Students protest against China university lockdowns citing lack of virus cases and lack of consistency

Students at the Shichahai sports school attend a class in Beijing, China, May 18, 2016.
PHOTO: Reuters

Chinese students have taken their anger to social media to protest against what they called a rigid, one-size-fits-all restriction imposed by university management as classes resumed on campus over the past month.

Since schools reopened in late August , some 37 million university students have been placed under blanket campus lockdowns because of the coronavirus pandemic .

For example, at Shanxi University in central China, students have been put on strict lockdown and security guards were sent to attend the school gates at all times to ensure no students left the campus without approval from school administrators, according to student Zhang Li.

Zhang told the South China Morning Post she had not set foot outside the campus since the school term resumed this month even though there had been no new local Covid-19 cases for months.

The epidemic is under control in large parts of China and in most cities the only new cases are coming from abroad.

According to China’s health commission, by late on Wednesday there were seven new Covid-19 cases in the country. All were imported and there were no new local cases. There are a total of 167 confirmed active cases in China.

Restaurants and cinemas have reopened , with social distancing and sanitation rules.

The measures by mainland universities across China to close campuses and minimise the chance of Covid-19 spread have stoked widespread discontent among students and teaching staff. The collective concern eventually resulted in the central government in Beijing directing schools to relax the restrictions.

Chinese university students staged their anger on Weibo over the weekend. On China’s answer to Twitter there were heated social media postings of students screaming in their dormitories for more than 30 minutes.

A hashtag relating to the topic was read more than 150 million times before it was censored.

Strict exit controls coincided with campus food prices rising as well as internet and shower time being cut short.

Furthermore, the rules appeared to be targeting students only while faculty and staff were exempt. Zhang said she had seen teachers, construction workers and canteen staff come and go freely, without needing a permit.

“Many of our plans have been messed up by the lockdown, we couldn’t have part-time jobs, attend training or driving classes or take tests for certificates,” Zhang said.

The rules feel more like a formality to Chen Chen, a second-year student at the South China Agricultural University in the southern city of Guangzhou.

When he went back to school on August 28, he went through several levels of temperature checks and registration. But this week, first-year students were going through military training on campus and were not following strict social distancing rules, he said, which defeated the purpose of the restrictions.

It is not the first time China’s rigid management style has made social media headlines. In August, the Xinjiang government in western China relaxed lockdown rules after residents flooded Weibo with complaints about the restrictions which had kept them trapped at home for more than a month.

There were also claims people were forced to take traditional Chinese medicine , which has not been proven to alleviate Covid-19 symptoms.

In response to the latest wave of student objections, officials with the Ministry of Education’s epidemic prevention and control unit have urged local education authorities across the country to oversee campus management.

Meanwhile, universities are also asked to consider the views of students and teaching staff when it comes to campus management issues, according to a notice published online by the Ministry of Education last week.

And university management has been asked to simplify the red tape required for students seeking to leave campus on medical grounds or for an internship, job application or family visit.

But for students like Zhang, the wait seems endless.

“I must’ve written more than 10 letters, but administrators never replied. They overlook all student complaints,” she said.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.