to write on the bathroom door and on shared washing machines: “I want to shower!”
At PKU, the plan to build the wall at Wanliu was canceled, and students are now able to commute to the main campus, according to the student who attended the protest. A post from the university said the school set up dance video games in several dorms, in an apparent effort to placate students.
This content was originally published here.