The Zhengzhou University Riot

This piece of news is apparently not appearing by decree in the Henan media.  However, the information is popping up all over the BBS forums.  There is sufficient details from different people that this is credible.

Here is how Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper wrote:

(Ming Pao via ChineseNewsNet)

[in translation]

According to informed sources in Henan, there was a large-scale student riot late night on June 15th at the Shengda Economics, Trade and Management College of the Zhengzhou University located in Xinzheng city.  At its worst, almost 10,000 people were rioting.  The students destroyed the university facilities and then marched onto the streets to vandalize street lamps and telephone booths, and they looted banks, supermarkets and electronic stores.  The cause of the riot was that the school lowered the status of the university diploma (from Zhengzhou University to Shengda College) and did not refund tuition fees to fourth-year students as contracted.  The local authorities sent in several thousand armed policemen to quell the riots.  The situation yesterday was generally calm.

According to internal information from the Henan Shengda College, the school announced on June 15 that the graduates of the '03 and '04 classes will not be receiving Zhengzhou University diplomas; instead, they will receive Shengda College diplomas.  This led to a riot by several thousand students.  The furious students started to throw stuff downstairs from their dormitories -- hot water bottles, wine bottles, fire hydrants, fire extinguishers, television sets, washing machines and glass windows came raining down.

At after 1am on June 16, several thousand students assembled in front of the school administration building and chanted the slogan: "Give me back my Zhengzhou University diploma!"  Then they trashed the administration building and the library.  All the glass in the college were broken.  The students toppled the front gates of the college, set fire to the founder's statue and vandalized several cars parked in front of the entrance.

Afterwards, the angry students got into the streets and vandalized street lamps, telephone booths, bathhouses, banks, supermarkets along the way ... everything was vandalized by the angry students.  Some students took the chance to loot supermarkets and electronic stores.  The police came but had to retreat in the face of thousands of rocks pelted at them.  After the Zhengzhou armed policemen arrived, the students calmed down.  The demonstration ended around 3am and the students returned to the dormitories.

According to students, Shengda College is presently locked down upon orders from superiors.  The students are restricted within the campus and the security guards used force to prevent students from leaving or taking pictures.  The students said that the Shengda College previously promised to issue Zhengzhou university diplomas, but the Department of Education had already issued an order that forbade the practice in April 2003.  The school deceived the students for three years, as the student recruitment materials in 2004, 2005 and 2006 all claimed that the school would issue Zhengzhou University diplomas.


(Sources: 6Park, Boxun Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)


In the following are some translated forum posts.  You will probably recognize the first one because this was the basis from which the Ming Pao report was derived.  Whereas the BBS forum post was written in the first person, the Ming Pao re-wrote it in the third person.  But that does not change the fact that Ming Pao had to rely on a netizen's report.  We can laud the mainstream media about their financial and human resources and their ability to write and package, but they can't be everywhere.  This is a case where the mainstream media picked up from the Internet citizen reports.

(Boxun)

[in translation]

June 17:

The latest development about the Shengda riots -- most of the students have gone out to march in the street.  The businesses on the street and the cafeteria have been trashed.  The library was also vandalized.  All the dormitory doors and steel gates have been smashed.  All the dormitory windows and fire extinguishers have been tossed downstairs.

From last night to early this morning, the students pented-up emotions exploded on account of the fraud in the matter of the university diplomas.  The angry students threw stuff out of the dormitory windows into the courtyards to release their anger.  Hot water bottles and wine bottles rained down into the dormitory courtyard.  The sounds of breaking rose from the space between dormitory buildings.  The riot began to pick up with the sound of people shouting, horns, firecrackers, gongs and drums.  Fire hydrants, fire extinguishers, television sets, washing machines and window glass fell down.  It was a sight for the ground was littered with garbage and smoke was rising up.  This continued for two hours.

...

