On June 8, 2021, police beat students with batons and fired tear gas at close range during their response to a protest at Zhongbei College. The students were protesting a government plan to merge this and other colleges with vocational schools.
On June 4, provincial education authorities in China’s Jiangsu province announced plans to enforce a merger of 13 independent colleges with vocational schools in the province. Students from Zhongbei College, an independent institution affiliated with Nanjing Normal University, were informed that the College would be merged with Jiangsu Vocational Institute of Commerce. Zhongbei College students complained that the merger would put students at a significant disadvantage in the labor market.
On the evening of June 6, a large group of students came to campus to protest the announcement. Social media posts show students holding up banners at the entrance and forming human chains. That same evening, student protesters detained the college’s chancellor, Chang Qing, and held him for 30 hours, according to police.
On the evening of June 7, as students continued their protests at Zhongbei and several other colleges facing mergers, the Jiangsu Education Department announced it was suspending the merger plans. The announcement followed the submission of a petition signed by thousands of students and news of the protests.
The next morning, on June 8, a heavy presence of police in riot gear were on campus to disperse student protesters who remained inside with the Chancellor. As many as three thousand students were reportedly on campus protesting at the time. Sources indicate that police beat students with batons and fired tear gas at close range as they attempted to remove students and made their way to and removed the Chancellor from campus. Sources do not provide the number of students injured.
Later in the day, a hashtag used to call attention to the police use of force at Zhongbei College was blocked on social media platforms. Clashes between police and students were also reported at four other campuses where anti-merger protests were held.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during an on-campus protest. While state authorities have a responsibility to ensure safety and security, they must exercise restraint and refrain from disproportionate responses and actions intended to retaliate against or deter student expression. Likewise, while students have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they must exercise these rights peacefully and responsibly, refraining from physical violence or other actions that may harm other members of the higher education community.