HONG KONG—Thousands of military academy students in central China’s Anhui province are rioting after news spread that the government wouldn’t recognize diplomas awarded to the fee-paying students.
“It was total chaos. Many people were beaten and were bleeding. The school buildings are a mess,” one student, surnamed Peng, told RFA’s Mandarin service.
“There is a 15-story building on campus. It’s been vacated. The iron doors in the corridors were smashed. In the morning armed police and police cars arrived to restore order. Their attempts were futile. Police cars were overturned,” Peng said.
“Even the automatic iron gates on campus were wrecked. The situation is really tense now. I hear that either tomorrow or the day after the Nanjing Military Region will send personnel to restore order.”
There is a 15-story building on campus. It’s been vacated. The iron doors in the corridors were smashed. In the morning armed police and police cars arrived to restore order. Their attempts were futile.
The rioting began Nov. 28 and worsened Nov. 29, witnesses said. Classes have been cancelled and windows smashed. It wasn’t immediately clear whether anyone had been injured.
The Hefei People's Liberation Army Artillery Academy comprises three types of students: fully registered cadets with military status, fully registered students without military status studying for civil degrees, and self-funding “contract students,” according to the academy's Web site.
“The students rioted because they are angry that their diplomas are fake,” Peng said, estimating that 6,000 to 7,000 self-funded students had joined the rioting. “The school sent military personnel to mediate. The students beat them and drove them away—even the military officers. Everyone is like an angry lion now.”
A female administrator at the Academy confirmed that rioting was going on. Asked if the rioters were students, she replied that all were students from “the sixth department… They are informal students without military status.”
A teacher at the academy, surnamed Ren, denied that rioting had occurred but added, “It could happen to any school. There are always some students who do not want to study. Right?”
“The majority of the students are good students. Those [who do not like to study] will be severely dealt with. What do the students know? Including the seniors. They have not even gotten their diplomas yet.”
“Only a small number of students with their own agenda were fanning the fire. I have told you too much already. If you are a reporter, I advise you not to touch things related to a military academy,” Ren said.
The Chinese media appear to have ignored the rioting, and online postings have been reportedly halted within minutes of publication.
The switchboard operator at the Academy on Friday said, “We have not received instructions as to which department’s personnel are authorized to talk about the matter.” She also indicated that no such instructions would be forthcoming before hanging up.
Some students have posted complaints online indicating that that they had started rioting because neither the Education Ministry nor the Military Commission would recognize their diplomas. “On no account enroll at the Artillery Academy. On no account enroll at the Academy’s sixth department,” said one posting.
Private colleges have boomed in China in the last decade, enrolling those who fall short in highly competitive exams required for admission to prestigious—and far more tightly regulated—state universities.
One resident surnamed Zhu, who lives near the campus and rents rooms to students of the Academy, told RFA: “Students at the Academy told me about the riot. They are worried that they won’t be able to get jobs. They are really angry. They went to see the president of the academy, who was beaten by the students quite badly.”
The Anhui provincial government authorized the Academy to recruit the so-called “contract students” outside the college-entrance-exam system to help generate income for the school. Being recruited outside the national college-entrance-exam system means anyone who has a high school diploma can be accepted.
The “contract students” pay wear cadet uniforms but lack military status, sources say. Their enrollment at the Academy is unregistered with the Ministry of Education or the Military Commission, nor is it recognized by the Chinese government. Each student pays approximately $10,000 yuan annually in tuition, plus other fees and expenses.
Hong Kong-based analyst Huang Dong suggested in an interview that the repercussions would be broad.
“It will definitely have an impact on the image of the Academy. The local government will definitely deal with the issue without delay. The Academy enjoys a certain national status….It’s not Beijing University or Qinghua University, but locally it’s a prestigious institution. Students enrolled in the Academy because of the name recognition.”
Original reporting by Yan Xiu for RFA’s Mandarin service. Service director: Jennifer Chou. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han. Edited by Luisetta Mudie.