At some time after 1am, the fellow students in our building charged through the door and joined the students from the adjacent dormitories on a large demonstration march.  This group of several thousand people rushed onto the street.  They walked down one street and smashed everything on the street: street lamps, telephone booths, bathhouses, banks, supermarkets ... wherever they went, everything was picked clean.  The supermarkets and electronic stores were looted by some active students.  Wow!

The demonstrators went around the campus and students from other dormitories joined us.  The roadside restaurants and the library were trashed.  After one loop around the campus, the large crowd of demonstrators assembled in front of the administration building and chanted slogans.

The 119 police were out there, but they had to retreat in the face of the many rocks thrown at them.

The front gate of the school was overturned.  The statue of the founder was set on fire.  Several cars in front of the entrance were overturned and vandalized.

Almost 10,000 people were shouting in front of the flag staff.  It was loud and impressive.

At around 3am, the demonstration ended and the students returned to their dormitories gradually.

...

Unity is strength.  The power of anger created this historically unprecedented riot of epic proportions.

I pay the highest respect to the leaders of the riot and the majority of the rioting students.

We dared to oppose the unreasonable actions of the school and it was a mighty act to dare to take revenge against the dictatorial ways of the school leadership.

At the same time, I despise those students who looted the banks and supermarkets, because these are criminal acts and against the principles of this school.

...

This morning, according to the latest information, the school is locked down by superior orders and the students are restricted on campus.  Even more disgustingly, the security guards used forced to present students who want to get out or take photographs.  This will inflame student emotions even more.  The students are being treated unfairly.  In order to take back our rights, we must resist and fight until the end.

...

I wrote down the progress of this incident out of anger.  I hope that you will forward this to as many people as possible in order to create public opinion pressure on the Internet and in society as a whole.

...

The resistance shall be even fiercer.

Here is another netizen comment:

I am a second-year student at Shengda and I therefore have the most right of speech on this incident.

It was not like what the preceding student just said.  I detest his praise for the destructive outcome.  He wrote about "everything being picked clean"?  That was bullshit.

First of all, the school is in the wrong.  It erred by not notifying the students that the graduating students will be getting a different diploma.  The national Department of Education issued a document several years ago to require tier-two schools to state their status on the diplomas.  It is said that in the interest of fairness to students of all classes, the school hid the fact from the students so that the latter only found out when they received the diplomas.  Of course, they are angry.  Therefore, this riot occurred for cause.

But the infuriating part was that certain low-life students took advantage of the occasion to loot stores.  The electronic stores especially suffered great losses.  The public facilities were also severely damaged.

Although I thought the administration was sick, I still have some attachment to this beautiful campus on which I have lived for two years.  We can criticize this place, but we cannot tolerate those people destroying it in this manner.  I am astonished to see that these people have no feelings towards the school.  When you overturn the water fountain next to the ball field, did you remember that this is where you drink water after you finish playing?

I am disappointed to see that this straightforward demonstration turn into an insane bout of destruction.  This was pure emotional catharsis.  To defend your rights, you must produce the evidence to reason with the school and that is how problems get solved.

I know that the graduation diploma is important.  But since this is a national regulation, what are we shouting about?  I believe that it is one's ability that is the most important.  You can fool around for four years and get a Zhengzhou University diploma, but what good is it if you don't have any real ability?

I really hope that the matter can be solved quickly.  The hot summer weather will make emotions even harder to control.  I hope peace will return soon.  Although I criticize the school for being sick, I must say now: I love Shengda, I love this place in which I have stayed for two years.

Here is a different story from Ta Kung Pao:

[in translation]

According to informed source, the students who led the disturbances were students who have been performing well in school and therefore will not be receiving their diplomas at the graduation this year.  The direct cause was actually the "World Cup."

On the night of June 15, the World Cup was going red hot.  As it was getting late at night, the school ordered the students to stop watcing television.  Certain students who were just informed that the '03 and '04 year students will be receiving Shengda College diplomas instead of Zhengzhou University diplomas took the World Cup incident to start a protest.  They threw stuff out of the window and then led the other students to start a riot after midnight. ...

