On April 30, the cellphones of the 32,630 students at Peking University, a genteel institution widely regarded as one of China’s top universities, buzzed with a text message from the school administration. It warned students to “pay attention to your speech and behavior” on Youth Day because of a “particularly complex” situation.
Few students had to puzzle over the meaning. Youth Day, on May 4, commemorates a 1919 student protest against foreign imperialism and China’s weakness in resisting it. Seventy years later, in 1989, students from Peking University were again massing in the center of Beijing, demanding democracy. The student movement shook the ruling Communist Party to its core and ended with a military crackdown and hundreds of deaths.
And if a student today proposed a pro-democracy protest?
“People would think he was insane,” said one Peking University history major in a recent interview. “You know where the line is drawn. You can think, maybe talk, think about the events of 1989. You just cannot do something that will have any public influence. Everybody knows that.”
Update: Read also a similarly-themed article from the Los Angeles Times.