The head of the Chinese University of Hong Kong has said the school will remove pro-independence slogans from message boards if its student union fails to act.

The banners and signs first appeared at the Chinese University (CUHK) last Monday, but were later removed by school authorities.

Joseph Sung’s warning on Friday followed an Executive Committee meeting of the governing body. It represents a u-turn from the stance of Dennis Ng, vice-president of the school, who said on Thursday that slogans will not be removed without communication with the student union. The Friday meeting did not involve student representatives.

Joseph Sung
Joseph Sung (left). Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of the university, and every member of the university should have the freedom to express any idea,” Sung said. “This is not to say that the exercise of this freedom should be boundless. Indeed, freedom of speech should be premised that it will not violate the law and it will not intrude any other person’s dignity or rights.”

“The Basic Law stipulate[s] that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of People’s Republic of China. The Chinese University reiterates 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.”

According to Article 27 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong residents enjoy freedom of speech and assembly.

“I therefore request that the student union remove the materials which advocate Hong Kong independence immediately. Otherwise, the university will take action to remove those materials,” Sung said, without setting a deadline.

Hong Kong independence CUHK
Hong Kong independence banner at CUHK. Photo: CUHK secrets.

The message board, commonly known as the Democracy Wall, is managed by the student union with authorisation from the school.

Earlier this week, student unions from 13 higher institutions released a joint statement condemning Chief Executive Carrie Lam and university authorities for “making an explicit effort” to limit free speech after the emergence of pro-independence banners on campuses.

Former CUSU president Ernie Chow was caught in controversy with a Putonghua-speaking student during a recent standoff over pro-independence slogans. The student said: “I guarantee you will not be able to return to China!” Chow responded with expletives: “Go back to China, Chinese person! Chee-na person! Go back to Chee-na!”

The word “Chee-na” is pronounced similarly to “Shina,” an archaic Japanese name for China that still bears an offensive meaning to many Chinese people.

Sung said: “CUHK students made malicious personal attacks against other people in abusive language,” without naming Chow.

“On behalf of the university, I’d like to convey our most sincere apology to those who are offended,” Sung said.

He added that the affiliated college of the student will handle an investigation into the student’s conduct and behaviour.

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.