Over the weekend of September 20, Chinese university students around the country screamed from their dormitories in a wave of protests against campus lockdowns, inconsistent COVID-19 prevention policies and unsatisfactory campus management. 

Although China has officially stemmed the coronavirus outbreak, with only 184 active cases and most newly reported cases coming from abroad, the Ministry of Education ordered in an official notice published on August 13 all universities resuming class in September to enforce a closed-campus policy. Angered at the way their universities have implemented this measure, notably by eliminating the 8-day holiday for China’s National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival, students in Xi’an, Guangzhou, and Qingdao (among other cities) posted videos on Chinese social media showing entire dormitories screaming phrases like “unblock [the school]”, and “let us out” for nearly 30 minutes over the weekend of September 20 and early the following week. 

In universities in Xi’an, administration quickly responded with promises to ease exit restrictions, restore the holiday for National Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival, ameliorate day-to-day campus services and strengthen communication between students and administration.
 
Xi’an students scream to “unblock [the school]”
Early in the week of September 21, videos of multiple universities protesting in Xi’an, a city in central China, emerged on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

This video by Vortex Media, a well-known Chinese online media, shows amateur clips of students screaming from their dormitories at Xi’an International Studies University on the evening of September 20. The video notes that “students were dissatisfied with the lockdown of the school and rising prices in campus services. The students shouted collectively in their dormitories for nearly 30 minutes.” When asked about the protest, a student interviewed by the media said that “many normal channels of communication have little effect, so we’ve resorted to expressing our demands in such a radical way.”

On September 21, Vortex Media, a well-known Chinese online media, published this video of students screaming from their dormitories at Xi’an International Studies University on the evening of September 20.

Other problems, according to a student interviewed by Ming De Media, include campus supermarkets that open sporadically and sell moldy food, and bathrooms that are often out of order.

The following night, students at Xi’an Translation Institute also staged their own protest. On a Weibo page called “I go to school in Xi’an”, an anonymous student sent in a video with students screaming “unblock” from their dormitories at around 10pm on September 21. The student writes that “the school isn’t allowing vacation for National Day, the lockdown continues and the school is preparing to resume morning reading [a period of self-study and recitation].”

On September 21, a Weibo page called "I go to school in Xi'an" published a video by an anonymous student of students at Xi’an Translation Institute screaming “unblock” from their dormitories at around 10pm that night.

In comments under the video, students expand on their grievances. The user RealMe0209 writes that “the second-year students were asked not to wear masks for their morning reading. Students are required to do volunteer duty for more than 6 hours. School prices are rising, utility bills have increased, second-year students have not had time off for the Mid-Autumn Festival for two years now. We pay the same tuition [as before], but we’re treated differently.”

In a comment posted on September 21 under the video of screaming students at Xi'an Translation Institute, this user expands on the grievances of the students, including rising school prices, no time off for the Mid-Autumn Festival, and unmasked morning reading.

Another user posted a commented screenshot of what looks like an official university communiqué, questioning why outdoor morning readings only applied to second-year undergraduates and why the school didn’t allow students to wear masks during these mandatory gatherings.
 
In another comment under the video of screaming students at Xi'an Translation Institute, this user questions the university's rules, including outdoor morning readings only applied to second-year undergraduates and the banning of masks during these gatherings.
 

"Five appeals, not one less!"

Inspired by the Hong Kong anti-extradition protests, students at a university in Dongguan put forth their petitions, including the democratic election of student representatives, disclosure of details of regarding lockdown management and announcement of the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday arrangements, with the pro-democracy slogan : “Five appeals, not one less”. 

Chinese students at a university in Dongguan write their demands on school walls using the Hong Kong-inspired slogan "Five appeals, not one less".

This hashtag was censored on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
 
Universities respond quickly to students with concessions

University administrators were quick to respond to the students’ appeals. At noon on September 21 (the day after students at Xi’an International Studies University protested), the school issued a notice stating that it would simplify exit procedures for students, improve services and extend hours for dining and washing, better supervise food safety and price stability, and respond to student concerns through official channels in a timely manner.

An official notice published on September 21 on Xi’an International Studies University Weibo account indicating the changes the administration would implement in response to the protests.

At Xi’an Translation Institute, screenshots of school messages over WeChat posted on September 22 and 23 indicate that the restrictions were to be loosened. “Pre-epidemic regulations will resume : students will be able come and go on weekends, although non-essential trips would be restricted during weekdays. The school will restore the 8-day vacation for National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival. Normal teaching will gradually resume, including the outdoor morning reading for second years (a concession that the school does not seem to have granted the students).” There was no word on whether the school will allow students to wear masks for these gatherings.

Posted on September 23 under the Xi’an Translation Institute hashtag, this screenshot of a school administration message details the changes the university will make to loosen restrictions on student movement.
 
Posted on September 22 under the Xi’an Translation Institute hashtag, this screenshot says that the school will allow students to leave the campus at noon on Friday and restore the 8-day National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival holiday.


On September 18, a few days before the protests, the Ministry of Education issued a letter reminding universities to avoid a “one size fits all” and “simplified” approach to school lockdowns and to take into account the opinions of students and staff regarding school management.

In a Weibo post on September 21 about the student protests over university lockdowns, the young writer and well-known career blogger Geng Xiangshun wrote that although the intentions behind the school lockdowns were good, ”the long-term lockdown of schools will affect all aspects of student life, including searching for jobs and socializing. You can’t keep students locked up all the time.”