Head Of Chinese University Of Hong Kong Says Students Must Remove Pro-Independence Banners, Freedom Of Speech Is Not Boundless


Chinese University of Hong Kong (image by Baycrest via Wikimedia Commons)

On Friday (15/09) the Vice-Chancellor and President of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Joseph Sung (沈祖堯) said that students must remove banners advocating Hong Kong independence, or else “the university will take action.”

“Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of the university, and every member of the university should have the freedom to express any idea. This is not to say that the exercise of this freedom should be boundless,” Sung told reporters at a press conference.

“Indeed, freedom of speech should be premised on the principle that it will not violate the law and it will not intrude [into] any other person’s dignity or rights,” he continued. “The Basic Law stipulate[s] that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of [the] People’s Republic of China. The Chinese University of Hong Kong reiterate[s] that the university is against the notion of Hong Kong independence. We do not want our campus [to] turn into a place for different political groups to spread their propaganda. This will only ruin the peaceful environment in which our teachers and students pursue knowledge.”

Sung demanded that students immediately remove all banners advocating Hong Kong independence, “otherwise the university will take action to remove those materials.” Sung did not specify a time limit for the removal of the banners nor whether disciplinary measures would be taken against students who refuse to comply.

Sung also apologized to mainland students on behalf of the university after a former students’ union leader, Ernie Chow Shue-fung, called a group of mainland students ‘Shi-na men’ ( 支那人). “Go back to China, you Chinese, Shi-na man [sic],” Chow allegedly said, to which the mainlanders replied: “Get out of China.” Sung stated that students who misbehaved will be investigated “in accordance with the university’s standard procedure”.

支那 (pinyin: Zhina; pronounced ‘Shina’ in Japanese) is an archaic term for ‘China’. The word is believed to be a Sanskrit rendering of the word ‘Qin’, which was China‘s first imperial dynasty. Incidentally, the English word ‘China’ appears to derive from the same source.

The term was used inconsistently both in China and Japan for centuries, but it was popularized in Japan by the contact with Western powers. By the mid-1880s ‘Shina’ had become the most common term to refer to China in Japan. [1]

After the First Sino-Japanese War and the decline of China as an Asian power, the word ‘Shina’ began to assume a derogatory connotation, so much so that Chinese author Yu Dafu (1896 – 1945), who studied in Japan between 1913 and 1922, bitterly complained about it in the autobiographical essay Xueye (Snowy Night, 1936): “The word ‘China’ [Zhina] or ‘Chinese’ [Zhina ren], when uttered by young Japanese girls, aroused such feelings of humiliation, despair, indignation and pain, that Chinese compatriots who have never been to Japan cannot even imagine,” he wrote, [2]

The same year scholar Guo Moruo (1892 – 1978), who had also lived in Japan and spoke Japanese, condemned in an article the use of the word ‘Shina’, arguing that although the term itself was not offensive, it had gradually acquired a derogatory meaning. [3]

In recent years the term has resurfaced in Hong Kong and Taiwan to express opposition to mainland China.

The controversy between Hong Kong and mainland students highlights growing tensions between Beijing and the former British colony which have intensified since the Communist central government refused to grant Hong Kong universal suffrage in 2014.

Article 27 of the Hong Kong Basic Law stipulates that “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration.”

[1]  Joshua A. Fogel: The Cultural Dimensions of Sino-Japanese Relations, Chapter Four.

[2] quoted in: Jin Feng: The New Woman in Early Twentieth-century Chinese Fiction, p. 73.

[3] Fogel, Chapter Four.

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