In recent years, Shengda College wanted to become an independent institute of higher learning and it wanted to be elevated from a college to a university.  But the Department of Education examined the college and proclamed that "the hardware passed but the software failed (note: that means the facilities are alright but the teaching staff is not good enough)."  Zhengzhou University is a key university in Henan province and wanted to become an internationally and nationally important establishment and it had no intention of letting Shengda College depart.

Near graduation time, Shengda announced that the '03 and '04 graduates will receive Shengda diplomas instead of Zhengzhou University diplomas.  But the informed source said that the Zhengzhou University has never said that.  This was a unilateral action by Shengda College and Zhengzhou University is willing to issue their diplomas to the '03/'04 graduates.


English-language coverage:

(Associated Press)  Chinese students riot over diploma changes.  By Christopher Bodeen.  June 19, 2006.

College students in central China smashed offices and set fires in a riot sparked by administrative changes that made their diplomas less prestigious, students and school administrators said Monday.  Photos of the weekend riots posted on the Internet showed fires set in debris-strewn school courtyards and glass smashed in administrative offices, shops, cars and a bank.  Students said police with water cannons had moved onto the campus of Shengda Economics, Trade and Management College in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. It was unclear if there were any clashes.

There was no mention of the apparent riots in the country's state-controlled media. Campus unrest is treated with extreme sensitivity in China, where 1989 student pro-democracy protests led to the bloody military crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Zhengzhou police and local government and education officials said they had no details of the weekend protests or could not comment without permission from Communist Party officials.  However, an official with the school's Communist Party committee confirmed the riots and said talks with students stalled Monday because their demands were unclear.  "The problem is the students aren't being coherent. We don't really know what they want," the official said by telephone. He refused to give his name.

The Zhengzhou riots appeared to reflect the massive pressure Chinese students face in an increasingly competitive job market.  Many families go into massive debt to send children to a university, and a huge expansion in higher education has led to white-hot competition for jobs, making a degree's prestige ever more important.

Students said they entered Shengda, a private college, after recruiters promised they would get diplomas from the better-known Zhengzhou University, which Shengda is affiliated with.  However, while students graduating this year will receive Zhengzhou degrees, those graduating next year will only receive Shengda degrees, said students who e-mailed The Associated Press and posted comments on an online school bulletin board that was later shut down.  "We've been cheated out of three years," said one posting, signed Yvonne, on the online education blog http://www.3ec.cn/.

Parents, many of them poor farmers, apparently had been willing to pay Shengda's relatively high $1,250 annual tuition because they believed their children would receive Zhengzhou University degrees.

(AFP)  College students in China riot.  Karl Malakunas.  June 20, 2006.

Hundreds of police have been deployed to a central China university after thousands of students rioted and went on strike in a dispute with school management, pupils and residents said Monday.  Between 5,000 and 10,000 students from Zhengzhou University in Henan province were involved in the unrest, which broke out on Thursday night and saw the campus ransacked, according to participants and witnesses.  Photos of the unrest posted on the Internet showed the windows of an on-campus branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China smashed in, dormitories and cars vandalized, and bicycles strewn across the university.

"The school authorities have cheated us," a student surnamed Liu told AFP by telephone, explaining why the riots broke out.  Liu said around 15,000 students had originally been promised diplomas with the university but were later told they would only be given diplomas bearing the name of a less prestigious branch of the institution.  "We all got very angry with such conduct... in fact, they have been treating us badly for many years. We couldn't bear it any longer."

Liu said the riots lasted into the weekend but had now subsided.  However he said the 15,000 students affected by the diploma issue had gone on strike and would not return to class until the dispute was resolved.  "We students have decided to stop extremist actions. We are on strike and refuse to take final exams," he said.

