The University of Hong Kong (HKU) issued a statement the other day making clear it would not collect membership fees for the Hong Kong University Students’ Union, would stop offering the student union financial management services, and even take back the offices and facilities provided to the organization. It also denounced the union for “capitalizing on the campus time and again to release provocative remarks that might breach the law”. Preceded by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) getting in the cross hairs the newly elected cabinet of its student union known as “Syzygia” more than two months ago, HKU declaring such a stance and taking such an action did not catch anyone by surprise.
That HKU staged such an anti-civilization operation right before the eve of the anniversary of the May Fourth Movement has distinctly shown how quickly the Hong Kong society has been degenerating with the electoral system “perfected” by the Beijing authorities and under the leadership of Carrie Lam Chen Yuet-ngor, who bragged about having been back on her feet again yet whose popularity rating keeps reaching record lows,.
Notwithstanding HKU a typical top-ranking colonial university with the mission to cultivate people of ability, it has never cracked down on student movements in its history since more than a hundred years ago, but rather provided advanced intellectuals from the mainland with a place of sanctuary. Progressing for more than a hundred years, HKU became an internationally well-known university. As regards the CUHK, its background speaks volume for the university. Since the very beginning, New Asia College has been bearing on its back the mission to carry forward the traditional Chinese culture in the Chinese society outside the sphere of influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Not only was the college not ostracized by the colonial regime, but also it was invited to be one of the three founding colleges of the CUHK.
After the ’60s, following the rise of the indigenous consciousness in Hong Kong, university students became one of the major forces driving social reforms. In those days, a faction of students named “Guo cui” espoused the CCP, while another faction drove local political reforms. Both of them carried on and promoted their own beliefs in a politically open society. The colonial government and the university management did not suppress the student movements by any measures. University student unions and the post-secondary inter-university student organizations took the initiative to engage in political and social affairs such as the movements to strive for the status of official language for the Chinese language and various civilian interests and benefits, the contributions of which have always been acknowledged by the post-secondary academia. The post-secondary students were supported and even driven by Beijing and its proxies to get into social movements in different manners in various historical stages. After the sovereignty issue was tabled for discussion, university student organizations even became the major targets of China’s united-front work. University students in those years demanded “democracy and reunification at the same time”, which was even supported and acknowledge by Zhao Ziyang, the top-ranking leader of China, as evidenced by his letter to the student unions of the two universities.
The school managements bound to be negative examples for education in future
e Beijing authorities have been considering themselves to be worthy successors of those advocating the May Fourth spirit, laying emphasis on students’ spontaneous patriotism and its effect. However, in reality, the student movements on the mainland have always been capitalized on by the regime. Whenever they were deemed to be of no use value, the teachers and students taking part in a movement would encounter ruthless repression. After the May Fourth Movement, the ministry of education back then gave an order to “severely punish the students that caused trouble”, and “expel them from school”. As a result, the ministry did what it intended to. Every university was kept under surveillance by military police, and a students’ joint publication was clamped down on by the government.
Even Cai Yuanpei, head of Peking University, had to resign.
What Hong Kong faces nowadays is in fact regression to where it was more than a hundred years ago. Which one is more demonic: the top-ranking colonial university or the top-ranking university under the new normal of the SAR? Is it not explicit enough who is turning back the wheel of history? Mao Zedong said whoever cracks down on student movements will come to no good end. I wish that is a true statement. There is a precedent in support of the saying though: the Warlord government of Northern China led by Duan Qirui was toppled for cracking down on the students during the March 18th Massacre in 1926.
ose who curry favor with the authorities and clamp down on students have never been able to curb younger generation’s simple sense of righteousness, nor have they ever been able to hamper newborn forces from driving social reforms. Maybe temporarily empowered by administrative authority through blindly following the political power like sheep, they are able to pledge allegiance to the people in power, take credit and seek rewards for what they have accomplished. Nevertheless, they will for sure be despised by people from all walks of life with infinite contempt and abhorrence in the end, and become the laughing stock in history and negative examples for education in future. The management of these universities today are beyond any doubt despicable, but how much longer can the regime advocating and supporting such backsliding celebrate it? Will they be awarded more support and acknowledgement?
(Chung Kim-wah, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute)
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