China In Turmoil : Shanghai Protests to Go Underground

Times Staff Writer

Lacking in numbers and increasingly fearful of arrest, Shanghai’s student activists Saturday announced that they will discontinue public protests and take their pro-democracy campaign underground.

The students made one last gesture of open defiance, however, when a band of about 60 staged a sit-in demonstration in front of the Shanghai Municipal Police headquarters, demanding the release of nine dissident labor leaders they said were arrested Friday.

Scores of uniformed police cordoned off a one-block stretch of Fuzhou Road, and hundreds of spectators gathered during a tense standoff that lasted several hours, blocking traffic until most of the protesters marched back to campus. At midnight, a core of about half a dozen students remained sitting just inside the entrance to the police building.

Police detained and then expelled a British journalist covering the sit-in. Peter Newport of Independent Television News “was told he was acting in a way incompatible with his visa. He was given 24 hours to leave the country and that was stamped on his passport,” ITN’s foreign editor, Mike Nolan, told Reuters news agency in London. Newport left Shanghai for Hong Kong, where he arrived Saturday night.


Overtones of Repression

Authorities also issued a warning to a crew from CBS News as the atmosphere in Shanghai--largely deserted during the week by foreign residents--took on overtones of repression.

The nine trade union activists were arrested Friday after taking part in a student-led demonstration that drew as many as 50,000 people to People’s Square in downtown Shanghai, students said. They distributed a leaflet declaring they had founded the Shanghai Autonomous Labor Union, offering the first indication that some kind of organization was behind the involvement of workers in student pro-democracy demonstrations.

In addition to the nine, Saturday’s edition of the Wen Hui Bao newspaper reported that public security officials had arrested as many as 130 people since Monday on charges of obstructing traffic and causing disturbances--apparently relating to the bus barricades that paralyzed the city and crippled factory production until Thursday. Workers were involved in helping students erect the barricades.

There have been no reports of students being detained, but fear is growing on Shanghai’s campuses after the government announced the arrest of 400 people in a massive crackdown on dissent in Beijing.

“We’re scared,” said a student passing by a small white replica of the Statue of Liberty on the campus of Fudan University. “We think the situation is more dangerous now than during the Cultural Revolution.” (Countless students and intellectuals were persecuted during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, which began in Shanghai.)

Student leaders at East China Normal University were the first to sound retreat. They announced plans Saturday to end their participation in protests to avoid “unnecessary sacrifices.”

Students at Fudan University, which has been in the vanguard of the democracy movement in Shanghai along with East China Normal, quickly followed.

“Maybe we’ll hide out for a couple of months, then resume our revolutionary work in secret,” said Lu Wan Ping, 19, a Fudan student.

By quitting now, the students are abandoning an ultimatum they made to the Shanghai government in Friday’s protest rally, requiring action by this afternoon on demands for a dialogue with officials, the flying of flags at half-staff to commemorate the victims of last weekend’s massacre in Beijing and the showing of accurate video documentation of the army’s assault on civilians in the capital.

But student leaders said the decision to disband was not an admission of defeat.

“I think we’ve been successful in that we’ve awakened the people,” said Kwo Lee Pin, 20, an electrical engineering major in charge of the treasury for Fudan activists. “It’s a long-term struggle, and we need to rest to keep our strength.”

More than half of Shanghai’s university students had already left the campuses because of a classroom strike, many returning home and depriving leaders of significant numbers to mobilize. Although it seemed highly unlikely that major protests would flare up again any time soon, not all of the students agreed with the tactic of retreat.

In a startling scene near the main gate of Fudan, a small group of students held a mock funeral for Beijing’s dead late Saturday afternoon. They set up an impromptu funeral tent, with black and red curtains and a banner declaring “The nation grieves!” at the foot of a huge granite statue of the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

The evening television news broadcast in Shanghai showed a brief video clip of Friday’s rally in People’s Square but denounced students for making “unreasonable demands.”

In an indication authorities fear serious labor unrest in this industrial city--China’s largest with a population of 12 million--Mayor Zhu Rongji was shown shaking the hands of workers and encouraging them to apply themselves to their jobs.

It is too early to predict how far officials will carry any ideological crackdown accompanying a move to restore order in Shanghai. While the current targets of arrests are “hooligans"--an apparent reference to the unemployed or extremely poor workers who manned the barricades early in the week--the crackdown could escalate to students and intellectuals, a Western diplomat said.

“Many students and some intellectuals have disappeared from sight, and others are expressing great concern,” said the Shanghai-based diplomat.