Low on many things.

I only write a short update today, because there is now little electricity from the mains and I must save the battery of my workset. Worse, water supply is also cut off for days. There are rotas now to collect and chemically sterilise water for each block. This is another difficult duty for us, on top of many others – the water collectors must get up at 5 am and each make five trips, carrying 40 litres each time on a bicycle trailer from the lake.

Today, there is a dust storm, so I make the journey each time with a scarf wrapped over my face and dirt in my eyes. These storms are not so bad for the last few years, but we think the “Great Green Wall” must not be tended to this year. I don’t ever remember storms this bad inside a city, though many say it was worse at one time.

Much food is growing, but not yet ready to eat, and supplies get low. I still have my cat visitor, but no longer enough food to spare for him. Still he comes, just to spend time with me. Then he disappears for many days. I wish I could know where he goes to.

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Making Manifestos

Outside the campus, people continue to die from the flu. The power often is out for many hours now. We have set up the solar array on the library building to charge batteries and the UPS for the forum servers. Though we can hold meetings now in the big auditorium, the forum is used to record decisions and rota changes that are too complex to keep on paper, so it is very important we save our batteries for this. We each have a bicycle generator to charge batteries for handsets and homesets in an emergency, but this also uses our food energy, and we strictly ration the remaining supplies. Food from outside is very expensive and risky to collect. Agriculture and botany students will grow crops in all green spaces on campus. We pull up many flower beds and ornamental grasses to make space for cabbage, potatoes and beans, add some earth from the sides of the lake, and even plant some weeds in the water that have many vitamins to eat and make the water more clean. When we filter the water for drinking, the sediment is used for a fertiliser. It is very clever, but it will be many months before we can eat what we now grow.

We did not yet announce to the press that the quarantine is finished, but of course many tell their friends and family and it is reported in Beijing Newsnets. Some plan to return to their families, even though they risk infection. Most of us wish to keep the campus as a safe haven, and continue the Quarantine Movement. There is a big debate in our meeting now: will we set up a quarantine area to allow others in and let them join us when we know they have no disease? Some are against allowing in others, as we cannot know if they use anti-virals and remain infectious, or if they will try to take over. We argue for many hours, but we know that others can use force to get in. At least if we set up a way for others to enter safely, we keep control of the campus.

We will have endless meetings and discussions, and then nominate those with the best ideas to make a manifesto for running the campus. There is a group of Party members we were afraid will want to bring in the authorities after the quarantine, but even they agree an election will be the best and quickest way to decide who is in charge now. They want all students to join the party so they may vote, and all candidates to work with the party. It is more practical than really political – a compromise to do what we will do anyway, but not antagonise the Party outside. Many of us are still very angry at how they treat us before the quarantine and we refuse to join the party, so this will cause conflict. So much has broken down outside, there is a large group within the Quarantine Movement saying it is time for a revolution, to overthrow the party – they do not decide yet whether it is a revolution for democracy or for communism or for something else. I think we made decisions more easily on the forum, with an open discussion, and although we argue a lot we can all say what we want to, and then take a poll to decide. I say this to Li, and she says I should make this my manifesto. I laugh, really laugh for the first time in five weeks, until I am crying. I already moderate three forums, design the memorial garden, organise the cooking rota, write many press releases and answer hundreds of e-mails every week, as well as all the security, food, water and cleaning duty I have on the rota. Where will I find time to be a leader? I am too busy running this place!

So this is my meme for April: What is your manifesto for living in a time of disaster? How should your government respond to a Blood Flu outbreak? If you are in charge, what will you do? Or if you do not want to be in charge, then what is the manifesto you will trust? Who will you vote for?

Our quarantine ends

We are out of Quarantine five days now – this is the first time I have to write my blog. It is a very busy time, and a strange time for all of us. After the long isolation, we came running from our rooms for the big meeting, very joyful to see and speak with each other again. Many people I don’t know smile to me and then we run and hug each other, all modesty is lost in the joy to touch another person again, knowing it is safe. But when we reach the auditorium, the feelings soon change.

