Over the past week, protests erupted across China against the government’s stringent COVID-19 lockdown policies after 10 people died in a fire in Ürümqi, China, eliciting responses and comments around the world. The Penn community, roughly 19% of which is composed of international students, responded in kind. With candlelights, blank sheets of paper, and chanting, here is a look into the vigil in solidarity with those protesting in China.
Candles, flowers, and posters are laid out in front of the LOVE sculpture, with references to the fire which killed 10 people in Ürümqi, China. According to a student who spoke with the DP anonymously, these aim to symbolize the “[fire] igniting the people's anger about the whole system.”
Over 100 people attended the vigil. The size of the crowd provoked curiosity in many who walked by. An undergraduate student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the DP that “I saw a lot of people standing here. … You know, there are a lot of things happening on campus, so I was just curious [to see] what’s going on.”
Many protestors also covered their faces with blank sheets of paper. The blank sheets of paper, according to several students, are meant to represent censorship in China.
China’s COVID-19 policies as well as the recent protests invited many perspectives in the Penn community. “It’s very two-faced because on one side of it, it’s the government trying to limit the spread of COVID, which is obviously a big problem that has been around for many years now. But, on the other hand, it’s limiting people’s freedom, and they’re quite literally trapped in their homes…” a student told the DP.
The LOVE sculpture was covered with signage alluding to the fire. One particular sign referenced Ürümqi Road in Shanghai, with the numbers 2022 and 1126 representing the date of the fire — Nov. 26, 2022.
The vigil ended with people chanting for renewed leadership in China, laying candles for those who passed away in the fire, and placing flowers in their memory.