By MARK PRATT – Associated Press
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) – Dozens of people rallied at Harvard University on Tuesday to support Chinese protesters who have called for the resignation of the country’s leader amid tough antivirus restrictions in the largest anti-government demonstrations in Beijing in decades.
About 50 protesters, mostly students from the elite Ivy League school, sang songs in Chinese and English and chanted slogans in both languages, including: “We are not slaves, we are citizens!” “We don’t want dictatorships, we want elections.” !” and “Resign, Xi Jinping,” a nod to China’s president.
Many gathered at the statue of the university’s namesake, John Harvard, wore masks – not because of COVID-19, but concerned that their families at home would face consequences if recognized by Chinese authorities.
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Relatives could be harassed or even lose their jobs, said Wayne, a Harvard student from China who attended the demonstration and didn’t want his full name used out of concern for relatives back home.
The Chinese authorities’ restrictive “zero-COVID” strategy has prompted demonstrations in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong. They have been described as the most widespread protests since the student-led pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Some Chinese universities have sent students home and police have swarmed in Beijing and Shanghai to quell further protests on Tuesday. Security forces arrested an unknown number of people and increased surveillance.
Many of the Harvard protesters held white paper in front of their faces next to the masks, wore dark glasses or shielded their faces under hoods and hats. The blank paper has become a symbol of Chinese protesters’ resistance to government censorship.
“We want them to know that we’re aware and we hear their voices,” said Wayne, the graduate student.
A similar protest was held at Columbia University on Monday, and demonstrations in support of the Chinese people have been held or are planned at other US universities in the coming days.
Protesters also laid flowers at the base of the statue – a famous spot in Harvard Yard that’s usually surrounded by tourists – to honor the 10 people killed in a fire in northwest China last week, deaths some say attributed to strict antivirus controls.
Brabeeba Wang, a former Harvard student who is now studying neuroscience at nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was revealed playing his violin to accompany the vocals.
“It’s great to see people fighting for their freedom and freedom of expression,” said Wang, who is originally from Taiwan.
He called the protesters in China “courageous” to stand up to the government.
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