Student unions of seven colleges and a student senator of the Chinese University of Hong Kong have issued a joint statement criticising its vice-chancellor, who chose to give a speech at a congregation ceremony first in Mandarin.

After speaking in Mandarin, Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, made the speech on Wednesday in Cantonese and English.

The statement, written in Cantonese, said Sung “abandoned Hong Kong people’s mother tongue and the major teaching language of the university.” It claimed that Sung was “using the opportunity to please [China], to express your political loyalty, insulted the sacred ceremony – it was shameful.”

Joseph Sung
Joseph Sung.

“[The incident] shocked and angered students, it made us wonder, was it the congregation ceremony of the Chinese University of Hong Kong today, or the congregation ceremony of Chinese University of Shenzhen?” it read.

The university adopts a unique college system, different from most universities in Hong Kong that adopt a central administrative system. It has nine colleges in total.

In response, Sung said on Wednesday that he often chooses to speak in “whatever language is easier” first when making a speech.

“Every speech I gave [at congregation ceremonies] I would use Mandarin, Cantonese and English; the order should be more or less like that. I do not remember which language I spoke first in the past,” he said.


But the statement said Sung “betrayed the expectations of students, the university and society.”

During the ceremony, fresh graduate students of the social work department held up banners rejecting the recent Basic Law interpretation by Beijing.

The interpretation declares that lawmakers must sincerely and solemnly take the oath of office. Two localist lawmakers were disqualified by the court afterwards, although the judge said in the ruling that the conclusion would be the same with or without the interpretation.

Sung criticised the action, saying that it was a solemn ceremony.

“It was inappropriate to take such action at the ceremony, I regret the incident,” he said.

Sung is to complete his term by 2018 and will not seek extension.

Photo: Facebook/CUHK Secrets.

Two years ago after the pro-democracy occupy protests, students held up yellow umbrellas – symbol of the protest – during the congregation ceremony. Sung said at the time he respected students expressing opinion, and the ceremony went smoothly.

Meanwhile, banners were also spotted near the university rail station – where guests took shuttle buses to the ceremony – criticising the Basic Law interpretation and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

“Our votes do not count – the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress rules,” it read. “The crimes made by the government are as many as the stars – heaven slay Leung Chun-ying.”

There was no indication who put up the banners.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.