A group of students at a campus of China’s elite Peking University protested strict Covid-19 lockdown requirements on Sunday, arguing that the measures were poorly communicated and unfair. The government quickly moved to censor videos and photos that spread on China’s internet.
The students were upset that they were unable to order food and that they were required to isolate, while teachers and their families were allowed to leave the campus freely, according to posts on a school forum and one student.
The authorities tried to put up a wall separating students from faculty and staff, prompting more than 200 people to leave their dorms on Sunday to protest, according to a student who witnessed it. The person asked not to be named out of concerns about retaliation. Two professors who witnessed the episode also declined to be named.
Although the demonstrations were brief, and apparently ended peacefully, videos and photos of the event quickly spread on the Chinese internet Sunday before being censored. In recent weeks, fears have been rising that officials might lock down Beijing to stop the spread of the virus.
Harsh quarantines in Shanghai, which led to shortages of food and medical care, also prompted sporadic protests over the past two months.
A student demonstration at such a high-profile university underscores a growing challenge for officials, who must assuage anger and unrest even as they try to halt the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Authorities began to censor the videos and photos early Monday morning. One of China’s top universities, Peking University holds a special place in the cultural and political life of the capital. A history of occasional organized unrest has made it a point of focus for officials. In 2018 authorities cracked down harshly on a student-led campaign for workers rights that took place there.
In the images, groups of students appeared to mass in protest on a satellite campus of the university where a mix of students, faculty and staff live. In one video, the students chanted slogans against the measures, which had disproportionately affected students. In another clip, a senior school official promised to take down the wall and asked students to return to their dorms.
On an online forum, one student called the difference in lockdown policy for students and faculty contradictory.
The “student lockdown is meaningless,” the student wrote. Another called the policy “a joke indeed.”
Liu Yi contributed research.