We take a register, to know for sure who has survived, and there are many missing. We go to check their rooms, and find sometimes they are dead, sometimes missing with no word, sometimes leaving a note to say they will leave the quarantine and go to a hospital, so they do not need to die alone and we do not need to clear the body. I think again about my neighbour, and how lonely these people feel as they die. We put on the forum many resources and support for survivors, but there is little for those who find themselves dying. We say stay in your room, post to the forum to say you are infected and we will leave food and drink outside the door until it is no longer taken. There are few doctors, and the medical forum must spend most time on those who they can help. We begin a counselling forum, but have not enough with the skills to run it. We should talk more about supporting people after they know they will die. We have lost so many who played their part in setting up the quarantine so that we could survive – we owed them more than to let them die alone.

Less than three thousand now remain on the campus. There is no celebration. We spend the first day with meetings, listing what we must do. Ideas that give us so much hope on the forum become more difficult now that we ask for volunteers, knowledge, materials. The next three days we are counting everything we have, searching empty rooms for more food, getting equipment ready for the food and power projects. Also, we are digging graves, packing up the possessions of the dead, contacting the families if we can. Then we have the burials, in Jing Yuan meadow.

We try to do this properly, with respect, even though some of the remains are rotted down very far and there are ten people in one grave. Most sickness was reported and the bodies are taken from the freezer, but after two weeks when there are fewer people left, there are some that have died too far away from others for anybody to know. We have to wear our plastic suits and ventilator masks, and wrap them in a refuse sack, then clean and disinfect the room. We fill each grave, and then move to the other side of the meadow, by the monument to the PKU students who die in the revolution. Here, the friends of those buried make a speech, and we read messages from the families, and read a dedication to our friends and companions of the Quarantine Movement. This is said too many times, and the burial becomes a mechanical process. I try to make myself feel regret and grief for every person, but yesterday and today I attend burials from morning until it is dark, and soon I cannot feel anything, I am like a worker in the factory, the product moves along a line, the process has no meaning, I even become used to the smell. We change shifts after five burials, so I am sometimes filming, sometimes speaking, sometimes moving the bodies on a stretcher, and sliding them into the grave. Many people take short digging shifts – we have grown weak from poor food and much time indoors, apart from a few who exercise all the time of the quarantine. Now, we all have exhaustion and depression – too much fear and sadness for ourselves to grieve for others. But we take comfort in those still alive, and we go on living.

How we keep the power going

Today the power has failed, not just for 3 hours like it has before but all day and much of the night. We all keep a spare battery charging for an emergency, because we rely on the forum to organise without breaking our quarantine, but the forum is slow to load, too many panicking students. What if there is no more power? This is the end! We have to all take food supplies into our rooms! No, we cannot all go out or we have to start the quarantine again! Many begin to say that if power is off for 24 hours, all quarantine rules are no longer in use and we start again. This would be a disaster for us, after all the hard work to keep people in isolation while working together.

After 18 hours, the lights go on again, and we all calm down a little and begin to talk about what we will do if the power goes for longer, or forever. We begin to speak of places on campus where we can get wood for fuel – trees we can cut down, furniture we can break. We have SkIMp workshops on how to build a dynamo powered by bicycle, to charge batteries for our handsets, and we list solar-power sources around the campus and get volunteers to connect the residential buildings to this. A group of engineers talks about making a “bobbing duck” to put in the nameless lake after the quarantine. So the power cut that nearly breaks us apart now brings us together again, with more hopes and plans for the future. It is just four days before we end our quarantine, and we look forward to keeping our community going after this, and dealing together with whatever the future brings.

