[lg policy] Hong Kong: Baptist University student protest touches raw nerve

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu Jan 25 10:50:21 EST 2018

 Baptist University student protest touches raw nerve

A student protest over a school policy is turning into another powder keg
of cross-border animosity.

Two students of the Hong Kong Baptist University were suspended after they
participated in a protest at the school’s language center over a compulsory
Putonghua test.

One of the students, Andrew Chan Lok-hang, a Chinese medicine intern at a
mainland hospital, was forced to return home after hospital staff received
abusive messages and death threats directed at him for his participation in
the protest. The other student, Lau Tse-kei, is the chairman of the HKBU
student union. He was assailed for using foul language while confronting
staff of the language center during the protest.

The students were opposing a Putonghua proficiency examination that they
had to pass in order to be exempted from a mandatory course on the
language. Recent test results showed that 70 percent of those who took the
exams failed. They complained that the exams were too hard and the
evaluation was too strict and lacking in transparency.

They said the study of Mandarin should be optional, noting that the
students’ proficiency in Cantonese and English should be sufficient.

But Roland Chin, the university president and vice-chancellor, stressed
that their suspension was not because they opposed the mandatory language
test but because their behavior was unacceptable.

“Any such action, behavior on campus threatening teachers or threatening
anyone is unacceptable. That’s why we have to make that hard decision,”
Chin was quoted as saying at a press conference.

It is quite obvious, however, that his decision to suspend the students was
prompted by enormous pressure from the pro-Beijing camp – politicians,
educators, columnists and netizens – who looked at the protest as part of a
localist campaign to reject anything that has to do with mainland China.

One fuming columnist even assailed the HKBU student protesters for wasting
taxpayers’ money and urged them to return the subsidies they had received
from the government for their education.

Their anger at the students was hard to understand. They were not
advocating Hong Kong independence. They were simply asking the university
to remove the language test, which has nothing to do with the studies they
are pursuing.

Many of the students who participated in the protest realize the advantage
of being proficient in Putonghua, especially if they are planning to
practice their profession across the border. But it is a language that they
can learn on their own, instead of becoming an additional burden to their

The students used foul language during the protest? Is that enough reason
to deprive them of their education?

On the other hand, did the university officials express their concern when
the students who participated in the protest received verbal abuse and
death threats from mainlanders?

Some critics are even asserting that the students’ opposition to the
Putonghua requirement was a threat to the national security. Isn’t that

In fact, local students are being treated unfairly over this language
issue. If they must take Putonghua tests or courses as a requirement for
graduation, shouldn’t mainland students also be made to attend Cantonese
classes or take Cantonese proficiency exams?

The only reason we can think of for this highly discriminatory language
policy in the university is Beijing’s intention to turn Hong Kong into a
completely integrated Chinese territory without its own cultural roots.

Proficiency in Putonghua is certainly an asset for any Hong Kong student,
but it should not be made a requirement for graduation. If there is to be
such a requirement, it should apply not only to local students but also to
non-Hong Kong students.

– Contact us at english at hkej.com


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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