Outgoing Chinese University of Hong Kong head Joseph Sung said it was regrettable that he was criticised harshly by students after he “expressed views on some political issues and social disputes that were not to their liking.”

Sung, who became vice-chancellor of the school in 2010, will leave next year at the end of his term. He will be replaced by biotechnology expert Rocky Tuan. In September, the university was accused of suppressing freedom of expression following a row over the removal of Hong Kong independence banners, which was supported by Sung.

He was one of the ten university heads who signed a joint statement opposing Hong Kong independence and condemning “abuses” of free expression.

Joseph Sung
Joseph Sung. Photo: CUHK.

In the latest CUHK newsletter, he said: “Students will always be my first priority. A university will be losing its focus if it doesn’t put students first.”

“Regrettably, early this year I was criticized harshly by students after I expressed views on some political issues and social disputes not to their liking.”

“It pains me but I have to accept the bitter truth that I am not going to be a teacher to please everybody. When it comes to right or wrong, there is no compromise. I must make my stance clear without being wishy-washy.”

Goddess of Democracy Chinese University of Hong Kong
The Goddess of Democracy statue entering the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2010. File

Sung said shortly after he took office in 2010, there was a “hot potato” for him to handle – a peaceful protest over the Statue of the Goddess of Democracy, which was not approved by school administration but entered the campus escorted by students. The Hong Kong statue, sculpted by Chen Weiming, was inspired by a statue with the same name made during the 1989 pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square.

He said that in the several years of harmony that came after, he cherished moments such as watching the World Cup final with students or chatting with them over the dinner table, adding that he wished to be their friends.

“I’m glad that some student union officers still keep in contact with me after graduation,” he said.

Hong Kong independence
“Hong Kong independence” slogan at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. File

He said he lost almost 40 pounds during his tenure, before friends from the Faculty of Medicine advised him to exercise and gave him tips on how to remain healthy on a weight loss diet.

“It all started unplanned. After the Occupy Central Movement, I had lost my appetite for quite some time and always took oatmeal over proper meals, which resulted in a loss of about 10 pounds.”

Looking back at his tenure, he said his most cherished accomplishment was the I·CARE programme in 2011, which aimed to enhance students’ all-around development by engaging them in social issues. He said it has gone beyond CUHK to reach other universities in Hong Kong, China and overseas.

“We have shared happy and unhappy moments through which we have all grown to be better. You have inspired me a lot by your innocence and passion, and the daring pursuit of what you think is right──a few things you have taught jaded adults like me.”

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.