I also look forward to meeting the people I speak with and never see. Yesterday, I hear a crash from above me and somebody in the upstairs room screams – his arm is broken. He is changing the light bulb from the top bunk and fell – he was drunk, and thought it was the bulb, not the power, that is broken. So I request a medical helper from the forum, but this is a big problem because it will need somebody to go into his room, and then both must go back to the beginning of their quarantine. Some medical students agree to do this for emergencies, but nobody wants to do this for such a stupid accident, so I say give me the instruction, I will do it. Then a medical student says no, he will go, it is better to be somebody with training. After 30 minutes, I hear him arrive in the room above me. I mostly don’t hear what he says, but I hear moaning and crying, then silence. I call out “Are you OK?”, and I hear from the ceiling “He is fainted!” He shouts it is OK, he will set the arm more easily now. He asks me why I volunteer to help this man, do I know him? I say I cannot stand to hear him moaning with pain all night. It is the first conversation I have without a set, for three weeks, and it is strange to think only the ceiling separates us. I climb on the top bunk, turn my ear to the ceiling. We shout and repeat our words a little, but we talk – he says it helps him to work. His name is Jian. I tell him about the girl in the next door room to me, who died near the beginning of the quarantine. I think about her in the night, when it is quiet. I know she died only a few feet from me, and there was nothing I can do to help. I listen to her coughing, I leave hot drinks outside her door until she no longer takes them, talk to her, though she cannot speak loud enough to talk back. I tell her I am here, though I know it makes no difference. When I no longer hear her coughing, I post to the medical forum. For five hours I know she is dead on the other side of the wall, and I cannot sleep. I feel like the wall is glass, like she watches me. Then two students come in a ventilator suit with a stretcher from the medical labs to wrap her in plastic bags and put her in the freezer room. I know this, though I only hear the plastic suits scrape against the wall and the rustle of bags and the squeak from the tape. I cannot stand to do this again. It is my selfishness that makes me offer to help the boy upstairs. Jian says no, it is compassion. It is good to hear him say so. We keep talking until the man wakes up and we know he’s OK.

Delivering food and keeping harmony.

Many people who read my blog want to raise money for the student occupations. We start a bank account, and many people and organisations give us money, but right now this seems a little pointless, as we cannot buy anything – there is no delivery service besides the army to get supplies into the quarantine now, and nobody can leave the campus. We must survive on what we have until the 28 days are over. But you can donate to the independent distribution networks that deliver where the army do not. These are not government or NGO, just ordinary people who get a transport and decide to do something. They have to keep very secret, but they have good communication networks and work inside communities, so can get food where it is needed and organise local distribution before they deliver. A whole neighbourhood in Wukan, Guangdong uses the same system we have here – a schedule for going to the pick-up place and taking food for your house, so that people do not come in contact. I don’t know how they avoid army patrols. Maybe people from inside the army give them information – it is very easy to join now, and soldiers, too, have families needing to eat.

Only the army now move freely in Beijing, and the army grows every day. Requests for volunteers are all over the national Socnets, and many sign up, some wanting to help others, some hoping they will get anti-virals, others just wanting two meals a day. They are given very hard work to do. There are many recruits the same age as the students, and we talk through the video-link to those who deliver food to us. They have complex orders, but not regular, so we cannot predict their movements. Sometimes they come only once in two weeks, another time twice in one day (we think this is an administrative error). They want to know who is in the occupation, numbers of healthy and sick people. We tell them the numbers, but not names. So far we tell them we need very little, and ask them not to break our quarantine. So far, they agree – there is not yet a food shortage in Beijing, it is only distribution that is needed.

Now I can speak with my parents in Anhui, I know it is not the same there. There is very little food and people must leave the house to look for some. Yesterday, army food trucks are in my parents’ neighbourhood, delivering a ration for the next two weeks. After the food is delivered, there is knocking at the door. It is a woman with a boy 3 years old. She is from the next neighbourhood, they do not deliver there yet, but she sees the trucks have been close by, and asks to borrow some food. She can hardly lift the child, she says she has not eaten for three days. She promises she will bring the food back when they have a delivery, and my parents give her a little rice, beans and oil. After another ten minutes, another person comes, this time an old man alone. They give him a little of their own dinner they have just cooked, but nothing to take home – they have little for themselves and cannot give to everybody. They do not answer the door again, though many more people come looking for help.

The main problem with the distributing system is not enough information. Nobody knows where the food is, when it will come. Nobody can plan to ration what they have, and when they have nothing left they must break quarantine or starve. Many of us feel very angry at how this is organised. Many people in the occupation are youth members of the Party, but even they agree that enforcing the silent zones was dangerous and shameful. If we knew what is happening, if we organised our quarantine sooner, many others would be alive now. There is much debating and arguments the political board on our forum, but these go around in a circle until somebody calls for harmony, and then everybody unites to attack that person. It has become a joke on other boards in the forum: somebody will say “I call for harmony!” when there is a disagreement on which singer is best or how to cook a noodle soup. Some worry that there is nobody in charge of the quarantine, and ask who will make us keep our rules. But we all want the quarantine to work. Why else do we stay? More important is that when the quarantine is over, to keep safe we have to remain in occupation. Then we will need to decide how we organise, what are our tactics, and who is in charge.

