Life in China is returning to normal as the number of Covid-19 cases subsides. On May 17, authorities in Beijing announced that wearing masks while moving about the city was no longer compulsory and at the start of June 400,000 K12 students returned to school.
“We can go to [a] bank only if we go with a Chinese person. I don’t understand the logic in that”
Yet international students in Beijing have claimed they have not been allowed to leave campuses unless accompanied by a Chinese staff member since the end of January, and aren’t being given any updates about when the situation will change.
While most international students The PIE spoke with were understanding about the universities’ need to bring in quarantine measures, they question why they continue to be in place and why staff and others living on campus are not subject to the same rules.
“The only store we have here [on campus] doesn’t even have rice or meat. We can go to [a] bank only if we go with a Chinese person. I don’t understand the logic in that,” said one student.
“But the biggest problem is that we receive our money through Western Union and they don’t let us go there because it is far from the university.
“In my case, sometimes I don’t even have money to eat, and many people are in the same situation.”
In recent weeks, students say others have been allowed to visit the campus from outside, using the spaces for exercise and dancing.
The timing of the lockdown at Chinese New Year also meant that many international students were not on campus when the measures came into place.
Some had taken the holidays as an opportunity to visit other parts of the country and were told they would be faced with disciplinary action if they attempted to return.
As they were not on campus, in some cases their monthly stipends from scholarships were also withheld, leaving them with no means to support themselves and meet the unexpected expense of finding new accommodation.
After spending Chinese New Year in a province on the coast, one student said she has been staying with friends for the last few months.
“[The others back at my campus] are in lockdown. They can’t go out. They can not encounter outside people. When they need to buy their food or they need to go to a bank or something like that, there’s a car that takes them,” she explained.
“But even then not all of them can go. For example, maybe four or five people only and the others just say what they need.”
Students said they have repeatedly asked the international departments at their respective institutions when they will be allowed to go out.
One said they were told there were worries international students “don’t have the capacity to protect themselves if [they] go out”, adding that “if [they] go out and get infected, [universities] wouldn’t know how to say it to the embassies”.
Students in other cities like Guangzhou are also living under tight restrictions and say that the continued lockdown is having a significant impact on their mental health.
They have speculated that there are fears of repeat attacks on foreigners, similar to the ones in Guangzhou, and the government wishes to keep them on campus to prevent any similar concerns.