PHILADELPHIA, Pa.—Several hundreds of Chinese students at the University of Pennsylvania held a candlelight vigil to mourn those who lost their lives in the Urumqi fire in Xinjiang on Tuesday night, and support the demonstrations in China calling for an end to COVID-19 lockdowns.
At 7 p.m., Chinese students gathered around the LOVE Sculpture on Penn’s campus. Most wore masks, likely to protect their identity, and some held signs like, “Give me freedom or give me death.” One held a big Shanghai road sign reading “Urumqi Middle Road,” in support of the Xinjiang protests.
Some students took the lead and others followed shouting over and over again: “Reject the communist party,” “Communist party step down,” “Xi Jinping step down.”
Others repeated the words by the Beijing bridge man, who protested by unfurling a banner over Beijing’s Sitong bridge reading: “We want food, not zero-COVID; We want freedom, not lockdowns; We want dignity, not lies; We want reform, not cultural revolution; We want election, not dictatorship, We want to be citizens, not slaves.”
A female Chinese student spoke to the crowd about how Uyghurs had been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime. She believes that all those who died during the recent Urumqi fire in Xinjiang are Uyghurs.
Protests erupted in the Xinjiang capital after a fire last Thursday night, Nov. 24, killing at least 10 people, where some Urumqi residents have been locked-down in their homes for over 100 days. That prompted an outpour of angry questions about whether firefighters or people trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other pandemic restrictions.
Over the weekend all across China, the Chinese people, including many college students in major cities, took to the streets to criticize the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “zero-COVID” policy, calling for CCP leader Xi Jinping to step down.
‘Courage to Defend Freedom’
Students covered the LOVE sculpture at the University of Pennsylvania with slogans and white paper.
The slogans, most in Chinese and some in English, read: “Always remember 11.24”, “Give me freedom or give me death,” “Freedom,” “Give Courage to defend freedom,” and “Rest in peace for the dead.”
Candles and flowers, and more slogans were placed in front of the sculpture.
Gathered together, the students shouted in unison: “No zero-COVID policy,” “Unlock the whole country,” “Release the people,” “Anti-dictatorship,” “Apologize to the people of the whole country,” “Press freedom,” “Freedom of Speech.”
At the end of the rally, students sang a few songs together, “Tomorrow will be better,” and “Beyond,” then left peacefully after one and a half hours of protesting.
On Tuesday, more than 20 cities around the world help simultaneous rallies, and the coming weekend is expected to bring an even larger wave of overseas Chinese resistance to the CCP.
Chinese Student Contrasts Life in China and US
“I myself was in Shanghai during the most severe three-month block down in Shanghai,” Francisco said, not revealing his full name for personal safety reasons. He studies education at the University of Pennsylvania and talked of a responsibility to come support the candlelight vigil.
“I thought, ‘I shall come out.’ As you know, I’m an international student from China. After hearing about all these things happening in my hometown, my motherland, I think as ordinary Chinese people, we should come out and join all the Chinese here,” he said.
He talked of friends in Shanghai who attended the protest on Shanghai’s Urumqi road. He expressed admiration for their courage to stand up for their rights in mainland China.
He said there is no danger to protest here in the United States “but all my friends in China, in Shanghai, in Beijing, in other Chinese cities, face more danger to speak out, to say what they want, to reveal who they are.”
‘I feel Way More Hope’
Kelsang Dolma, a Tibetan student at Penn Law School, told The Epoch Times that she feels “really inspired” to see many Chinese from mainland China come out to protest against the Chinese government.
“It feels like a huge turning point to see this all come together, while also being mindful that so much has happened to the Uyghur people for this to all happen; for us to get together,” Dolma said. She was born in India in a Tibetan refugee colony.
Dolma said she has been very much aware of how badly the CCP has been treating people for many years, attending many protests like Tibetan protests, Uyghur protests, and Hong Kong protests. She said it is usually difficult to get mainland Chinese to attend these rallies. But this rally has been very different, with a considerable number of Chinese nationals who are here to help.
Dolma said she sees a lot of hope: “It’s taking so much for this to happen. I feel way more hope than I used to feel.”
Dolma suggested that people should pay attention to what has been happening in Tibet and Xinjiang. She believes that what has happened in Tibet is “the blueprint for all the repression that the Chinese Communist Party has done.”
For safety issues to attend this kind of rally, unlike most if not all Chinese students, Dolma said: “I’m an American citizen, so I have no concerns and it’s definitely a privilege for me to say that.”
‘Chinese People Should Stand Up’
Matt Dime, a student at Temple University and a Uyghur, told The Epoch Times that he feels “very frustrated” about what the Chinese regime has done to Uyghurs, and that he hopes the Chinese people will do more to stand against the regime.
“I think they should demand better. Because the Communist Party in China, they want to control and they want to expand their influence both domestically and internationally, but the Chinese people should stand up,” Dime said.
“They should feel free to speak, they should definitely be able to vote, they should do all the things that human beings should be able to do, like express your frustration, speak out against the government. That’s the basic thing anybody should be able to do.”
Dime expresses his support to all Uyghurs back in his home. “Please stay strong. We are all with you. We love you guys. And we will keep on fighting.”
‘Agitating Time for Everyone’
Carol was born in China and immigrated to the United States many years ago. She said she felt “inspired” to see the big turnout at Penn, and that this marks the first time that people are starting to realize the terrible things that happen to Chinese people in China.
“It’s just a very agitating time for everyone,” Carol said. “I feel like it’s very inspiring for people to come together on an occasion like this.”
Speaking of safety concerns, Carol said she did not come wearing a mask but put it on after arriving when “I realized that people were holding paper in front of their faces to protect their identity.”
“Because I realized that people might post on social media and that might be a danger, even to my family or whoever.”
Carol expressed her appreciation to all those who bring awareness to the world of what’s really happening in Hong Kong and China. “But now that China has had a great walk down, like all this stuff that has happened in Shanghai, we’re starting to understand how crushing their power can be,” she said.
“I feel like it’s still important to raise awareness, regardless.”
William Huang contributed to this report.