The W4 and freedom

Many here are sharing the reports on how General Secretary Hong Xianhua praises the student quarantines for keeping order in the universities during the disaster. This makes me angry – that she can praise us and get praise, all over the world, because she does not send the army against us, and nobody asking about the silent zones, the protests, the police raids and the students arrested or dead. Does anybody know that the same students who organised the quarantines are the ones who were in the protests? And why do many of those students now accept a SkIMp call and shake a virtual hand of the General Secretary? I think for a scrap of praise and the promise of a good career in the CCP. We must see that Hong only praises us because it is to her advantage to control the student occupations. If we talk about how the army behave at Hebei University, where they threaten students and take away their supplies, how much will Hong praise our organisation and courage?

A lot of people are afraid for me because I blog about how our occupation defies the authorities. People have an idea about China that is not really untrue, but is a little old fashioned. The government wants to suppress dissent on the internet still, but what can they do since the W4? The Socnet I use does not share information, so I am safe if nobody who knows me gives me away. Also, I am not the only one who says these things. There is safety in numbers – they cannot investigate every blog and track everybody who criticises them, especially when resources are taken with more important matters.

I am the wrong generation to be afraid of what I write on the internet. I was 13 when the Golden Shield, “The Great Firewall of China”, fell to the W4. I remember when the satellites are launched, my parents saying: “They will never let us have this technology – it will be for the government only.” But the technology is built into all the new computers, and we are building all the computers. For a little while, they try to make it illegal to own a W4 device without permission, but they are everywhere, and there is always a set available from a black market or internet site. Though many were prosecuted, the government get more from the tax on W4 devices than the fines on those they catch with an illegal set. Of course, we all must register to the National Socnet, but they cannot stop us using another Socnet, one that will take a fake name. Since the silent zones, I understand why they are so excited for the W4 at that time. To me it is just a new technology to do the same things I always did, but to my parents it was the first time you can use the internet anywhere, at any time, totally free to say what you want. None of us knew it could be taken from us so easily. Still, they do not do that here, in Beijing, while the world watches. Instead, they try to make us their pet, take the credit for our success, but we are not fooled, our words are still free.

Would I be more free in Jack’s farm in America than here? My parents always think that the West is some place where everybody has freedom, more than we do, but in my life I never see the evidence for this. Though some places have more rules and worse punishment for a small crime, everywhere is free or nowhere is free. Since the quarantine I feel more free than ever in my life. Though what we can do is very limited, nobody tells us what we will do – we decide the rules ourselves, on a forum where everybody has an equal voice. Everywhere else in the world, say the wrong thing, have the wrong ideas or the wrong background, or don’t have enough money, and somebody will make you less free.

We are too late.

Of course, we are too late. I think part of me knew this already – we still have the mass meetings after the police come into the campus. They take the anti-virals, so may have spread the virus among us.

Twenty-four people on the campus are sick now. My neighbour in the next room was coughing all of last night. I make food for her and leave it outside the door today, and she takes it, but does not answer anymore when I call. The coughing stops now – I think she is sleeping. I will know soon, if there is a return when I knock on the wall. If there is no reply, she will not be the first to die, and there will be more. I do not know her, only her name. I ask on the forum if anybody knows who she is – her friends say they SkIMp her and will speak to her family.

There is no point to send a medical student – just like outside, they can do nothing. If somebody goes to the doctor now with flu, they put them in a secure ward. There is no treatment, no cure. Mostly it is young, healthy people dying. Children and elderly people do not get the virus so quickly – it takes longer and they can recover from the illness sometimes. But the most healthy person will always die. Li explains why this is to me, about how the virus uses the immune system to attack the body. It seems crazy, to be healthy makes you in the most danger. We fear our own youth and health now, but more than this we fear that our quarantine will be broken from outside. The army patrol the street, shooting anybody who leaves their homes. They stay away from the campus so far – we think they are too busy to enforce our quarantine when we enforce it ourselves, but perhaps they will decide they need to patrol the street inside our gates, too. Then we cannot reach our stores – all our careful planning and rotas will be useless. Perhaps it would be better if we all keep a personal store in our room. Many of us did keep some personal food as well, but not everybody, and not enough for the whole quarantine.

