Hundreds of students in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin gathered on the Tianjin University campus late on Thursday, in protest at COVID-19 restrictions.
Chanting “Down with formalism! Down with bureaucracy!”, the students gathered on the university’s Beiyang Square, calling on university leaders to come out and talk to them about arrangement for classes and exams amid ongoing zero-COVID restrictions.
The scenes were eerily reminiscent of the early stages of the 1989 student movement, which later took over Beijing’s Tiananmen Square for weeks on end with demands for democratic reforms and the rule of law.
Those protests culminated in a bloody massacre of civilians by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the night of June 3-4, with an unknown number of casualties.
Students are calling on the university administration to clarifying arrangements for online classes, final exams, and when students need to be back on campus if they decide to wait out the lockdown at home.
The protest came after no response was forthcoming.
Video clips posted to social media showed hundreds of young people gathered under streetlights on Thursday evening, shouting “Down with formalism! Down with bureaucracy!” and calling on management to come forward for dialogue.
One poster called on the school to let students go back home to take online classes, only coming back for their exams, but the university authorities have refused to say when these will take place.
It called for further protests outside Zhengdong Library on Saturday.
Sick of confinement
Social media posts said the students are sick of being confined to their dorms and forced to take online classes, which they could do from home.
Posts also said the university had conceded to most of the students’ demands.
A Tianjin resident surnamed Xu said the school had to compromise to avoid larger protests ahead of the politically sensitive 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre next week.
“The college students are knowledgeable, literate, and united, and the protests are definitely legitimate,” Xu said. “The [university] made concessions, because they had to; it’ll soon be the anniversary of June 4, 1989.”
The protests came after the Tianjin municipal government locked down the city’s Nankai district, forcing residents to stay home, and carry out regular COVID-19 tests.
Less stringent restrictions are already under way in Heping district.
Tianjin University’s Beiyang campus has been under COVID-19 restrictions since Jan. 8, with more than 15,000 students confined to their dorms since then.
Students are angry that the university has made no move to explain or justify the lockdown since announcing it.
Jiangxi-based current affairs commentator Zhang Kun said the lockdowns have left regular citizens at the mercy of petty officials.
“The country is being run by mediocre people, and the incompetent are doing evil,” Zhang told RFA. “The slightly more competent ones have been purged.”
“The longer this zero-COVID policy persists, the worse it’s going to get,” he said. “The reality has hit everyone in the face.”
The Tianjin protest came after hundreds of students gathered at two Beijing universities earlier this week with similar demands.
Hundreds of students at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) and at Beijing Normal University (Beishida) gathered to show their displeasure with current restrictions on their movements, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to roll out its zero-COVID policy across the country following a grueling weeks-long lockdown in Shanghai.
This year’s Tiananmen massacre anniversary is all the more sensitive as it falls ahead of the 20th party congress later this year, during which CCP leader Xi Jinping is hoping to be voted in for an unprecedented third term in office.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.