A resident living near the campus surnamed Wei told AFP by telephone that thousands of students had staged a sit-in in front of the university's main administrative building.  "Hundreds of policemen are deployed there to maintain order," the man said.

A teacher at the institute surnamed Yan confirmed that, while the riots had subsided, students were still protesting.  "I can't tell you more details, the authorities don't allow us to do that," the teacher said.

Local police and Communist Party officials refused to comment Monday while state controlled media were also silent, reflecting the ultra-sensitive nature of student unrest in China.  Students led the 1989 Tiananmen democracy uprising, which the military brutally suppressed, also in the month of June, resulting in hundreds if not thousands of people being killed.  The riots at Zhengzhou University also appeared to have involved physical confrontations between the students and authorities, although there were no reports of a huge crackdown.

(New York Times)  Rioting in China Over Label on College Diplomas.  Joseph Kahn.  June 22, 2006.

Shengda College in central China has a diverse curriculum, foreign faculty members to teach English and a manicured campus, where weeping willows shade a recreational lake.  But many students paid the college's rich tuition at $2,500 a year one of the highest in China primarily because Shengda promised that their diplomas would bear the name of its parent, Zhengzhou University, a more prestigious national-level institution, and not mention Shengda at all.

So when the graduating class of 2006 received diplomas that read "Zhengzhou University Shengda Economic, Trade and Management College," students erupted last Friday, ransacking classrooms and administrative offices, shattering car windows, scuffling with the police and staging one of the most prolonged student protests since the 1989 pro-democracy uprising that filled Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.

The protest, still simmering on Shengda's now tightly guarded campus, reflects the reality that the country's exploding population of college students must grapple with petty fraud, substandard instruction and an intensely competitive job market. Students, a traditional bellwether of political volatility in China, have become a fresh source of unrest in a society already angered by land grabs, unpaid wages and environmental abuse.

Once a magic ticket into the government or business elite, college has become an expensive gamble for millions of cash-short families who find that even the most prestigious degrees cannot guarantee success in a market economy.

The number of college graduates has multiplied fivefold in the last seven years, to an estimated 4.1 million this year. But at least 60 percent of that number are having trouble finding jobs, according to the National Development and Reform Commission.

Students at Shengda, a privately run college with 13,000 students outside Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, say they were assured on admission, and repeatedly afterward, that they would get graduation certificates that would appear identical to those issued by Zhengzhou, the top university in the province.

Most Shengda students did not perform well enough on national college entrance exams to enroll at Zhengzhou University itself, where the tuition is about $500 a year. So Shengda's promise persuaded students and their families to pay unusually steep tuition to gain an edge in the job market. What many of them say they did not know is that under a national regulation phased in beginning in 2003, the college is now required to use its own name on diplomas.

When this year's graduating seniors picked up their diplomas on Friday and saw the revised language, the reaction was instantaneous and incendiary.

"We bought a Mercedes-Benz and they delivered a Santana," said one angry graduate, Wang Guangying, referring to a low-priced Volkswagen sedan made in China. "By that night, school officials had totally lost control."

Beer bottles rained down from dormitory windows, leaving a carpet of broken glass on the walkways. Television sets and washing machines followed, according to students who participated and photos of the post-riot scene.

Groups of students marauded around the campus, smashing cars, offices or any piece of property they felt belonged to someone in power. The front gate and a statue of the college's founder were toppled.

The local police arrived to break up the protest, but they retreated after they were barraged by bottles and rocks. Riot squads from Zhengzhou arrived about 3 a.m. Saturday, students said, after the violence had begun to subside.

The authorities sealed the campus and prevented most students from leaving. But marches and sit-ins continued in front of college headquarters through Wednesday, students said. Protesters shouted, "Give back my Zhengzhou University diploma!" Others demanded a refund or a discount on their tuition and a full apology from the headmaster, Hou Heng.

They scored at least a partial victory. Mr. Hou said Wednesday in a telephone interview that he had resigned after being told to do so by his superiors at Zhengzhou University.

