A student who tore down Hong Kong independence posters at the Chinese University (CUHK) has been praised by Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily.

The appearance of signs advocating separatism at several local universities – and some school authorities’ attempts to ban them – has led to controversy and a debate about free speech on campus in recent days.

On Tuesday, a video by SocRec showed a student who attempted to take down Hong Kong independence posters being confronted by student union members. It was widely viewed and disseminated online. As a result, the mainland student has been both celebrated and condemned.

In a column focused on Hong Kong in the People’s Daily’s overseas edition, writer Zhang Qingbo supported her act.

“In recent days ‘Hong Kong independence’ members have been creating chaos, so some students came out to tear down their posters, and started ‘we refuse to be represented’ actions on social media – these self-motivated acts of justice are worthy of praise and encouragement.”

He claimed that unions were not representative of all students, citing declining turnout numbers during elections. He claimed that student unions were linked to pro-independence figures, and were acting as the “pawns” of these figures.

“This is why, whenever they do things, there are always students emphasising that ‘the student union does not represent me,’” he said, referring to “CUSU is not CU” posters that appeared on the “Democracy Wall” managed by the student union.

‘Cyber violence’ 

In an interview with mainland news aggregator Guancha, the student declined to give her name, only revealing that she was from northern China, and saying she was afraid that other students would be able to find her. She said that she became a victim of “cyber violence” on Facebook and received threats.

But later on Thursday, she asked the news site to publish a statement from her. She wrote that she felt sad after reading the comments below the posts from Hong Kong media, but after receiving support from Guancha readers, “I know that there is a strong motherland behind me, so no matter what, I should not feel afraid.”

Photo: Screenshot/SocRec.

She claimed that the posters which were put up were against the rules, and should have been taken down. She added that she was proud of her actions, that she loved CUHK, and asked for privacy so she could concentrate on her studies.

The Weibo account of the Communist Youth League also posted in her support on Thursday. Comments beneath the post expressed their support, with some praising the student for her bravery. Many also praised her for her English skills, and denigrated those of the female CUSU representative confronting her.

One screenshot of a Weibo comment taken by Guancha said: “Hong Kong separatists are extolling freedom and democracy on one hand, but on the other they are forcibly interfering with other people’s freedom of speech – isn’t this slapping their own mouths? Didn’t think that Hong Kong universities had been reduced to this – give a like to this brave girl.”

Below the video posted on Facebook by SocRec, commenters attacked the student, saying she had no right to tear down the posters, and that her actions could constitute criminal damage. Some swore and told her to “go back to China” while others said her English was terrible and that she did not understand democracy.

“If you think they don’t have any right to put thing on the wall, so why did you think you have the right to tears [sic] off something? Are you fucking idiots or just a bitch!” one comment that received over a hundred likes said.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.