Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have ordered a probe into food hygiene in secondary schools following a street protest over mass food poisoning at a high school in the provincial capital, Chengdu.
Parents of students at the private Chengdu Qizhong Experimental School on Tuesday protested poor food hygiene in the canteen after a string of food poisoning cases among students, a local journalist told RFA.
Video of the protests seen by RFA showed a number of parents and students from the Qizhong Experimental School holding up banners on the street outside local government offices.
In other clips, police used pepper spray and physical force to disperse protesters, detaining some parents.
"This is the police. This is the government, which regards parents as violent elements," comments a parent in one of the video clips.
Some parents were beaten by police, while the owner of school was protected, witnesses said.
A local journalist surnamed Song said the protests came after many students got sick after eating canteen food at the 50,000 yuan (U.S. $7,500)-a-year school.
"The students got sick and went to the hospital, where they were examined and tested," Song said. "Then the parents went to check [food preparation conditions] at the school, and found some problems, and asked the school to handle it."
"But they just hid the food, and the parents found out about it, and ... a lot more problems at the site, so the whole thing escalated," he said.
An official who spoke to parents on Wednesday said that city leaders were aware of the dispute and had "issued instructions."
"Our [ruling Chinese Communist] Party secretary and mayor have sent out an urgent directive," the official said.
However, there was no official response to questions raised by parents over the whereabouts of protesters detained by police on Tuesday.
The Sichuan provincial department of education said in a statement on Wednesday that it had sent a "working group" to the Chengdu Qizhong Experimental School to investigate matters, alongside Chengdu municipal education bureau officials.
"Relevant results of our investigations, verification, and follow-up will be announced in a timely manner," the statement said.
"At the same time, the municipal education bureau is required to conduct investigations into the supply of raw materials in all school canteens, to further strengthen school food safety management," it said.
‘We want our dreams’
The Chengdu protests came a day after a protest by hundreds of students at the Tianmen Vocational College in the central province of Hubei.
The students said they had been denied the chance to participate in China's national skills-based college entrance exams owing to poor administration by their school.
"We want our college entrance examination!" they shouted. "We want our dreams!"
Students had found out that they hadn't been entered for the exam after paying three years' tuition fees to help them gain a higher education place, they told the Jasic Workers' Solidarity Group (JWSG).
Police moved in to disperse the protests outside the offices of the Tianmen municipal government on Monday, beating many of the students, the group said.
U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said the students were likely victims of fraud on the part of the school.
"[The school] formed a contractual relationship with the students when they charge tuition fees," Teng said. "The failure to ensure students could sit the test is a breach of contract on the part of the school, and the school is liable for compensation."
"If the situation is more serious, for example, if they perpetrated a deception, it may constitute a crime," he said.
Wang Qingying, a rights activist from Guangzhou currently living in the United States, said young Chinese people are becoming more and more aware of their rights.
"Although [such protests] are based on growing awareness of personal rights rather than any political awakening, it is very encouraging that they are taking to the streets to defend their personal rights," Wang said.
"It is a huge improvement, a qualitative leap," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long and Han Jie for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.