Anonymous organizers planted leaflets stating “Not My President” in red ink over a black and white portrait of China’s president Xi Jinping on the tables of Klarman Hall’s atrium as part of an international student mobilization on Thursday.
The anonymous dissent at Cornell appears to be part of an international protest by Chinese students studying overseas who have distributed similar pamphlets in at least 12 different universities around the world, according to Foreign Policy.
The anonymous organizers running the Twitter account “Xi’s Not My President,”which publicizes the protest from across the world, claimed when reached out to by The Sun that the campaign at Cornell was, judging by the style and content of the pamphlets, “related to [their] campaign.” The organizers requested anonymity to avoid potential retribution.
Xi ascended to his second term in office last Saturday, according to The New York Times. A different variant of the leaflet distributed in Klarman said “I disagree about the president” in Chinese.
The distribution of the pamphlets comes in the wake of Xi’s move to abolish term limits for the office he occupies.
“Xi Jinping is abolishing term limits of his presidency through Chinese rubber stamp legislative body,” the pamphlet wrote. “It is time to let him know that WE DISAGREE.”
The organizers explained that student organizations on campuses do not reach out to them prior to publicizing the cause; instead, they “act spontaneously.”
“As organizers, we are not an organization — we are just a group of Chinese citizens who work/study overseas and decided to speak up for our people at home,” the organizers told The Sun in an email.
The organizers, who claimed that their movement has spread to over 30 schools located in nine countries, aim to raise awareness about the political situation in China and to encourage Chinese nationals to speak their mind.
“There is a large number of Chinese students studying overseas, and we think they have remained silent for too long — after all, western educated students shall have the responsibility of serving as the main driven force of the modernization of China in future,” the organizers wrote.
Chinese students and students of the Chinese diaspora at Cornell reacted in different ways to the news of the protest, with some offering cautious support and others dismissing its causes.
Weifeng Yang ’20 said he saw the protest pamphlets as a “positive thing” but was skeptical about whether it will lead tangible change.
“I don’t see this having much of an effect back home,” Yang told The Sun. “The fact that the protest sheet is in English and with a hashtag styled after Anti-Trump movement says a lot about how Chinese students in the U.S. had been Americanized; if the students indeed want impact back home, perhaps more Chinese-focused stuff.”
“But if they just want to remind many of the Chinese students abroad who disagree with their own government that they are not alone out there (because in many ways having a dissenting voice, even in the US, can feel very lonely), they did a wonderful job, and I really appreciate that,” he added.
Rong Tan ’20, on the other hand, dismissed Xi’s political ascendancy driving the protests as irrelevant to the wellbeing of the average Chinese citizen.
“At least Xi is managing the country well for six years,” Tan said. “It does not affect my personal life, economic condition, or other problems like visa or Chinese citizenship. … Sometimes it may be better not to waste time on arguing which president to choose and all the other fake news, rumor, scandal stuff during election.”
Aaron Li ’20 said that he will refrain from joining in the protest given the opaque Chinese political situation in the wake of Xi’s ascendency.
“At least for me I will not join the protest. It’s too complicated and there’s so much information that I don’t know,” Li said. “For example, I don’t know what’s going on in the Political Bureau of the [Communist Party of China] that made Xi announce it now.”