Chinese students held a school principal hostage for over 30 hours last week during their protests over a merger plan they felt would devalue their degrees.
The protests were over a plan, originally announced in March, that would merge a Nanjing college in Jiangsu province with a vocational institute.
Danyang city police reported that undergraduates at Nanjing Normal University’s Zhongbei College in Jiangsu province had gathered since Sunday 6 June, and had detained a 55-year-old principal on campus for over 30 hours.
A statement made by police said that students had “shouted verbal abuse and blocked law enforcement”, and refused to release the principal even after authorities announced a suspension of the disputed merger plans.
Photos that circulated on social media showing injured students caused uproar, as police allegedly used batons and pepper spray against them. A video on Twitter also showed thousands of protestors surrounded by officers, with police dragging individuals out of the crowd and beating them.
All the videos and pictures were removed from the internet by authorities, and the hashtag “Nanjing Normal University Zhongbei College students injured by violent law enforcement” was reportedly blocked on the popular microblogging platform Weibo by Tuesday afternoon.
The police stated that “to uphold campus order […] public security organs took necessary measures in accordance with the law to remove the trapped person, and the injured were immediately sent to hospital for treatment.
The police claimed it to be a large hostage situation, and accused the students of being violent.
A student witness stated: “We were not arrested. The school hired auxiliary police who injured, beat, pepper-sprayed, threatened, and verbally abused students”.
The school hired auxiliary police who injured, beat, pepper-sprayed, threatened, and verbally abused students
–Nanjing Normal University student
The student witness estimated that around 3,000 students and 400 police officers were involved.
Protests also occurred at four other independent colleges in the province over similar fears. The Global Times said that “some events of physical confrontation” occurred at these events as well.
By Monday evening, the Jiangsu education authorities stated that they are suspending any merger plans, and the five universities affected by the plans issued separate statements reassuring students that they would still receive their university degrees.
The Jiangsu Education Department said the original reasoning behind the merger plans was to comply with a Ministry of Education directive to change independent colleges into vocational schools.
Such independent colleges are co-funded by universities and social organisations.
Students who fail to reach the required exam scores for universities can apply to these institutions, where they pay higher tuition fees for a university degree.