The Chinese government told a young environmental campaigner she cannot return to school unless she gives up her climate activism, the Guardian revealed Monday.
Ou Hongyi, 17, became the first young person in China known outside of the country to engage in Fridays For Future climate strikes, originally inspired by Swedish schoolgirl and climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Ou asserted that authorities demanded she discontinue her climate activism should she wish to return to Guangxi Normal University-affiliated high school in Guilin.
She initially left school in December 2018 after being told she was unsuitable for their international program and therefore decided to study for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and U.S. college admissions SAT test from home.
Ou is trying to re-enlist in high school in response to urging from her parents, but they say educational authorities have repeatedly called stating that she must give up her activism and refrain from speaking to foreign media. The school’s principal has also made this a precondition of her return.
“I don’t want to stop [campaigning],” Ou told the British daily. “I want more people to know.”
Her father reportedly admitted that, although he is comfortable with her beliefs, he is concerned that it may cause more problems in the future.
“She has anxiety about the climate,” he explained. “We hope that she can graduate from high school, enter university, and hope that she can pay less attention to climate change issues.”
Although climate change activism is far less of a concern to the Chinese communist regime than criticism of its egregious human rights abuses, authorities do not approve any form of political expression outside of the confines of the Communist Party. Climate protests may also help discredit the false image Chinese dictator Xi Jinping has sought to create of deep concern for the environment in recent years.
Xi has pledged to put the development of an “ecological civilization” at the core of his leadership — without elaborating with any policies on how he would reach this lofty goal — and bemoaned President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which placed strict economic limitations on the United States but granted China exceptions based on its alleged status as a developing nation.
Despite Xi’s apparent concern, China continues to produce staggering carbon emissions of approximately 10 gigatons year on year, representing over a quarter (28 percent) of the world’s total greenhouse gases.