The heads of Hong Kong’s leading university have condemned an “offensive and insensitive” video clip made by its students, saying it contained hate speech and hurtful content directed at mainland Chinese peers on campus and demanded an apology from the producer.
The two-minute film, a parody of the University of Hong Kong’s official welcome video for new students, described HKU as the “University of Xiang Gang” – the romanised Mandarin name for the city – and included negative characterisations of mainland students.
The video made by student group Campus TV and posted on Facebook also touched on the sacking of law scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting from his tenured post as an associate professor in July over convictions related to the 2014 Occupy protests, saying the decision, without naming the academic, was “based on political interests”.
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Captions on the video included, “XGU [Xiang Gang University] welcomes a new cohort of mainland students & spies of the Big Brother” and “Whatever you choose to study, XGU closes doors to institutional autonomy and academic freedom”.
It also included news footage of an elite mainland student who won a scholarship from HKU this year, with the words: “We are especially proud to have a Gaokao arts top scorer achieving B+ in history by spending over a million dollars.”
The Jiangsu province student, who scored top marks in China’s Gaokao university entrance exams, did not meet the requirements for Tsinghua or Peking universities because of a B+ in history. She was admitted to HKU on a scholarship of more than HK$684,000 for a four-year programme.
In a statement on Wednesday, HKU said senior management had issued a message to the chairman of Campus TV – part of the student union – expressing distress over the video while noting the depictions “discriminate against these students solely because of their place of origin”.
“The university condemns this video and the views it expresses about specific members of the student body,” the statement said. “The video’s depictions of a specific group of the university’s students were particularly offensive, hurtful, insensitive and unfair.”
It added: “The production and dissemination of malicious views or attacks on members of the university will not be tolerated … Hatred, bullying and bigotry cannot be disguised as freedom of speech and therefore have no place in HKU.”
The student group was asked to remove the video from all platforms and the producer to apologise to all members of the HKU community.
The university’s senior management include president Zhang Xiang, provost Richard Wong Yue-chim and vice-president Ian Holliday.
Of the 10,000 non-local undergraduate and postgraduate students at HKU in 2018-19, more than 6,700 were from mainland China.
At HKU’s inauguration ceremony for new students on Monday, Zhang said that although debate and discourse were encouraged, they should be kept within the “bounds of the law” and done “responsibly and with respect for one another”.
Student union president Edy Jeh Tsz-lam said the management had not held thorough discussions with student representatives before issuing the statement, which further escalated the matter.
“Apart from only criticising the video as a form of hate speech, university management should also try to reflect and review on their existing policies accordingly,” she said.
“I think the video also represents students’ voices … Many local students have previously voiced dissatisfaction towards the university’s policies, including the distribution of scholarships.”
There have been long-running tensions at local universities between Hong Kong and mainland students who hold different cultural and political views. Clashes between the two groups have broken out at times including during last year’s anti-government protests.
When Zhang, a Chinese-born American scientist, was appointed president in 2017, there were concerns over whether he would protect HKU’s academic freedom with critics pointing to his lack of administrative experience and familiarity with Hong Kong, as well as his mainland background.
Campus TV said on Wednesday it had “no comment at the moment”.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Academics, students sign petition calling for Hong Kong universities to reverse dismissals of Benny Tai, Shiu Ka-chun over Occupy protests
- PolyU shoots up in Britain-based higher education rankings, while HKU remains top university in Hong Kong despite drop