By: Gabrielle Dankanich

Over the weekend, students from across the Washington, D.C. area organized a grassroots vigil in honor of the victims of the November 24th Urumqi fire. The fire killed at least ten people who could have escaped, had the CCP not been actively enforcing its “zero-COVID” policy which left victims locked inside while flames ravaged their building.

Students and community members from across the Washington metropolitan area attended the vigil Sunday evening. (Note: attendees’ faces have been digitally distorted for their privacy and protection.) | Gabrielle Dankanich

It is no secret that the Chinese Communist Party has a history of suppressing basic individual freedoms–especially the freedom of speech. The reach of this authoritarian government may be shocking to some. Chinese students on campuses in the United States, where personal freedoms are protected by law, are actively censored and intimidated by the CCP on American soil. These students must be careful not to criticize the government, or else face dire consequences for themselves and their families.

“Whenever there are Chinese dissidents speaking out, there are students that are sympathetic to the CCP and will report it to Chinese Students and Scholars Association or the Confucius Institute, or whatever CCP presence there is on campus,” Henry, a Taiwanese student, told the New Guard.  The CCP’s “authoritarian COVID measures are putting a lot of stress onto the people, a lot of stress onto the country as a whole,” he added.

The vigil featured a number of speakers, the majority of whom had to wear masks in order to conceal their identities from the CCP’s facial recognition software.

“I want to remind each of you that language shapes ideas,” one anonymous Chinese student said during his remarks.

“We will continue to fight until each and every one of us is free,” another student declared.

Later in the night, a mother and her young daughter shared their traumatic story. She explained that her husband had been taken by the Chinese government because he dared to speak out.

(Note: attendees’ faces have been digitally distorted for their privacy and protection.)

“My daughter, this little girl, is standing up for Uyghurs. She is standing for her people here today,” the mother said. “She has not seen her father since she was born. Let them have their free speech; let them have their freedom,” she continued.

Members of the Catholic University of America’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter joined in solidarity. 

I came out tonight to stand with both my Chinese friends and the millions of people who have suffered more than 3 quarters of a century under the control of the Chinese Communist Party,” Matthew Lannon, a member of the YAF chapter, remarked.

(Note: attendees’ faces have been digitally distorted for their privacy and protection.)

Rory O’Connor, also a CUA student, explained that university administrators often refuse to address this issue of free speech and individual rights: “I’m deeply, deeply concerned about the continued threat posed by CCP proxies to the rights of students from China and other affected communities, and the unwillingness of most university administrations to acknowledge the unique threat to such students and scholars rights—let alone the issue in general.” O’Connor serves as chairman of the Athenai Institute, one of the organizations that helped coordinate the vigil.

The Communist Party of China is horrified by free speech. In May of 2020, Jessica Warner, chairman of the Western Washington University YAF chapter, was hacked by CCP sympathizers for participating in YAF’s #CCPNotForMe initiative.

It is unacceptable for a foreign government to export its authoritarianism to the United States. YAF understands that periods of freedom are rare, and must be protected at all costs. It is beyond necessary for Americans to wake up and stand with the freedom-loving people of China in their fight against tyranny.