When I finish writing this I know it will be time to find out if my neighbour is alive, and I do not dare to stop writing. This morning, as I go to fetch the food for my corridor, I meet a cat, following me all the way to the dining hall and back to the dorm building. I do not know where he comes from – maybe his owner is dead. I know the virus cannot travel through an animal, so I let him into the building. He follows me all the way to my room. I give him some rice and fish sauce and he eats a little, but mostly he wants to sleep on a human. Like me, he wants to feel a touch, comfort, company. I feel grateful that I have this, and guilty that others do not.

The girl next door to me must know that she will die, and she is alone. She makes little noise, she does not cough anymore. She does not talk. Is she so brave, to make sure she will infect nobody else? Or does she have no strength to go out of the room? If I listen, I can hear her breathing. It sounds so painful, like she breathes through water. I wish she will cough again. I cannot stand this sound. I don’t know how I didn’t hear before, it is so loud.

I cannot sleep when she sounds so bad. What will happen if I go in? I can put on my mask, and look at her, and hold her hand, then wash my hands very well. I might not catch the virus, and nobody will know.

Breaking the silence

Everybody must hear by now that W4 access comes back to all provinces and there is news from Anhui. On our Quarantine forum there is much joy and grief, much discussion, much speculation on what is true and what is still kept silent, but for me only one thing is important – my family are safe.

I spoke for an hour on SkIMp with my mother, father and grandmother. They are thin and very pale from little food, but not sick from flu. The flu was not so bad there as in Guanxi, they say, though still very many have died. The day I call from the station is the morning after soldiers came to my home – to every home in Xiuning. My father tells me they wear special suits and helmets with masks all the way around their faces. They leave a bag of rations and seal all the doors and downstairs windows of the house – nobody is to leave their home until they are given permission – they say anybody they find outside, they will shoot them. They say they will deliver more food, but they do not say when. Of course, immediately when the soldiers leave, they go to the homeset but find they have no connection. They do not know if this is only them, or everybody in the town, or in the province, or in all China, and there is no way to find out.

My family stay in the house for two weeks not knowing why, not knowing what happens outside. They hear the army trucks go by often, but no more food comes. When they have eaten the last of the rations, they paint on a sheet “3 people need food” and hang this outside the window, but no more food is coming, and after two days my grandmother cannot stand this and climbs out from the upstairs window while my parents are sleeping. My grandmother is 68, but very healthy. She climbs onto a flat roof we have above the door and from here down to the ground, then she goes to the store. She finds this sealed up, like the house, but then hears a truck coming and hides behind the big waste bins. It smells very bad because nobody takes the rubbish away for a long time. She sees soldiers go into the shop and load boxes of food on their truck. She waits until they are in the shop to fetch another load, then goes to the truck. My mother is very angry with her when she tells me this, saying, “What if there are more soldiers in the truck? What if they forget something and came back?” but my grandmother says, “Then I die, and you starve. If I never try, we all starve. What’s the difference?” She took a big bag of rice and ran home. By now my parents know she is gone and are watching from the window, looking for her, but not daring to shout for her. They have knotted together sheets to pull her up so they do not have to break the seal on the door. If she did not risk her life for this food my family will have starved.

Now, with the Blood Flu spread so far, the army leave only a very few soldiers to secure Xiuning. People begin to spread messages between houses and apartments. They talk between windows or throw a paper wrapped around a stone, or hold up a message at a window. They spread the message of a date and a time: March 6, 6am. At this time, everybody leaves their houses with anything they can find to use as a weapon, and they chase the soldiers out of town and take back all the food. This is not in the newsnets – the official news says that Xiuning has completed its quarantine and the people come out to celebrate. Of course, then all the journalists at all the Chinese embassies ask, if the quarantine is over and the area is safe, why is the W4 still restricted? And they say this is a technical fault, and then in two hours W4 is back! When my family hear that PKU is in quarantine, they fear that the same thing has happened to me – we talk for a long time before I make them believe we make this quarantine ourselves.

It is so good to see them again, but I feel strange, tense, like it is not real, like I still do not know for sure they are OK. Why do I feel this way? SkIMp is like a movie – very real while you watch it, but just a story when the image is gone. I felt so happy and so much relief to see them, and now I feel empty, uncertain, afraid – and alone. They were here, but they are so very far away. And Li is so very near, but just as far away. I want to hold somebody and take comfort, but I must stay alone for another 24 days. I do not know how I will do this.

