Hundreds of students at an elite Beijing university have protested against strict Covid-19 curbs on campus, in a rare show of defiance as anger mounts over virus controls.
China is the only major country adhering to a rigid zero-Covid policy and its restrictions have prompted frustration with lockdowns, spartan quarantine facilities and heavy handed enforcement.
In Beijing — which has reported more than 1,000 infections in recent weeks — most restaurants and public spaces have been shut and millions face daily testing and working from home.
Anger boiled over at the weekend at Peking University in Beijing after the school tried to impose tight new movement restrictions including a ban on food deliveries.
Locked-down students were already confined to just one part of the campus, banned from receiving visitors and tested daily.
Students who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals told AFP that at least 300 students crowded outside one dormitory on the university’s Wanliu campus and chanted in protest on Sunday.
“Everyone was really angry when the campus was fenced off at night and went to protest,” one said, adding that the restrictions had “totally destroyed everyone’s normal lives”.
She said the rules were much stricter for students than teaching staff, whose living quarters were separated by a fence that was later torn down by students.
Videos verified by AFP show hundreds of masked students gathered outside, chanting and heckling a university official.
Peking University vice principal Chen Baojian eventually addressed the crowd through a megaphone, according to a video provided by a protester, telling them to “go back to your dormitories in an orderly fashion”.
After the crowds dispersed, officials agreed to make it easier for students to travel out of the Wanliu campus to other parts of the university, and to provide grocery deliveries.
“They’ve made it so that everyone… must do whatever the government tells you to do, and all your rights and personal freedoms are stripped away,” a student told AFP.
On Monday AFP reporters saw two police vans parked outside a quiet campus.
When contacted by AFP the university said it was not a protest but “just students expressing their demands”.
The incident was rapidly censored on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, where many evoked memories of the country’s May 4 movement — mass protests by students in 1919.
Peking University was also the birthplace of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
“Today we witnessed Peking University students’ tradition of struggle rise from the ashes,” read one post.
Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said Peking University is a politically important institution and the government would “react swiftly and strongly to put an end to protests (there) before they can gather momentum”.
“Its students are the most elitist in the country and include a high percentage of offspring of senior cadres,” he told AFP.
“Even if the current events are very focused on specific grievances, such as measures over lockdown, they will be treated seriously by the leadership.”