He acknowledged that some promotional literature had "failed to state clearly" that Shengda would amend its diplomas. He denied that Shengda had intentionally provided false information but said he had to take responsibility for the unrest.

"I'm fulfilling the wishes of the people above," he said.

Shengda's problem with diplomas is not unique. In 1998 the government encouraged a vast expansion in college-level education. Hundreds of new colleges were founded almost overnight to accommodate millions of new students thought to be needed as engineers, bankers, traders and marketing experts in the fast-growing economy.

Under the regulations, new colleges had to find "mother schools" to supervise them. They used that link to their advantage. New colleges charged higher tuitions than the mother schools charged Shengda's fees are nearly five times those of state-run Zhengzhou University because they gave students who did not test highly the chance to affiliate themselves with a top college or university.

Not all of them went as far as Shengda in issuing diplomas that carried the name of the mother school, but some did. And when the authorities put an end to the practice, students reacted harshly.

In the northeastern city of Dalian, for example, some 3,000 students at the East Soft Information Institute, set up jointly by Northeast University and the East Soft Group Company, attacked campus facilities in December, sending several teachers to the hospital. They rioted after they were told that the word online would distinguish their diplomas from the regular ones issued by Northeast University.

At Shengda, the downgraded diploma struck some students as a body blow, one that could cripple their chances of securing a good office job.

"There are not many positions open in the business world compared with the number of applicants, and they all go to the national-level university graduates," said a Shengda junior studying transportation, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Wang, to avoid angering college authorities.

Mr. Wang, who spoke by telephone from inside the sealed campus, said he came from an impoverished farming community in Henan. His parents devoted their savings and borrowed heavily from friends and relatives to pay his tuition, which he said greatly exceeded his family's annual income.  "I do not support violence, but the spirit of the students just collapsed," he said. "The school must admit its error and refund our money."  His anger stems partly from the fact that most fresh college graduates will not find work that comes close to meeting their expectations, meaning they will have to struggle to pay off the debts their relatives shouldered on their behalf.

By the government's tally, China's economy, though growing by about 10 percent a year, will add about 1.6 million positions for people with college degrees this year. The country produced 4.1 million new college graduates.  A growing cadre of highly educated but underemployed urbanites is tailor-made to cause alarm in Beijing, which has always feared student unrest above nearly all other forms of social discontent.

Disgruntled students have often taken the lead in national protests against corrupt, inefficient or repressive officials. They have also inflated seemingly minor grievances affecting their personal prospects into broader political campaigns, as they did during the student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.

One of the Communist Party's greatest successes since that upheaval has been to create strong support for the market economy among urban residents, intellectuals and their children.  That bond has held strong for more than a decade, even as China has been engulfed in other types of unrest, including nearly 80,000 mass protests recorded in 2005 alone. Most such events involve peasants, migrant workers or workers laid off from state enterprises, who often lack media-savvy leaders and rarely demand substantive political change.

The situation could change if large numbers of students got involved, though there is no sign that the scattered protests at colleges will lead in that direction anytime soon.  Even so, China's cabinet announced new policies in May to enhance the value of degrees from vocational schools and high schools. The measures are aimed at  reducing college enrollment, the cabinet said in a statement, without specifying a target.  "This is a good step for gradually solving conflicts in universities, especially to relieve the pressure on graduates finding jobs," the statement read.

In the short term, at least, college campuses are like kindling awaiting a spark. Even as the protests at Shengda were under way, thousands of students at the Jiangan campus of Sichuan University hurled bottles and barrels out their windows to protest the lack of electrical power at night.  Some students said they needed electricity at all hours to study for annual exams. But according to The Sun, the Hong Kong newspaper that first reported on the incident, the main grievance was that students needed power through the wee hours so they could watch live broadcasts of the World Cup soccer tournament.


Related link:  Why students are revolting  Richard Spencer, Telegraph blog