BEIJING—Sun Jian, a 37-year-old master’s degree student in the Chinese city of Yantai, for months staged a solo campaign against his university’s COVID-19 prevention measures, including blistering criticism on social media.
The last straw for authorities came on March 27, when Sun walked around his campus carrying a placard that read “lift the lockdown on Ludong.”
Police detained him and on April 1 Ludong University expelled him, according to a letter from the university seen by Reuters.
University officials did not respond to a request for comment.
In China, draconian lockdowns have brought starvation, food shortages, family separations, lost wages, and economic pain.
Sun’s protest reflects growing frustration and resentment in a society with a COVID-19 strategy that is increasingly challenged by the Omicron variant.
In some cases the push-back has gone viral on social media, with video clips of citizens scuffling with health workers and screaming anger over lockdowns from the windows of their apartments.
Sun said his university had moved classes online and banned students from leaving campus, receiving packages, or getting outside food deliveries.
He said his social media accounts had been blocked.
Arrests and detentions for COVID-related rule-breaking surged in March, according to the results of a search on the Weibo social media platform for police statements, posts by state agencies, and state media reports from around China.
The search found 59 confirmed police cases and 26 arrests for COVID rule-breaking in January, and fewer in February. But in March, more than 600 police cases and 150 confirmed arrests were reported on Weibo, the review by Reuters found.
It is likely that the figures represent only a fraction of actual cases as not every incident makes it to social media or is reported by the authorities.
Public security departments also announced a surge in clampdowns on COVID-19 rule violations in March, with cities and counties publishing 80 notices on their Weibo accounts, compared with seven in January and 10 in February.
Most infractions involve citizens trying to skirt rules such as reporting travels on a health app, falsifying COVID-19 test results, and sneaking out of locked-down neighborhoods.
Assaults on health workers also surged.
Police also reported arrests of citizens who were “venting off dissatisfaction” and using “inappropriate language” related to the pandemic.
As the resentment simmers, authorities are trying to control the public message, often with censorship of online complaints.
On April 5, videos of a protest against lockdowns in Langfang, a city near Beijing, were quickly removed from Weibo.
Last week, Shanghai announced a crackdown on “rumors,” threatening to shut down offending social media chat groups.
But pushback from the public can yield results.
Last month, students at Sichuan University in the city of Chengdu forced university authorities to lift a campus lockdown after protesting, the South China Morning Post reported.
State media warnings have at times added fuel to the fire.
Thousands of social media posts used a Weibo hashtag for a report by the state-run Xinhua news agency about police clamping down on COVID-related misinformation to post criticism of the Chinese regime’s coronavirus response.
By Friday, it had racked-up over half a billion views.