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February 4, 2023

Students hold vigil for victims of Urumqi fire to show solidarity with protesters in China

By JIAYI LI | December 3, 2022

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Flyers were posted around campus to inform the Hopkins community about the Urumqi fire and the protests in China. 

Hopkins affiliates and community members gathered outside Brody Learning Commons on Nov. 28 to hold a candlelight vigil for victims of the Urumqi fire in Xinjiang, China. 

Distributed leaflets described the fire as one of the many tragedies resulting from the Chinese government’s COVID-19 policy. Due to lockdown-related blockages, the fire department was unable to reach the building in time.

Students brought candles and flowers to pay tribute to the dead. Urumqi road signs were also present, which represented areas where protests occurred due to rising concerns regarding human rights oppressions associated with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) zero-covid policy.

Some interviewees were granted anonymity by The News-Letter due to concerns about the Chinese government’s mass surveillance, even in countries where free speech is protected by law.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Durkoat, a graduate student at the University using a pseudonym, described the continuous lockdown as a virtual border between China and the United States.

“[My mother] has [been] wanting to go back to China because her parents and her grandparents [live there],“ they said. “She wants to make sure she gets to see them. She's not sure when is the next time she can see them.” 

Attendees shared personal stories on how their families have been affected by the policies of the CCP. They wrote messages to the Chinese community at the University on sticky notes. 

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Senior Bonnie Jin, a Taiwanese American student at the University, highlighted the importance of solidarity between different communities in an interview with The News-Letter.

“As a student on this campus, I should be in solidarity with students around the world who are protesting against oppression, police brutality and state violence,” she said. “We face that here in the U.S. obviously in a very different way. It just makes it all the more important for students in the U.S. to be in solidarity with students in China.”

Jin also addressed the depiction of recent protests in China in English-language media. She emphasized that many people belittle the significance of the protests by simply portraying them as anti-lockdown protests.

“[It’s] important to understand that it's more than just [anti-lockdown protests]. It's connected with workers rights at Foxconn,“ she said. “It's connected with state violence and police brutality.”

Strikes broke out at Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, China last week, the world’s largest iPhone factory, due to alleged violation of workers law by the employer. Workers who attempted to flee the factory campus under COVID-19 lockdown were stopped and beaten by the police.

At the event, attendees also chanted anti-CCP slogans, including “We want dignity, not lies. Be citizens, not slaves.”

This slogan first appeared on a banner on Sitong Bridge in Beijing on Oct. 13. and was featured in various protests in China and around the world.

They also read in unison the Chinese poem “The Answer,” written by Bei Dao during the 1976 Tiananmen protests in response to the persecution of Chinese citizens during the Cultural Revolution. 

Attendees also sang along to a recording of “Do You Hear the People Sing,” a song from the musical Les Misérables. In the musical, the song represents a revolutionary call to overcome adversity. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Xiaoming, an organizer of the vigil using a pseudonym, discussed the importance of raising awareness of the ongoing crisis in China. 

“Hopkins as an educational institution has an obligation to educate everyone about China in a fair way,” she said. “There's always some problematic way of looking at China from the West, whether it's demonization or putting the U.S. over everybody else. We want [people] to really have a sense of what's happening elsewhere in the world.”

According to her, the organizers first came to the idea of a vigil when they heard that students at other universities were doing similar things following the Urumqi fire.

Students from other institutions in Maryland also joined the vigil. 

Zaozao, a senior at the Maryland Institute College of Art using a pseudonym, shared her art project Home Sweet Home. Her project encourages people to fold a photocopy of the first page of their passport with crucial information removed into a paper plane and share the recordings of themselves throwing it. 

“The nimble paper plane may not be able to carry away much misery, but I still hope it could bring us somewhere in this muted age,” she said.

Students also spray painted the Blue Jay statue to raise awareness.

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Xiaoming shared a message with other Chinese students at the University whose families were affected by the protests.

“Be safe. Be well," she said.

Editor’s note: The original article did not include the songs sang by the protestors and has been edited for accuracy.  

The News-Letter regrets this error. 


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