Students turn out in protest over power cuts at university in China's Wuhan

The power supply was diverted from student dorms by management at the Wuhan Textile University.
By Gao Feng for RFA Mandarin and Yitong Wu for RFA Cantonese
2022.09.21
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Students turn out in protest over power cuts at university in China's Wuhan Students demonstrate after a long power outage at a dormitory at the School of Foreign Economics and Trade at the Wuhan Textile University, Sept. 19, 2022.
Citizen journalist via Weibo

Hundreds of students at a business school in the central Chinese city of Wuhan have protested in recent days amid power shortages and a COVID-19 campus-wide lockdown.

The students thronged the campus of the School of Foreign Economics and Trade at the Wuhan Textile University in protest at a prolonged power outage in the student dormitory on Monday night.

The protest was triggered by a report that one of the university's senior managers had been fined more than two million yuan for "embezzlement" and "stealing electricity."

The local power supply office said in a statement that the university authorities had used the transformers originally allocated to the dormitories and canteen to divert the power supply without authorization, prompting widespread anger among students.

Amid scenes of emotional confrontation with police, student negotiators demanded the school apologize for cutting off the power supply.

The campus gates were later opened, with normal power restored to the dormitories, RFA has learned.

Students told RFA via Weibo that some students were trapped in a lift when the power outage happened, with others suffering through still-sweltering heat with no power for air-conditioning units in the dormitory buildings or seeking cooler places to sleep out of doors at night.

Wuhan resident Zhang Hai said rising power prices and weighted pricing structures meant that theft of electricity was now rife in China.

"It's a very common phenomenon in our country, the idea that you grab what you can," Zhang told RFA. "In Western countries, the more power you use, the lower the price, but in China, the price is higher the more power you use."

"So, I think at least 80 percent of individuals or organizations would steal electricity, given the opportunity," he said.

Students protest a power outage at the School of Foreign Economics and Trade at the Wuhan Textile University, Sept. 19, 2022, Credit: Citizen journalist via Weibo
Students protest a power outage at the School of Foreign Economics and Trade at the Wuhan Textile University, Sept. 19, 2022, Credit: Citizen journalist via Weibo
Businesses dragged down

Hubei-based commentator Gao Fei said power shortages are already taking businesses down.

"When they built the Three Gorges Dam, they said electricity would only cost a few cents per hour," Gao told RFA. "But the prices have yet to come down, years later."

"A lot of small- and medium-sized enterprises are being dragged down by electricity bills that are too high," they said.

Gao said power outages are common in Wuhan, which he described as "inhumane" due to the summer heat.

"I don't know if it's a power failure or a lack of power supply, but the power goes out every couple of days," Gao said. "When the power is out, I can't sleep in the bedroom at night."

"But if ... I go outside to the roof or balcony to sleep, I basically don't get any sleep all night, because it's uncomfortable and dangerous."

"I can't imagine what it would be like to be in a crowded classroom or dorm," Gao said.

Zhang agreed, but said the students were bearing the consequences of actions by university management.

"The students' demonstrations, marches and rights activism is all to show the school that they won't get stuck with the consequences of [management's] actions," he said.

Forcible quarantine

The protests came after a campus-wide lockdown at the Communication University amid a COVID-19 outbreak, during which 600 to 700 teachers and students were forcibly quarantined.

Yao Xiaoou, a senior professor at the school, recorded a protest video and posted it to social media.

In the video, Yao took issue with being ordered into compulsory quarantine despite no evidence that he had been in contact with any known cases of COVID-19.

He insisted on staying home, saying it was safer than any quarantine facility.

U.S.-based Lu Nan, who made the video public, said Yao's protest was relatively mild, and comes against growing public anger with ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping's zero-COVID policy.

"This likely has something to do with the CCP 20th National Congress [starting Oct. 16], Lu told RFA. "Xi Jinping ... wants to show the world the right direction to take."

"Lower-ranking officials are all trying to flatter him, and show their loyalty," he said.

France-based movie director Hu Xueyang likened Xi's zero-COVID policy to the campaign-style actions orchestrated during the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976] by late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

"Xi Jinping is even worse than Mao Zedong, because we'll be doing PCR tests for the rest of our lives," he said. "

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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