BEIJING, DEC. 7 -- In the first major student demonstration since widespread campus unrest last winter, hundreds of students from an elite Chinese university marched downtown today to protest what they called negligence in the weekend death of a classmate.
Unlike the demonstrations last year, when students calling for freedom and democracy took to the streets in more than a dozen cities, the students from Beijing's University of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade who marched today said their protest was over a specific grievance and was nonpolitical. The estimated 500 marchers acted in defiance of a ban on demonstrations.
At one point, police tried to divide the protesters into two groups and ended up clashing with some of them. A witness saw policemen pummel a dozen students with their fists, bruising and bloodying some of them. Some fought back, but no major injuries were reported.
The demonstration ended in the early evening after the students reached the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade following an eight-mile march from their campus on the northeastern side of the capital.
Ministry officials agreed to meet with student representatives to hear their complaints and then organized buses to take them back to the campus.
In the afternoon, Zheng Tuobin, the minister of foreign economic relations and trade, walked among the demonstrators, trying to persuade them to halt their march. But the protesters ignored his pleas.
The students were protesting the treatment of Zang Wei, 19, a student who was stabbed by assailants after they robbed a university grocery store on Saturday. The students claim that Zang failed to receive prompt medical treatment at the university clinic after they took him there. Students then took him to the modern Sino-Japanese Hospital, where an argument ensued over hospital fees. Zang was admitted after classmates agreed to pay the fees but he died in the hospital later that day.
During today's demonstration, students repeatedly shouted the name of the slain student. Students said they were also protesting lack of security on campus, what they called the unresponsiveness of the university administration in dealing with Zang's case, and what they described as medical negligence in the death of a female student who fell ill in October.
"Our lives are worthless," said one of the students' protest banners.
The students said that more than 1,000 students went to the university president's house yesterday, but that the president refused to meet with them.
The police were reported to have arrested two suspects in the case. Neither of them was a student.
Some reports placed the number of protesters as high as 1,000. In any case, the number was sizable, in view of the fact that the university's entire student body numbers only about 2,000.
The University of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade is the closest China has to a business school. Its students are being groomed to join China's leading international finance and business organizations.
Student protesters said they discouraged students from other universities from joining in today's demonstration because they did not want to divert attention from their main grievance.