PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Several hundred Chinese students at the University of Pennsylvania held a candlelight vigil to mourn those who lost their lives in the Urumqi fire in Xinjiang on Tuesday night and support demonstrations in China calling for an end to COVID-19 demand locks.
At 7 p.m., Chinese students gathered around the LOVE sculpture on Penn’s campus. Most wore masks, likely protecting their identities, and some held signs reading “give me liberty or give me death”. One held a large street sign in Shanghai reading “Urumqi Middle Road” in support of the Xinjiang protests.
Some students took the lead and others followed, repeatedly shouting, “Leave the Communist Party behind,” “Communist Party resign,” “Xi Jinping resign.”
Others echoed the words of the Beijing bridgeman who protested by unfurling a banner over Beijing’s Sitong Bridge that read: “We want food, not zero-COVID; We want freedom, not lockdowns; We want dignity, not lies; We want reforms, not cultural revolutions; We want elections, not dictatorship, we want to be citizens, not slaves.”
A Chinese student spoke to the crowd about how Uyghurs have been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime. She believes all those killed in the recent fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, are Uyghurs.
After a fire last Thursday night, November 24, protests erupted in the capital Xinjiang, killing at least 10 people, where some residents of Urumqi have been locked in their homes for over 100 days. This prompted a wave of angry questions about whether firefighters or people trying to escape were being blocked by locked doors or other pandemic restrictions.
Over the weekend, Chinese across China, including many college students in major cities, took to the streets to criticize the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “zero-COVID” policy and called for the resignation of CCP leader Xi Jinping .
“Courage to defend freedom”
Students covered the LOVE sculpture with slogans and white paper at the University of Pennsylvania.
The slogans, mostly in Chinese and some in English, were: “Always remember 11/24”, “Give me freedom or give me death”, “Freedom”, “Give courage to defend freedom” and “Calm in peace for the dead. ”
Candles and flowers and other sayings were placed in front of the sculpture.
As they gathered, the students chanted in unison, “No zero-COVID policy,” “Unlock the whole country,” “Liberate the people,” “Anti-dictatorship,” “Apologize to the people of the whole country,” “Freedom of the press,”” freedom of speech.”
At the end of the rally, the students sang a few songs together, “Tomorrow will be better” and “Beyond,” and then, after protesting for an hour and a half, left the gathering peacefully.
On Tuesday, more than 20 cities around the world supported simultaneous rallies, and the coming weekend is expected to bring an even bigger wave of overseas Chinese resistance to the CCP.
Chinese students contrast life in China and the US
“I myself was in Shanghai during the most severe three-month blockade in Shanghai,” Francisco said, without revealing his full name for personal security reasons. He studies education at the University of Pennsylvania and spoke of his responsibility to support the candlelight vigil.
“I thought, ‘I’m coming out.’ As you know, I am an international student from China. After hearing about all these events in my hometown, my motherland, I think we should come out as ordinary Chinese and join all the Chinese here,” he said.
He spoke of friends in Shanghai who attended the protest on Urumqi Street in Shanghai. He expressed his admiration for their courage in standing up for their rights in mainland China.
He said there is no danger of protesting here in the United States, “but all my friends in China, in Shanghai, in Beijing and in other Chinese cities face a greater danger of speaking out, saying what they want , to reveal who they are.”
“I feel a lot more hope”
Kelsang Dolma, a Tibetan student at Penn Law School, told The Epoch Times that she feels “really inspired” to see many mainland Chinese coming out to protest the Chinese government.
“It feels like a great turning point to see this all coming together while also being aware that so much has happened to the Uyghur people that this has all happened; so that we can come together,” said Dolma. She was born in India in a Tibetan refugee colony.
Dolma said she is very aware of how badly the CCP has treated people for many years since she took part in many protests such as the Tibetan protests, the Uyghur protests and the Hong Kong protests. She said it is usually difficult to get mainland Chinese to attend these rallies. But this rally was very different, with a significant number of Chinese nationals here to help.
Dolma said she sees a lot of hope: “It takes so much for this to happen. I have a lot more hope than I used to.”
Dolma suggested that people should pay attention to what happened in Tibet and Xinjiang. She believes what happened in Tibet “is the blueprint for all the repression that the Chinese Communist Party has carried out.”
For security reasons to attend such a rally, unlike most if not all Chinese students, Dolma said, “I’m an American citizen, so I have no qualms, and it’s definitely a privilege for me to say so.”
“Chinese should stand up”
Matt Dime, a Temple University student and Uyghur, told The Epoch Times he was “very frustrated” by what the Chinese regime has done to the Uyghurs and he hopes the Chinese people will do more to speak out against the regime to deliver.
“I think they should challenge better. Because the Chinese Communist Party wants to control them and expand their influence both domestically and internationally, but the Chinese people should stand up,” Dime said.
“They should be able to express themselves, they should definitely be able to vote, they should be able to do all the things that people should be able to do, like B. To express frustration, to speak out against the government. That is the basic thing that everyone should be able to do.”
Dime expresses his support for all Uyghurs in his homeland. “Please stay strong. we are all with you we love you guys And we will keep fighting.”
“A rousing time for everyone”
Carol was born in China and immigrated to the United States many years ago. She said she was “inspired” to see Penn’s large turnout and that it was the first time people are beginning to see the terrible things happening to Chinese people in China.
“It’s just a very exciting time for everyone,” Carol said. “I feel like it’s very inspiring for people to come together on an occasion like this.”
Speaking of safety concerns, Carol said she didn’t come with a mask but put it on upon arrival when “I realized people were holding paper in front of their faces to protect their identities”.
“Because I realized that people might be posting on social media and that could be a danger, even to my family or whoever.”
Carol expressed her appreciation to all those who are making the world aware of what is really happening in Hong Kong and China. “But now that China has had a great decline, like all the things that happened in Shanghai, we’re starting to understand how crushing their power can be,” she said.
“I think it’s still important to raise awareness.”
William Huang contributed to this report.