Students at two Caritas schools have staged a protest and surrounded the head of Hong Kong’s Catholic Church Michael Yeung during a graduation ceremony. The were demonstrating against his remarks on the upcoming national anthem law and Chinese identity.

Yeung was made the chief of the church in August amid controversy, and is the chairman of the council of The Caritas Institute of Higher Education and Caritas Bianchi College of Careers.

Michael Yeung. File Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

Last Saturday, Yeung said that he “did not believe there would be Hongkongers who would deny they are Chinese.” He also said that singing the national anthem was “the most natural thing to do” and that if one insists on not singing, it would “violate societal norms.”

The two schools held a joint graduation ceremony on Thursday. A number of social sciences students held placards saying “I am a Hongkonger” when receiving their degrees and diplomas on stage, Ming Pao reported.

Slogans promoting Hong Kong independence also appeared on campus on Thursday, and outside the venue there was an art installation referring to “the egg and the high wall” – a metaphor which relates to standing on the side of oppressors. Yeung had previously commented on the 1989 Tiananmen massacre: “[I] am a realistic person. If you know something cannot be done now, if you know it is a thick wall, do you still bang your head against it? I would not.”

As Yeung was leaving the hall, he was surrounded by up to 20 students, who tried to block him from entering a lift. The students demanded that Yeung retract his earlier statements.

Students trying to block Michael Yeung from leaving.

Yeung said that the students had misunderstood him. Whether to play the national anthem was a decision to be made by the school, and they would not be forced to do so.

When asked by students whether he was trying to force Hongkongers to acknowledge that they were Chinese, Yeung responded, “If you say you are Chinese, and you say you are a Hongkonger, I will still respect you.” On the question of whether refusing to sing the national anthem would “violate societal norms,” he said that “it was a matter of law.”

He did not meet with reporters and the school said it had “nothing further to add” on the question of whether the it would remove the banners. Yeung was escorted out of the venue by security guards.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.