I believe others feel the same. A strange communication between students has started itself, a game we make up as we go with no rules and no purpose except to say “I am here”. It is mostly in the evening, before we go to sleep, a person will knock on the wall, and the person in the next room will knock back, and run to knock on the wall on the other side, and the knock goes around the building and comes back again. We also knock on the floor, and climb on the bunk to knock on the ceiling. At first it is just knocking, then patterns begin, some made up, some following the rhythm of a pop song. Messages can pass this way without words, a line from a song that says how we feel. Of course, we can go on the forum and post song lyrics or even sing to the person next door on SkIMp, but this is not the same. A knock is a touch, you feel that the one who sends it is there, they have a reality. We are all alone, all afraid, all waiting to find out what will happen to us. We hold on to this small comfort and wait, together and alone.

Our quarantine begins

Today is the lantern festival, but like New Year public gathering is forbidden, we are told to stay indoors and not meet in big numbers. Still, people release lanterns from their windows and balconies. Why would people risk so much to break this rule? There is a lot to wish for. The socnets are on fire with virtual lanterns – so many people, all wishing for the same thing. For us, in the campus, we wish for the next 28 days to pass quickly.

Our last meeting decided we cannot wait until more Beijing people begin to fall ill. A medical advice team, mostly postgraduate students but also Li and even some lecturers, produce a leaflet about precautions. The face masks we all wear have little use, both the cheap and expensive ones – it is like holding out water with a sieve. They say we must quarantine the whole campus, and today we agree this and we close our gate. We have enough food. If we allow nobody into the campus for 28 days, this will prove that nobody here is infected, and then we will ask to be allowed to leave Beijing and go to our families. We plan this for a long time, but I could not say on even a private post to my friends. We know that there must be crisis outside before we can safely do this and be left alone for long enough to set up what we need.

If this will work, we must keep the campus secure. Others may try to join us, or police may try to remove us since we do not have the authority to take over the campus: this is not only a quarantine, but occupation. We hope the authorities will see that it is a good plan, and leave us alone, but we are prepared for them to try to take control.

Nobody is to come in the walls for 28 days. People can leave, but then they cannot come back inside. This morning, we close the gates and post signs saying not to come in, notices explaining what we do. We try to avoid any political words, as this will bring attention we do not want, but we know it is impossible to do this without opposing the authorities.

We did not tell the press before as we do not want the news to spread very fast – this will only bring people wanting to join us or stop us. But we know the news will spread, and we prepare to make statements when they come to us. I am a part of the press team – we will answer questions to the university socnet pages and we have a loud speaker ready to speak to journalists from behind the gates.

Inside the quarantine, we have agreed our rules, and these are put on leaflets all over the campus. Everybody now has a private room. This is a great luxury, when in normal term-time we are four people in every room – but also lonely, since we must all live very separately now, with no close contact. We have
a rota for distributing food to the rooms, and a timetable for using washing rooms. When we leave the room we wear gloves and a mask – not to stop us catching the virus but to stop us spreading it by a door handle or light switch. We have a strict procedure for washing – use hand gel and spray the sink before turning the tap, then wash, then disinfect the sink, then disinfect hands before turning the tap again.

We communicate through a private forum on a secure Socnet – all the homesets in the rooms are now secure, and we all make sure our handsets are secure, too, and keep these charged up in case of a power cut. We have a medical team running the advice forum, also forums for sharing recipes and practical advice, a forum for every kind of studies where people can share notes and arrange lectures on SkIMp, forums for social chatting and for playing games. This will keep us from feeling too isolated.

A new meme for the month: It is maybe a little depressing for you, but important to me now to know that my friends are prepared. When we first hear of the Blood Flu, we say that this is just Vietnam, and I never think of it coming to China. Then it came to Guanxi, and I did not think it would come to anybody I know. Then there was Anhui, and everybody I know was cut off from me, and still I think Beijing will be safe. Only now is this real for me, and I know that many of you think, like I did, that this is a long way away, this is a China thing, you are safe. I hope you are right, but I want you to believe, for this meme, that you are wrong. I ask you all to say what you will do now so you will be safe when the Blood Flu reaches your country, and to do these things even if you think this is silly. This is the one thing you can do at this time to help me. I feel safer to know others will be safe.

Preparing and Protesting

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.