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University Students Gather in Washington to Support Chinese Protesters

Posters and candles are seen during a gathering at Portsmouth Square in San Francisco, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022.
Posters and candles are seen during a gathering at Portsmouth Square in San Francisco, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022.

Students in Washington are gathering to support people in China who are protesting Beijing’s draconian "zero-COVID" policy.

China’s lockdown protests began spreading following a deadly apartment fire last week in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi that killed at least 10. Reports that the victims were trapped inside because of zero-COVID policies sparked resistance in Xinjiang and later across the country.

When asked by Reuters at the regular press conference whether China is considering ending the zero-COVID policy soon amid the protests, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, after a long pause, said the reporter's question was "inconsistent with the facts."

The Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. did not immediately respond to a VOA request for comment.

Hundreds of people gathered at George Washington University on Monday evening to stand in solidarity with the Chinese protesters.

The event was initiated on Sunday by a Telegram account called "GWU Democracy Wall." Within 24 hours, the word spread on other social media platforms including Instagram, Twitter and the Chinese social media app WeChat.

Most of those at the event who spoke with VOA Mandarin asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation against their families in China by Beijing or by pro-Beijing groups while they are studying outside China.

A Chinese student whose last name is Dai told VOA that he was encouraged to participate after seeing the protesters in China who confronted the police face to face.

Dai said he wants to show "people around the world that the Chinese people won’t resign ourselves to adversity. We have our own ideas. We also dare to fight for our legitimate rights and interests."

Vanessa, a Taiwanese student at George Washington University, expressed surprise at the number of people who showed up to protest. As a co-organizer, she said the vigil was a grassroots event organized by volunteers who didn’t know one another before they came together to plan the event.

"As a Taiwanese, I've been watching this incident in China, and was moved and happy to see so many people finally have the courage to stand up. Taiwan had the same experience decades ago, and then it took a lot of efforts and the sacrifices of many predecessors to get what we have in Taiwan today,"she said.

A half Chinese, half Taiwanese American student whose last name is Hsu and who also studies at George Washington University spoke to VOA Mandarin.

"I think the Chinese people are actually very brave," she said, "especially the younger generation, everyone knows what is right and what is wrong. But because of such a regime, many young people with ideas can’t do anything, because they are worried about their own safety. However, the recent protests in China showed me that there is hope."

Rory O'Connor, a student of political theory and Asian studies at Catholic University, told VOA Mandarin that his Eastern European heritage and that region’s experience with communism made him want to support the Chinese protesters.

"It is the latest in a long line of injustices committed by the [Chinese Communist Party] upon long-suffering and sort of defiant people, and to see that people who have been angry for some time but are finally willing to overlook the risks and simply do what they believe is right and live within the truth. I think that's admirable," he said.