Yesterday we are supposed to begin lectures again, but nobody can travel and only students or tutors living in Beijing can come back.
We have a big meeting in the auditorium with students, lecturers, office staff, caretakers, canteen and cleaning staff, and decide we will keep the university running, with many student volunteers to do the work of staff not here. Most courses have no lecturers, but we continue to study for ourselves. The third year and post-graduate students also teach some classes.
Now Spring Festival is over, people want to know when they can return to their family, and we dare to break the ban on public gathering. There are calls for protests, but also for patience, to wait for a vaccine. After the meeting today, many hundreds of us have a silent protest outside the campus, wearing our flu masks and holding a banner with the words “End the Silence”. Nobody is arrested then, but some police come into the campus today and five students are taken for questioning. The police come to Li’s room when she is out. I live in the next room – because many rooms are empty now, we can have more space. I hear them look through all her notes and talking about her socnet records. They take away the workset in her room. I SkIMp her a message and hope so much that she did not leave a handset behind, where they will hear it. When I hear no sound from her room, I know she has her handset with her and I turn off my sound so that they will not hear if she replies. I sit on the bed and hope they don’t come into my room. After a long time, I hear them leave Li’s room. I wait to hear the boots on the stairwell, but no, instead I hear the knock on my door! I do not know what to do – if I let them in, they may take my handset and see Li reply to me. If I do not let them in, they may break in and find that I tried to hide from them, and take my workset and find how I search independent newsnets for Xiuning every day. I cannot hide under the desk, because they will hear if I move the chair. I stay sitting on the lower bed, slowly pull up my knees and hold my breath. They try to open the door, then they talk – do we break in or come back later? They do not know who lives in this room, they only want to ask questions about Li. They will come back if they do not find her.
Li had my message and cut her hair and buys a new face mask before she returns to campus. Now, we both move into another building, and we are not in the next room to each other. A student volunteer who supports the protests is keeping the room keys, and lets us swap them without changing the record. Li is not afraid – she is angry and prepares to make a response to the arrests at the next meeting.
I do not like this room so much – it is on the ground floor, and I cannot see beyond the campus from my window, I must go to the roof from the fire escape to see the outline of the mountains on a clear day. Most of the migrant workers return to their Beijing accommodation after New Year, but some choose to stay on the campus and join the protest with us. No senior staff here, so there is nobody to say they have to leave or to pay rent, but we all decide together to stop normal rent, and everybody who stays on campus will pay a small amount that we use to buy food to all share. Food begins to be expensive, because there is a lot of precautions and difficulty in the transport, but if the canteen makes an order we can buy a lot at once, and it is cheaper for everybody.