Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are holding an unknown number of people after students at a technical college rioted following a standoff with college management over poor food quality in the canteen.
More than 3,000 students rampaged through buildings at the Guangdong Provincial Economics and Trade Technical College in response to what they said was poor management on the part of college leadership and unfair restrictions on their eating habits.
They smashed windows in the controversial on-campus store and the canteen as well computer equipment in college offices, according to online and eyewitness accounts.
"I was shouting 'Protest! Protest!' because of the problems with the canteen," a student who took part told RFA on Wednesday.
"We are only allowed off campus on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and they won't allow students to send for take-outs," the student said.
"There was a huge incident last night with people smashing stuff, and we're not allowed to leave campus now either," he said.
Online photos showed scenes of devastation with broken furniture and glass scattered around the college canteen and food store.
Other photos showed large groups of students who gathered in dormitory buildings in protest with rows of armed police in full riot gear also at the scene.
A second student told RFA via social media that the protests had started after some students began handing out fliers calling for a boycott of class and the canteen starting on Wednesday.
The students became angry after college authorities tried to detain those who had handed out the leaflets, he said.
"Large numbers of students came out onto the balconies of their dorms, shouting in protest," the student said. "Some of them were throwing trash and bottles."
"Then some people started chucking stuff to smash the windows in the canteen opposite, and of the machinery room," he said. "Someone even threw a water cooler."
He said students had been charged higher-than-usual prices for basic daily necessities in the campus store and complained about small portions in the canteen.
He said recent power surges and outages had also caused fires and explosions at power sockets, which had melted some students' computers.
‘Beating the principal’
A vice principal who answered the phone at the college on Wednesday confirmed the incident, including the detentions by police.
"The students were beating the principal," he said, when asked if police had detained any students. "That's against the law to hit someone."
Online accounts from students at the college criticized high prices and poor food quality in the canteen as well as a ban on having food delivered from off-campus.
Some attacked what they said were grossly inflated prices in the campus food store, while other reports said two fires had broken out on campus since their studies began in October. Yet others detailed poor sanitary conditions in college facilities.
Other posts said many teachers hadn't come to class, leaving the students to study alone.
But the vice principal said the incident was "whipped up" by troublemakers.
"The students thought they'd cause a bit of trouble to make a name for themselves, and the incident escalated from there," the vice principal said.
"One person has already been expelled from the college, and he photocopied a bunch of stuff and started handing it out in the dormitories," he said.
"None of it makes any sense."
The vice principal said officials from the local food inspection bureau had visited the college on Wednesday.
"Everything was normal," he said. "We have been selling meat for a year at this price without any complaints."
He denied students were barred from getting their food elsewhere.
"It's up to them how much they eat, and it's up to them whether they go there to eat or not," he said.
The vice principal said it was "inconvenient" for the college to manage outside food orders, adding, "The students are all back in class today."
An official who answered the phone at Baiyun district government offices in Guangzhou declined to comment on the incident.
"I don't know about this incident you mention," the official said, saying the education bureau should handle inquiries.
But repeated calls to the Baiyun district education bureau rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Calls to the Guangzhou municipal police department also rang unanswered.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service and Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.