Chinese universities sent students home and police fanned out in Beijing and Shanghai to prevent more protests Tuesday after crowds angered by severe anti-virus restrictions called for leader Xi Jinping to resign in the biggest show of public dissent in decades.
Authorities have eased some controls after demonstrations in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong — but showed no sign of backing off their larger “zero-COVID” strategy that has confined millions of people to their homes for months at a time. Security forces have detained an unknown number of people and stepped up surveillance.
With police out in force, there was no word of protests Tuesday in Beijing, Shanghai or other major cities that saw crowds gather over the weekend. Those widespread demonstrations were unprecedented since the army crushed the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Tsinghua University, where students rallied, and other schools in Beijing and the southern province of Guangdong said they were protecting students from COVID-19 by sending them home.
But dispersing them to far-flung hometowns also reduces the likelihood of more demonstrations. Chinese leaders are especially wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism including the Tiananmen protests.
On Sunday, Tsinghua students were told they could go home early for the semester and that the school would arrange buses to take them to the train station or airport.
Nine student dorms at Tsinghua were closed Monday after some students positive for COVID-19, according to one who noted the closure would make it hard for crowds to gather. The student gave only his surname, Chen, for fear of retribution from authorities.
Beijing Forestry University also said it would arrange for students to return home. It said its faculty and students all tested negative for the virus.
Universities said classes and final exams would be conducted online.
Authorities hope to “defuse the situation” by clearing out campuses, said Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Chicago.