Local and mainland Chinese University of Hong Kong students (CUHK) confronted each other on Thursday over the recent row on pro-independence posters and banners on the Sha Tin campus. It prompted the university’s Vice-Chancellor Joseph Sung to claim that the “idea” of an independent Hong Kong was unconstitutional.

Multiple banners were spotted at CUHK on Monday before they were removed by the school, which said it does not support independence and falsely claimed the debate was unlawful. Other universities’ student unions lent their support to their CUHK counterpart.

independence notices at CUHK
Anti-independence poster at CUHK. Photo: InMedia.

Following the removal, the Chinese University student union message board at the Benjamin Franklin Centre’s Cultural Square, managed by the union, was filled with pro-independence posters. The union arranged for executives to guard the posters from being removed.

On Thursday afternoon, the student union agreed on a compromise to remove “oversized” posters in order to respect the diversity of comments and fairness, and to allow other students to paste up posters. It also noted that the rules for the message board state that students cannot cover, remove, or deface other people’s posters, thus it moved posters which covered other messages to an appropriate position.

Campus protests

Mainland students have called for a rally at the square to post anti-independence posters as a response.

At around 5:40pm, some CUHK mainland students arrived and put up posters saying “CUSU [Chinese University student union] is not CU” on the wall.

The posters said: “No referendum, no vote; How dare you represent all CUHK students?”

independence CUHK
Photo: InMedia.

The student union said covering other people’s posters was an “uncivilised act.”

“The Chinese University student union was formed by election by one person one vote of some 10,000 basic members of CUHK,” it said in a statement. “The ten members of the executive committee have expressed that we support freedom of speech in our election manifesto, the votes of students have agreed with such values, thus the union has a mandate to defend freedom of speech.”

“Also, we defend the pro-independence banners out of freedom of speech – without fear of the school’s suppression – to ensure pro-independence voices are not silenced, though not out of support for independence.”

YouTube video

Videos of arguments between students have circulated on social media. But both groups peacefully dispersed after around an hour.

‘Beyond dispute’ 

CUHK Vice-Chancellor Joseph Sung said he has been kept informed of the recent controversies although he was attending an academic conference overseas.

“The idea of an independent Hong Kong is not only in breach of the Basic Law of Hong Kong but also contrary to what I personally believe. Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China; this is beyond dispute,” he said in a statement.

“When discussing and debating political issues, our students should always do so peacefully and rationally, and conduct the discussion or debate in a respectful and patient manner.”

“Our campus is a place for learning. It should not be turned into a political arena. A new academic year is underway. Let’s maintain the learning environment peaceful for our students.”

The Basic Law states that Hong Kong is part of China, but also guarantees the right to “freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration.”

Treasure Group
The “Treasure Group.” Photo: Chinese University Student Press.

Also on Thursday, around ten anti-independence protesters from the “Treasure Group” arrived at the square, engaging in a quarrel with students. However, they were separated from students by security guards before leaving.

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.