BEIJING -- Despite a stifling police presence, students at China's top university sang, shouted and broke bottles Thursday in a daring protest to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square army crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
Authorities at Beijing University, nucleus of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, had warned students beforehand that any form of protest would result in administrative punishments and even expulsion.
Like the rest of Beijing, the northwest university district remained eerily quiet through most of the day. A heavy police presence and constant identification checks dissuaded most activists from making even a symbolic protest.
But precisely at 12 midnight, all the lights in the graduate student dormitories suddenly went out and for ten minutes, students in all four southwest-facing buildings smashed at least a half dozen bottles onto the ground below their windows.
They shouted slogans, banged on doors and played musical instruments loudly enough to be heard by journalists outside the high campus walls in an overt protest against the June 4, 1989, army action.
With its capital city swept up in protest four years ago, senior government leaders ordered army troops to shoot their way into central Tiananmen Square on June 4, where they killed hundreds of people.
While neither the songs nor slogans could be heard clearly, the smashing of bottles in China is a direct political protest against senior leader Deng Xiaoping, whose name is a homophone for 'small bottle' and who was blamed for ordering troops to fire on protesters.
On Thursday plainclothes police with hidden cameras and tape recorders dominated the sun-baked square along with a number of unsuspecting kite-flyers and sight-seers.
Most of the day passed without incident and with less tension than the past three anniversaries, when police routinely rounded up and beat dissidents and foreign journalists.
The university district and its frequently active students, however, were completely locked down by sensitive authorities. Thousands of security agents and police blocked off the entire area to foreigners' cars and no one without school identification could enter the campus.
One restaurant abutting campus was quickly shut down by police when agents discovered foreign journalists were seated there. The already restrictive campus wall was fortified by walkie-talkie wielding security guards who flooded the central campus lawn to prevent students from gathering.
In the days before the anniversary, university authorities shipped all students suspected of activism back home for the week.
Former Beijing University student Wang Dan, the top student leader during the 1989 protest movement who was just released from prison, was ordered to 'take a vacation' in south China for the week, friends said.