An editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily has hit out at a Chinese University of Hong Kong student group formed to discuss Hong Kong independence, claiming they were using the guise of academic freedom to mask political advocacy.

Thursday’s editorial came after local media reported on a group called the Hong Kong Independence Research Society, which put out an open call for members in a post on popular student Facebook page CUHK Secrets on January 12.

Photo: CUHK.

The group said it was set up in 2018 to defend students’ freedom of speech. It added that it was established in response to the school’s attitude towards banners promoting Hong Kong independence that appeared across universities in Hong Kong last September.

People’s Daily reporter Ren Chengqi wrote an editorial that was posted on the paper’s overseas site. He accused the group of using the “sheep’s head” of freedom of speech and academic research to sell the “dog meat” of civil disobedience and Hong Kong self-determination – using an idiom referring to misleading people.

Ren said that the group was merely attempting to mask their “illegal” actions of advocating Hong Kong independence by hiding behind the guise of a “research society” and presenting their motives as exercising a universal human right.

“The air of freedom was originally the breeding ground for academic production, yet it has become the flowered cloth that hides shame for political disputes.”

A student named KC who is a member of the group’s preparatory committee told Ming Pao that the group hopes to provide a platform for students to discuss Hong Kong independence and express their opinions about current events.

Pro-independence banner at CUHK. File photo: InMedia.

He said the group welcomes students of different political views to participate and study the feasibility of Hong Kong independence. He said so far, around 20-30 people have made enquiries or expressed an interest in joining the group.

After the group made its posting, the Chinese University published a statement on Wednesday reiterating its “firm opposition to Hong Kong independence,” saying that it contravenes the Basic Law.

The school said that it will continue to “do its utmost to protect freedom of speech and academic autonomy” as well as “ensure the campus is a place for the engagement of rational intellectual pursuits, instead of political contests.”

The university attracted media attention after it removed banners advocating independence on campus in September. The move led to protests by students and sparked supporting movements at campuses across the city.


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.