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May 13, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright May 13, 2009 Philip J. Cunningham. Used by permission.


The idea that the campus was under student control struck me as a dangerous illusion. Bright and others said campus life had changed for the better, and in the aftermath of May 4, I could see evidence of the soaring change in spirit. But what if the whiff of freedom turned into a mockery of the same, a transient window of openness that served to make people implicate themselves? It had happened before in the 1950s, when Mao urged “a hundred schools of thought to contend,” only to punish those who expressed themselves too freely.

To date, the campus strike was having its desired effect of keeping people out of class, but cutting class does not a revolution make. Sleeping late and not doing homework is a temptation few students can easily refuse. The non-action implicit in not going to class had to be accompanied by some kind of action to have any meaning at all.

The courtyard was abuzz with loud announcements blurting out of the hijacked, jerry-rigged amplification system. What might in theory be freewheeling talk akin to the ramblings of a college radio station was instead sounding uncompromising and strident, like a new party line. The drive to convince the moderate student body not to attend class, having largely succeeded, cleared the way for more radical action. The buzz was all about a big hunger strike.

As the BBC crew continued to track down colorful visuals, I approached a forlorn-looking young man who was sitting alone amidst the swirl of activity kicking up in the middle of the dusty courtyard. He was wearing a white headband with two black characters inked on: *JUE-SHI.*

“Why do you write ‘refuse food’ on your headband?” I asked, adopting the tone of a reporter without really thinking about it.