A group of students at an elite Beijing University campus in China protested strict Covid-19 lockdown requirements on Sunday, arguing the measures were poorly communicated and unfair. The government quickly moved to censor videos and photos posted on the Internet in China.
Students were upset that they couldn’t order food and were forced to self-isolate, while teachers and their families were allowed to leave campus freely, according to posts on a school and student forum.
Authorities attempted to erect a wall separating students from faculty and staff, prompting more than 200 people to leave their dorms on Sunday in protest, according to a student who witnessed it. The person asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. Two professors who witnessed the episode also declined to be named.
Although the protests were brief, and apparently ended peacefully, videos and photos of the event quickly spread across the Chinese internet on Sunday before being censored. In recent weeks, fears have grown that officials could lock down Beijing to stop the spread of the virus.
Shanghai’s harsh quarantines, which have led to food and medical shortages, have also prompted sporadic protests over the past two months.
A student protest at such a prestigious university underscores a growing challenge for officials to quell anger and unrest even as they try to stop the spread of the highly contagious variant of Omicron.
Authorities began censoring videos and photos early Monday morning. One of the best Chinese universities, Peking University occupies a special place in the cultural and political life of the capital. A history of occasional organized unrest has made it a focus for officials. In 2018, authorities harshly cracked down on a student-led campaign for workers’ rights taking place there.
In the footage, groups of students appeared to be massing in protest at a satellite campus of the university where a mix of students, faculty and staff live. In one video, students chanted against the measures, which had disproportionately affected students. In another clip, a school official promised to bring down the wall and asked students to return to their dorms.
On an online forum, a student described the difference in lockdown policy for students and faculty as contradictory.
“Student confinement does not make sense,” the student wrote. Another called the policy “really a joke”.
Liu Yi contributed to the research.