Student unrest unnerves the Chinese

August 11, 2006

China's rising tide of civil unrest has mainly involved workers and peasants, but the Government is acutely aware of the danger of student discontent.

Student anger has historically been a forerunner to wider civil discontent.

Graduate unemployment is rising, and students form an educated, media-savvy group better able than most to articulate their dissatisfaction and more likely to demand political change.

Students have often led the way in national protests against corrupt or oppressive officials and, as far back as the May Fourth Movement of 1919, personal grievances have often escalated into wider campaigns.

There have been several student protests this year. In June, up to 10,000 students in Zhengzhou ran riot through the campus, smashing classrooms and offices, and clashing with police. The unrest took place at the private Shengda Economic, Trade and Management College, which is affiliated to Zhengzhou University. The students were angry that the college would be awarding diplomas in its name rather than that of the university, as promised. The change was the result of guidelines from the Ministry of Education to prevent seemingly impressive qualifications being handed out by second-rate institutions.

Also in June, thousands of students at Sichuan University hurled bottles and barrels out of windows in protest after university authorities cut power to their dorms at night.

Although the protests show no signs of linking up, the Government will be keen to minimise awareness of their occurrence and to prevent anything similar to last year's anti-Japanese riots, which were initially supported by the Government but got out of control.

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