More than 700 alumni of the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) have signed a petition protesting the school’s decision to suspend two students after a row over a controversial Mandarin language requirement.

hong kong baptist university hkbu
Hong Kon Baptist University. File photo: InMedia.

Last week, the Baptist University Students’ Union (BUSU) held an eight-hour protest at the school’s Language Centre. Mandarin language proficiency is a HKBU graduation requirement – though overseas, mainland and local students whose first language is not Chinese are exempt, along with those who have taken official Mandarin language exams. All other students must pass the centre’s Mandarin test if they wish to be excused from taking a language course.

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After 70 per cent of students failed the test, some demanded talks with the administration. A video later emerged showing Student Union President Lau Tsz-kei swearing at staff members. Following the row, one of the protesters – Chinese medicine student Andrew Chan Lok-hang – cut short his internship in China after receiving threats. Lau and Chan were then suspended by Vice-chancellor Roland Chin on Wednesday.

700 signatories

In a petition, alumni from the university demanded that the school withdraw the disciplinary action against the two students, suspend the implementation of the Mandarin language requirement for a comprehensive review and consultation, and follow up with the matter of Andrew Chan being threatened.

It was signed by “a group of Baptist University alumni who believe in justice and have gathered on our own accord.” After being launched on Thursday, it has received over 700 signatures.

hkbu alumni petition

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said on Thursday that he felt “saddened” that students had used inappropriate language with teachers, as “respecting teachers is very important and is the most basic requirement.”

“Since the school’s administration [operates] independently and autonomously, we will not comment on individual cases… the most important thing is that Baptist University use this opportunity to teach students basic manners.”

Kevin Yeung
Kevin Yeung. File Photo: GovHK.

Graffiti appeared outside the wall of Au Shue Hung Memorial Library at Friday 3am, with profanity directed at Vice-chancellor Roland Chin. On Thursday, walls on two sides on an alley near the university’s Wai Hang Sports Centre were also found to be spray painted with the words “No to Mandarin” “discrimination” and “NOPTH.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s student union removed slogans bearing vulgarities from its Democracy Wall notice board in accordance with its regulations.

march and a class boycott will be held on Friday to protest the student suspensions.

‘Unreasonable tactics’

The Scholars’ Alliance for Academic Freedom on Wednesday published a statement stating that they did not agree with the university’s handling of the matter.

The group said that the school should not have made a decision to suspend the two students before a disciplinary hearing, especially when the protest did not result in anyone being injured or property being destroyed.

It also said the trigger point for the incident was that the school did not actively respond to the students’ demands in relation to  the Mandarin test requirement, and that the school should come up with a timetable for dealing with the issue. The scholars called on the school to respect the students’ views, instead of delaying their views with “bureaucratic procedures.”

It urged the school to respect the students’ freedom of expression and not oppress students with suspension or other “unreasonable tactics.”

ronny tong
Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

However, Executive Councillor Ronny Tong said on Facebook following the suspensions that the public’s reaction was “shocking.”

He said comments that the punishment will lead to a “chilling effect” or that there was an attack on freedom of speech are “the best examples of the dominance of nonsense, and of abusing and destroying core values in today’s Hong Kong.”

“Since when is using foul language to insult someone ‘freedom of speech’ or that we shouldn’t let there be a chilling effect amongst those who insult others?” Tong said.

Chinese and English are the official languages in Hong Kong. Cantonese is commonly spoken in Hong Kong, as opposed to Mandarin in mainland China and Taiwan.

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.